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March 3, 2007

Melanie Balcomb

Carla Thomas

Christina Wirth


THE MODERATOR: Now joined by Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb and players Christina Wirth and Carla Thomas.
Coach, if you would make an opening comment.
COACH BALCOMB: I think the best thing I can say is what I told my players. I think that was the best defensive effort by a Vanderbilt team that I've ever coached. That made offense real easy.
You know, if we have that effort every game, it makes it a lot of fun - a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to coach.

Q. Some people that haven't seen you play are wondering how long can you guys continue to shoot the three-pointer like you do? What do you say to people like that?
COACH BALCOMB: I say what Tina Wirth said yesterday: We're shooters so we shoot. That's what we do. We're doing with it a lot of confidence. I don't know why we would lose our confidence. We practice it a lot. It's repetition. It's confidence.
As long as we execute and get good shots and take the shot selection that we're taking, we're going to make it. There's a good percentage that we are. We have some players like Caroline Williams, and now Tina I would add to that, where, you know, we call it the layup when they make a three. That's their layup. You know, they're just that confident. That comes from practice. That comes from preparation.

Q. A lot of offensive success last night, but you came out talking about how poorly you played defensively. Getting back to defense, what specifically were you able to do tonight to improve that on that side of the ball?
COACH BALCOMB: I caught some flak for halftime for getting on them at halftime, and I haven't had to do that in a long time. We've played well. Our effort has been good. It's been a fun team to coach. I got on them hard when we were shooting 70% from the field.
What I tried to explain to everybody was I didn't get on them about offense. I didn't even talk to them about offense. What I talked about was defense, being complacent to exchange baskets with a team like that that there was no reason we should have.
And you win championships by defense, and that's something that we haven't been able to do. Put the two together, I think we can be really tough. That's what was my point, and that's why we emphasized it so much.
The changes that they made, you know, our staff did a great job getting a great game plan together. They just executed the things that we tweaked and that we talked about. They've always believed in all season what we've asked them to do. They executed the game plan to a T.

Q. Could you to talk about Merideth Marsh, your freshman point guard.
COACH BALCOMB: What's nice is she went in early, made some mistakes, turned it over, got a lot of pressure. The minute she came in they had to press and then even press more because they were down, and they pressed her.
I thought she did a really good job at getting better as the game went on and gaining confidence. Instead of putting her head down after she made mistakes, I love how she recovered and I love how tough she played. As it got tough and physical, she got tougher and she got better. She went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. At that point she just needed to take care of the basketball and make free-throws, and that's what she did.

Q. Christina, can you talk about how this type of defense helps get open looks?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: Well, when we're playing a defense like we did tonight we're pressuring the ball. We even got a lot of help side, so we're just trusting each other. When we get -- like if we're boxing and if we get an offensive rebound and we push the ball we got good middle runners to really focus on. Even if you don't get the ball for a layup, you know you're just sucking defense into the paint, and then that leaves shooters up and on the perimeter. We did a really good job.
Coach talked about how everyone did their roles to a T. No one else might notice that you sprinted down the middle as hard as you could, but we noticed it, and it really makes a difference.

Q. Christina, I saw you come up with a walking boot on. Is that you think easier?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: Just precautionary stuff.

Q. When the threes keep falling, can you see it sap something out of the team you're playing?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: I think so. We know what it does when someone else does that to us. I think especially a lot of times tonight, they'd be scrambling inside, just kick it out. That's tough when you're scrambling and, you know, all of a sudden the other team makes a three.
I think that's a momentum shifter. We try to take that away from other teams, so it's nice when we can do that to them.

Q. Carla, how much of an impact did coach's talking about defense at halftime yesterday and then after the game have on you tonight in terms of how you were able to play defensively?
CARLA THOMAS: I think when you win like that and you're not really satisfied with it, you know you could have played better defense than you did. She basically called us out on it. We knew we had to come into the next game and try to step it up. That was something we focused on all season. To come in and not play that way post-season going into the SEC tournament, it was a disappointment to us.

Q. You had Dee Davis in foul trouble. Carla was in a bit of foul trouble. Up and down the roster you have contributions. Talk about the depth of this team and specifically about the importance of Christina Wirth to this club.
COACH BALCOMB: Absolutely. That's the other thing I think we're better than we've ever been at is depth. That's due to the way they practice and the way they have expected each other to practice and perform.
We have 12 players that work just as hard from 1 to 12. I have never coached a team like that. Whether they play a minute or not, and we're talking the 11th and 12th player. We talked about that every day. From top to bottom they prepare very hard like they're going to play. I've never had a team to be able to do that on into March when they know they're not playing a lot.
So they were ready. When they got their opportunity, they were ready. And they've been ready all season. As the season has gone on, freshmen keep getting better. And they're sitting behind some very, very good seniors, and not getting the playing time they would normally get.
And I have to say I'm really impressed with their attitude and their effort, and I think that is what I attribute them being ready and being able to come in and perform the way they did when we needed them to. They were there for them.
I think that gives these guys a lot of confidence to know if they do make mistakes or get overaggressive, that somebody can come in.
As far as Tina and what she's worth to this team? Get it? Tina, worth (laughter). Had to catch myself. Today she was amazing. She was on. She was in the zone, whatever you want to call it. She was fun to watch. What I love is she's the most improved player from last year to this year, the way she carries herself and her confidence.
The other part I love about her is how she keeps everything light and fun. The seniors, there's a lot of pressure on the seniors because it's their last year and they don't want it to end and they're having a great time. They want to go out with a bang and do things that have never been done at Vanderbilt.
Then you have Tina and Jen Risper, the sophomores, making it fun and laughing. I think sometimes they want to kill them because they're keeping it light.
But that is like the best thing that can be done for these seniors, is the way they keep it light. So they just help them on and off the court in very unique ways that's fun to watch.

Q. Carla, if I'm not mistaken, you won the SEC tournament championship as a freshman, correct?

Q. What would it mean for you tomorrow as a senior to be able to do that again?
CARLA THOMAS: That would be huge. That's what we're coming back here for. Want to go out with a bang, and that's definitely the way to do it in the SEC.

Q. Coach, beat LSU a little over a week ago in Nashville, played an outstanding game. What challenges do you foresee tomorrow night?
COACH BALCOMB: I see a lot of the same challenges. You know, I was really impressed with how they played today, how they just got more and more confident as the game went on. Their body language was very impressive. That's what I've been watching all tournament, is the body language of the teams.
I think that they've penetrated really well. I thought that some of their younger players stepped up in key situations. But, you know, Fowles especially, our game plan was to limit her touches, and we're going to have to do that again. We're going to have to stop penetration again. We're going to have to play great transition D and limit them to one shot.
The chances game plans change between theirs and ours in one week, I mean, it's not going to change a lot. It's a lot going to be about confidence and tempo and how people recover from mistakes and things that happen in the game.

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