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March 31, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement by Coach Summitt.
COACH SUMMITT: First of all, I would just say that we're excited as a basketball team, staff, and the University of Tennessee to be back in Cleveland. Obviously we were here for the Regional play last year and certainly I thought we had great fan support.
I'm looking forward to another matchup with North Carolina, a team that's enjoyed success against us, and certainly I think they are a basketball team that we know we have to be ready to play and bring our A game. And I think it's going to be a great matchup and just look forward to the preparation and obviously to game time.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Sidney, it's the -- it is your last chance, it is your last trip to the Final Four. Do you feel any sense of -- more sense of urgency than you would when you were underclassmen or is it about the same?
SIDNEY SPENCER: I guess as you grow up in this program or just as a college athlete when time is running out I guess I do feel more of a -- like this is my last opportunity. But I love this basketball team and I wouldn't want to be here without this team. And I just think that we have a great chance at winning it.
Q. Coach Hatchell said she felt like one of the areas which you guys have improved the most is the guard play. How do you think your play has improved from a year ago and also how having Shannon has helped in the back court?
ALEXIS HORNBUCKLE: Well, my game personally has improved since last year and offensively on efficiency I worked hard this summer at getting my jump shot together and trying to get it more effective.
As far as having Shannon on the team, it's a great addition. Being moved to the wing and being able to just get a rebound and get out and run and not worry about coming back and getting the ball, and Shannon does a great job of just pushing tempo.
Q. Candace, North Carolina does a great job of rebounding, they obviously have a bunch of tall girls that can jump. Can you just talk about you matching up with that front lane and the challenge and what you saw in December and some of the things you guys will have to do differently this time.
CANDACE PARKER: North Carolina is very athletic and they pride themselves on rebounding the basketball on the offensive end. As well as on the defensive end.
In December I don't think we did a great job. We allowed them to have second and third chances. So obviously we need to limit that. And just box out. Because you're not going to jump with especially this. They're very athletic. So we're going to do a better job of that this time I think.
Q. Alexis, how long did it take you to get comfortable again with your hand after last season? And you had a lot of assists in the tournament, has there been some reason why? Five or six a game. Something opening up for you that wasn't?
ALEXIS HORNBUCKLE: Well, as far as the question about my wrist, I wasn't really released until about June. And so I just took all of June, July and August just working on my jump shot and rehabbing and getting my hand, my ball handling back together. And as far as passing, our team has done a great job of moving. And we're just hitting the open player. We're moving, better screening, so a lot more people are open and I just take it upon myself to hit the open man.
Q. Candace, the first player I think I've ever seen who is listed as a guard forward and a center in the media guide. Which position do you play best? And what do you consider yourself?
CANDACE PARKER: I consider myself a forward. I think that that's my natural position is at the four. And for this team that's where I spend the majority amount of my time. But luckily in the Tennessee offense and especially in transition, all five of us can bring the ball up the court and we fill the lanes equally.
Sometimes Lex can run to the paint, sometimes even Shannon can run to the paint. So I feel like in transition it's -- we're all very, very strong.
Q. Alexis, Ivory was able to make so many plays down the stretch against you guys last year, how do you slow her down? What's the best way to stop her?
ALEXIS HORNBUCKLE: Well, a player as versatile as that you have to play her straight up. You have to respect her game whether it's the three ball or driving. You just basically have to have great one-on-one defense and if you do get beat you have to rely on your teammates to give you that help. So you just have to leave it all on the court and realize that you do have help and just go all out and don't hold anything back.
Q. Candace, what does the Player of the Year award mean to you?
CANDACE PARKER: It's a tremendous honor and I wouldn't be here without my coaches and my teammates.
But that's all put aside now because we have a goal that we came here to the Final Four to accomplish. So that's all behind me and hopefully we can go out and on Sunday and take care of business.
Q. Sidney, how tough was that loss last year to Carolina and are you glad it's them again here?
SIDNEY SPENCER: That loss last year was really hard. I think. Coming in this summer and just talking about what we want to accomplish for the year, our team really made it a point of emphasis to become that Tennessee defensive team that we used to be. So we wanted to step our defensive pressure up this year and I think we have done a great job of just really focusing on defense and our defense leading to offensive points and scoring. And in transition.
So I'm definitely glad that we get to play them again. I think it's great for women's basketball to have a matchup like this.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We'll take questions for Coach Summitt now.
Q. How has Candace improved? What's been her biggest area of improvement this year?
COACH SUMMITT: I think she's improved both offensively and defensively. I think the offensive aspect has been her development and getting in the gym and working really hard and also just devoting time to her skills, her offensive skills. She's worked on her post moves, she's worked on her face-up game. Worked on playing off the dribble and her pull-up game is a lot better.
I think just the versatility from an offensive standpoint. And then, secondly, I think just playing with the World Championship Team, I think just the maturity there of playing with the pro players and being around Tina Thompson and Temeka Catchings and understanding you have to play both ends of the floor, and I think the -- probably the biggest upside to her game of late has been her commitment on the defensive end.
I thought she was in our Ole Miss game she was terrific, I mean that was by far the hardest that she's worked at both ends of the floor. But I think that's because she really wanted to be here in Cleveland. And I just think that she's just much more committed to her team and to the Tennessee defensive system.
Q. What are you planning on changing from your December game plan against Erlana Larkins?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think Erlana is going to get her points and obviously she's shooting the basketball exceptionally well. Yet I think that we have to do a better job. You always want to try to limit touches. There's no guarantee that you can. But we would like to do a better job just one-on-one defense. In the paint.
I thought she totally dominated the paint in that game. And I think that just being able to somehow influence how many times she touches it and where she gets it. But she's a player, you're not going to stop her. You hope you can have some luck in containing her game, but she is just a great player. I think she's been the real key for them.
Q. The whole topic of is Candace going to leave or is she going to stay came up this season and I'm just wondering, as a coach, how do you advise players in this situation? I don't know if you had many or not, maybe just Candace, but how to weigh this decision. Obviously it's a very different thing than what the men's players have to go and decide?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, actually, I haven't even talked to Candace about it and asked her if she was going or staying. I think there's only one choice. If you want to make the sound choice and you're a college student-athlete, I think these are four of the best years of your life. I think Candace right now is on the biggest stage in women's basketball. And she understands that. But I read in the -- I actually read that she was staying. And I just -- we were practicing and she came down on a lay-up drill and shot a lay-up and I said I enjoyed what I read in the paper today, Candace. And she just smiled. So we have had no discussion.
I think she's very intelligent. In the classroom, in her decisions off the court, a lot of maturity. And I think she understands that it's not that she's turning down millions of dollars. I wish we could get to that point in our pro game, but eventually we might. But certainly I think she understands that the college game right now is the place that she's really excelling and getting a lot of recognition and having a lot of fun.
Q. Two questions, Coach, one, game-wise, are you looking to get another post presence other than Candace? Seems to be a lot of post presence in this particular Final Four. Something that maybe would offset her or at least open her up a little bit. That's game-wise. And then, two, somewhat on what you just talked about, a lot of coaches lately in the women's game the last -- even within the last couple days have really gotten some hefty pay raises. And there are a lot of big job openings that seem to be headed that way as well. Could you just kind of comment on that and what you see in that regard too.
COACH SUMMITT: To answer your first question, Nicky Anosike has really picked up her inside play. And in post season. And then I think that's helped her and she's also benefited from the double teams and triple teams that Candace has seen throughout this tournament.
She's a player that we do rely on inside. Certainly Alex Fuller has been off the bench and done some good work for us and helped our basketball team.
So I do think that because of the type of player that Candace is, that we can get other people involved. The defense usually allows us that opportunity if they want to play us straight up, then Candace will go to work on that. But I think that we're a little bit better in our post play and have been in our tournament games.
I'm excited about what's happening in women's basketball in terms of the commitment on the part of universities throughout this country to really support the game. And because of a lot of job openings, I think it's had quite an impact on universities making decisions at the top to provide the resources for their teams and also the contracts are in place and the financial opportunities for these coaches are where they should be.
I mean, let's face it, we're seeing in a lot of programs and I have a lot of respect for what Tennessee did because they didn't have to step up and do what they did, but I think they recognized the popularity of women's basketball on our campus and the attendance and just the competitiveness across this country now. It's created a different atmosphere because of I think the whole landscape has changed because of the commitment on the part of administrators to pay coaches at a different level, different pay scale now.
And it's going to become more competitive. And you're going to see coaches move. And it's going to be interesting to see what happens between probably now and in the next three weeks, with some of the coaches that are considering making changes.
Q. I know it's been a long time since you had signed a junior college player and I wanted to ask you about Shannon, and first just what made her such a match for what you needed in your back court this year, and then second, just what she does to change games in terms of imposing a tempo on a game.
COACH SUMMITT: Well the thing about Shannon when I saw her play is that I just loved her style of play. She pushed the basketball really hard and that's something that is very appealing to myself and a lot of coaches in this game that like up-tempo basketball. I liked her handles, I thought she was very efficient. Shoots the three ball well. And really and watching her at the junior college level I thought she was a great creator, but a lot of those opportunities, because she was one of the best players on her team, she created for herself.
But I saw the potential for her to create for other people and that's where she's really improved her game and the thing that has impressed me is just how much she has been willing to learn. And her ability to do so and learn our system and run our basketball team. She's like a freshman in our program, but she plays like a veteran.
I think the fact that she has been so appreciative to be at Tennessee and she's had a great attitude. I've had a lot of great point guards, but I don't know that I've had a better relationship with any point guard that I've coached because of her willingness to listen and learn and try to do what you ask her to do.
Second part, her tempo and her speed, that's had a great influence. And it can be a difference maker in the course of a game because she can be very explosive and again be able to create shots for herself as well as for her teammates and she will tell you every time she goes into a game, oh, Coach, I'm really, really nervous. I've decided that's a good thing. Because every time she's told me she's nervous she's played well. So I hope she's nervous when we play on Sunday.
Q. Understanding she's not your most immediate concern, but could you compare Sylvia Fowles to other low post players you've seen in the game's history? Is she almost a evolutionary talent?
COACH SUMMITT: It's hard to say, I think there's only one Sylvia Fowles. But she is just a very imposing player. It's like Lucia Harris, Delta State, was the most imposing offensive player that I had seen in the paint.
Sylvia has been one of the most imposing defensive players and now her offensive efficiency is -- has really allowed her to be a player that's very difficult to stop and also to go against. She makes players alter shots, she is a great shot blocker. And obviously in the paint she can have her way with most of the people that she goes against. And they get her great looks.
If you look at most of her shots they come right in front of the rim. So she can pick and choose I want to go left, right, I want to shoot over the top of the rim.
But I think a lot of that is their offensive system. And she's just a great athlete and a hard worker. You got a lot of skill post people that are good, but her greatness comes from how hard she's willing to work and her competitive drive.
Q. Could she be near the best ever you've seen or close in that category?
COACH SUMMITT: I think she certainly has the potential to be one of the best everyone the inside. When you talk about low post presence at both ends.
Q. Could you talk about the LSU, what they have been able to overcome in the past few weeks, just their focus in this situation?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think through adversity you learn a lot about your basketball team. And there's no question that they have faced adversity. But the way they have come through this and the focus that they have had I think it's made them even stronger. And certainly I know they're even more determined. I think that Bob Starkey's done a great job. But you have to understand, Bob Starkey's been teaching the offensive system for years and he's as good as anyone in the game. Men or women. Men or women's game. On teaching motion offense.
Watching them in the Regional finals, I just thought they were so in synch and so together and so inspired, and it's clearly a team that has come together and they're playing with a purpose.
Q. I know you and Vivian have been close friends for many years. What do you think of the job she did this year?
COACH SUMMITT: It's a incredible story, I think, when you look at the beginning and with Vivian, I'm sure what she was feeling was that, as she said last night at the Salute dinner, she sent her assistant coaches out and told them to go get some players. She needed players. She didn't think she could win with these players. Obviously they must have heard her because they took it to heart.
And she was dealing with a lot of youth. But Vivian is so persistent on bringing out the absolute best in her players. And I have a lot of respect for her. She's one of the most patient and persistent coaches in the game. She will try to be patient, but then when she runs out of patience, then I think that's when she just says, We have to do it this way.
It's amazing what she has done and the fact that she's done it in three different programs and obviously enjoyed success at this level in all three. It just speaks to her ability to adjust, adapt to whatever environment she's in and bring out the absolute best in her student-athletes.
Q. To piggyback on that, what would a national championship mean to Vivian and would that sort of complete her career, do you think?
COACH SUMMITT: Well let me just say that Vivian Stringer is a great coach. And I think that sometimes people document coaches and their success by whether or not they win a national championship. You can look in the women's game, in the men's game, some of the greatest coaches of all times have never been fortunate enough to win a national championship.
Would that obviously be a exclamation point on her career? Yes. But she's a great coach regardless of whether or not that happens. And I guess I'm oftentimes amazed that that's the one standard that people look at as to whether or not that coach is legit. Vivian is a legit leader and great coach in this game. Regardless of whether or not she ever cuts down the nets.
But that lady's probably going to cut down some nets.
Q. What was it that made you take a chance on Shannon Bobbitt?
COACH SUMMITT: We needed a point guard. When Gatewood transferred from our program, I just felt like that Alexis could run the point, but also I felt like Alexis could make a greater impact if she didn't have to run the point all the time because she's a great rebounding guard, she's a great penetrator. We could post her up and play her at multiple positions.
And Shannon, I never worried about her size after I saw her play. And I just, seeing her on tape is one thing, but actually seeing her play, I thought she has the speed, the quickness, and the handles on it to really do what we want to do in this program. And that's put pressure. Pressure by pushing tempo and putting pressure on the other side of the ball.
And, again, I just loved her personality. I've had so much enjoyment and I just am watching her have a opportunity to do what she's done at Tennessee and she is so appreciative of everything. I mean, you know, coming from the junior college environment and coming into Tennessee and then obviously it's a whole different environment as far as fan support and we're on charter planes, and she's --
One quick story, and some of you obviously I'm sure are aware of this, but the managers came to me and said that some of our players were taking socks. Out of the locker room. And that they were running out of socks. And so I called a little meeting and I said, What's the deal with the socks? You know you have to leave the socks for the managers to wash and leave them there. And Shannon goes, Coach, Coach, my bad. She said, I just never had socks that nice. So she was taking them home and wearing them to class. I said, You got to bring the socks back here and you got to leave them here. And I said, But you can wear them. You can wear them in practice. And she was like, Coach, I've never had anything like this. A pair of socks. How about that?
Q. You took a trip down memory lane with the question about Sylvia and I was thinking how much do you remember about 1982 and your first trip to the Final Four and does it seem like 25 years have gone by the board or not?
COACH SUMMITT: I think not really. It's gone fast. Going into that first championship -- and I don't really want to talk a whole lot about that weekend. That wasn't the most pleasant for us. But I know how excited we were. To be under the umbrella of the NCAA and know that women's basketball was going to have a opportunity for greater exposure and have the opportunity to really showcase our game, and certainly that was -- that was something that generated so much excitement and enthusiasm for players and coaches and it really changed our game.
Q. What do you think needs to happen to take the game to the next level?
COACH SUMMITT: I guess my biggest concern right now, and it's probably because of we have just gone through the tournament and we are here now at the Final Four, is I'm not sure we're ready for neutral sites. And I've been supporting that all along. But I think that we have to put our best foot forward in our game.
To really showcase, not only the teams, but also to create atmosphere at all of the sites. And I think we have to strategically figure out what the best way is to arrive at that. And that right now is probably my biggest focus. I think players are better, coaches are better, budgets are obviously in place, and we're seeing our game grow significantly in that aspect.
But now we have got to grow our fan base. We have fans that are fans of their teams. And I think that the difference in the men's game is that obviously you have men's basketball fans. And we need to increase our pool of support, if you will, for people that just love the women's game. And they're going to support it regardless of whether it's their team or it's a great women's basketball team.
Q. Two quick questions, a follow-up on that. One, why do you think it is that women's basketball hasn't been able to get to the point where they are fans of the sport and not just fans of the team, where most sports are like that. And also, North Carolina, LaToya Pringle, can you tell me what she's added to their inside game?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, first of all, I think in the women's game we don't have the long history of the men's game in terms of exposure and just the overall opportunities that television has provided throughout the years for people to watch teams and get familiar with players and we're still playing catch-up in that regard.
We talked about '82 being the first time that the NCAA took over our game and provided championships for women.
So we're growing our game, our exposure is better, but it's still lagging and if you compare it to the men's history.
Pringle has done a great job, I mean, you look at their inside game and players that could come in and impact, players that make Larkins better, I mean, it's like Candace Parker has made Nicky Anosike better. And I think the same is true with North Carolina in that regard.
THE MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Coach, for joining us.
End of FastScripts