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March 21, 2008

Fantasia Goodwin

Quentin Hillsman

Nicole Michael

Erica Morrow


THE MODERATOR: Welcome Erica Morrow, Nicole Michael, Fantasia Goodwin, and the head coach, Quentin Hillsman.
Coach, welcome to Baton Rouge and to the tournament. We'd like to ask you for any opening remarks that you'd like to give us today.
COACH HILLSMAN: Well, thank you. Obviously we're very excited to be here. You know, we've really worked hard to get our program to this level, and you know, coming into this tournament we knew that Hartford would be a very tough game for us. We knew that we were very good, and they've been here three out of the last four years. Every interview that I've done, I've been very complimentary of the things that they've done and which Coach Rissotti and has gotten them to and the level that they're at now.
One thing that I will say is we worked hard at our program to get to this level, and when you read things in the paper that has you as being an underdog or have you being an upset alert or see things that's written by your opponent that, you know, they try to schedule you and you're going to play them, and now the game is here, so I guess we're here. Yeah, if I seem a little irritated, I am, because I've been reading a lot of things that they wouldn't schedule this game. So now we're here and we're playing it.
I'm excited because, you know, it doesn't take much to get me going and get me motivated and ready to roll, so I'm ready to roll now. You know, they're a very good program, and I would never say anything that would steal the thunder from our kids. But we're ready to play, and we're very excited about the game.
Obviously these are things that you look at and you feel that, you know, we deserve to be here, and we're excited about being here. And all I can tell you is that when it's time to play, that we're going to compete and we're going to play very hard.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Let's roll with some questions.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about what the scheduling -- what exactly were you saying there? They had called to schedule -- what's the whole story from your side so we can be clear, because I'm just finding out about this.
COACH HILLSMAN: Sure. Well, the story is that there's a local kid from our area that actually plays at Hartford, and they've been trying to schedule the games to get her home. What we do in our scheduling is we put down 35, 40 teams that we intend on playing every year, and that's how we schedule. It just never seemed to work out.
It's been written a lot, and I know this is no secret because I know you guys read, so it's been written a lot that we wouldn't do this game. You know, for me, it's kind of disrespectful, I mean, it really is, because we worked hard to be at this level for this to be just a basketball game and not to turn into some sidebar thing. I've been really tight-lipped about it for two weeks now -- sorry, for a week now. I've been very tight-lipped about it. But when you keep seeing these things over and over again, it kind of, you know, gets you a little irritated.
My deal is, you know, I just want to play basketball. I just want to get to this tournament and play the game, and this will be ours. So we're excited about the basketball game.

Q. Coach Q and Fantasia, you guys are always honest with me. What does it mean to be here and be part of the NCAA Tournament for you guys?
COACH HILLSMAN: Honestly, it means a lot. This is our fourth time in 37 years being in the tournament, so we're excited about the game.
When you talk about what it means to compete at this level and to have a chance to win the national championship, I mean, that's what you strive for. You strive to be here so you can win the national championship. I mean, we're excited about the game. It's an honor and it's a pleasure and we've worked very hard to get here.
FANTASIA GOODWIN: I mean, it's overwhelming. We worked so hard this year, and to finally be here is like a dream come true. We worked hard, and I'm just happy and my team is happy and Coach is happy to be here. We worked hard. We played hard, and we gave it all we've got.

Q. This question is for all the players, starting with Erica. The chance to do something no one else has ever done for Syracuse, win an NCAA Tournament game, how motivating is that for you guys?
ERICA MORROW: That's very motivating. As everyone said, we've come out and worked hard this year, and just to be on the national stage at a national level showcasing our talent and showingcasing how hard we can play and just how far our program and our whole staff and all the players have come is exciting.
You know, just any NCAA Tournament game is exciting, and we hope to continue and go as far in the postseason as possible.
FANTASIA GOODWIN: I think a lot of people don't take us seriously as a team, and I feel we have a lot to prove in winning this game on Saturday. So we're just going to go out and throw the first punch and hopefully come out with a good result.
NICOLE MICHAEL: I just feel it's great to be a part of a team that made a lot of history this year. I feel like we played hard and we worked for it as a team, and together we built our confidence up, and we just played hard.
COACH HILLSMAN: I want to follow up, too, by kind of echoing what they're saying. This is a great tournament. You've got 64 teams in this thing, and when you talk about from the first seeds down to the 16th seeds, they're all very good basketball teams and they're all players and coaches that have really sacrificed a lot to be here. So obviously there are no bad teams in this tournament. Everybody here really deserves it, and everybody here has a point of wanting to win these games and not just show up for one game and out. So we're excited about that.

Q. When I saw you guys last night at the hotel I was reminded just when you guys were all dressed up and having a good time headed off to dinner of how close you guys are as a bunch, and I was just wondering, you're obviously a very talented team, but how much has that closeness led you to where you are now and how much will it take you into this tournament do you think?
NICOLE MICHAEL: I think it's amazing to have a team that's just so close. There's not a lot of teams that are close like we are, and I feel like it's amazing, and we play hard together and we work together, and I feel that's a major part of our season and a major part of our record today. I feel we just bond together and love each other, and it's great.
ERICA MORROW: I feel we play well together as a team. We do everything together. We all know each other's weaknesses and strengths, and that's a huge part of the chemistry on the court, and it shows. I think we do a good job in showing that.
FANTASIA GOODWIN: I think our closeness strengthens us because when one person struggles we all struggle together. When we win together, we all win together. And when we lose, we all lose together. I think our closeness, including our staff and our coaches, I think that strengthens us going down the stretches in tough games. And when we struggle and when we are successful I think it brings us closer together.
COACH HILLSMAN: We believe in what we do. We believe in each other. We just know that every night and every day that we go out and play basketball that we're playing for our teams. We're playing for our University. We're playing for our conference, and we understand the responsibility and the importance it is for us to come out and be competitive and to win basketball games and to put a productive product on the floor.

Q. Coach, could you just say, do you see a key to this game, either something that has to happen or you have to prevent?
COACH HILLSMAN: Oh, yes, definitely. I've watched a lot of tape on Hartford. You talk about an amazing basketball team, great post players. Danielle Hood, she's a senior, and she's just a very effective player from the low blocking, from the high post, very good off the bounce. And they have very good shooters on the perimeter, and I think that as of lately, their point guard has been playing extremely well. They're a very good basketball team. You're talking about 27 wins, you're talking about Coach Rissotti winning 171 games and 103 losses over the time that she's been there. I was joking earlier before we left, I said, I'm just glad she's not playing, because if she was playing we would have a problem (laughing).
We have to really control their players. They have five players on the floor that can score the basketball, and for us we've got to continue doing what we've been doing, playing at the rim, being aggressive and making sure that we don't take one possession off, because this is a game where I think it's going to come down to the last two or three minutes of the basketball game, who's going to be mentally tough, who's going to execute, and I think the team that does that will win the basketball game.

Q. I was just wondering how the loss in the Big East tournament affected both the players and the coach, and how did that help you prepare for this game?
COACH HILLSMAN: Well, one thing, it was a very tough game. I really believe that our conference is the best in the country. And when you talk about from top to bottom, it's just any night if you don't come out and make shots and you don't defend up to your standards and what we've set, you can lose a basketball game. And it happened to us. I don't feel any ill-effects from that game, because South Florida was a very tough opponent. But I mean, it gives us a chance to really go home and get back in the gym and work, and understand when you have tournament-type settings and you have opportunities to win basketball games that you've got to come out and compete to your potential. I thought we competed to our potential, but I didn't think that we executed to our potential.
NICOLE MICHAEL: I just feel that loss was kind of tough for us. Our conference is one of the toughest conferences in the country, so if we don't bring our "A" game night in and night out, we'd lose. I just felt like that game taught us a lot as a team, when you have to get in the gym and work together and just work on what we had to work on to win. It was tough, but we have to move on and focus on our next game.
FANTASIA GOODWIN: The lesson learned was that you can never take a team for granted no matter who you're playing or why you're playing them or anything like that. What we did was went in the gym and cleaned up some of the things we had to clean up and polish and make sure that we don't make the same mistakes in the NCAA Tournament.
ERICA MORROW: I think the loss for us gave us the opportunity to get back in the gym that following week before selection Monday and just tweak the little things that we needed to correct and clean up the little mistakes and just make adjustments, because now coming into the NCAA Tournament, it's one game you lose and you're out. I feel like it just gave us the opportunity to just get back to focusing on details and just being competitive and playing basketball, how we did in the beginning of the year.

Q. As a follow-up to that, how do you get Shawndrea going again after the Big East tournament and how big a factor will that be in the game with Hartford?
COACH HILLSMAN: That's going to be a huge factor. It's funny because it's one of the reasons why I brought her to this press conference, because she's the shyest kid on the planet here. She's sitting here and might freeze up on us a little bit. We've got to continue to have her be aggressive. I mean, she's a very explosive scorer, and we've got to continue to put the ball in her hands and have her looking to score the basketball, because I'll tell you, the more and more I watch Hartford's defense, they do a good job of shutting down other teams' leading scorers, so we've got to find her ways to get her touches on the floor so she can score the basketball, because they do a very good job defensively of keeping you out of the lane, and they do a good job of when you turn the corner of having second and third help, and it's a remarkable thing when you watch them.
You see a lot of UConn in Hartford and the way they play and their toughness and their defensive intensity is great.

Q. This is for Fantasia. Your coach mentioned about the Big East being the toughest conference top to bottom in the country. What's it like being in the Big East where UConn and, to a lesser extent, maybe Rutgers gets so much of the attention? What's it like to fight your way up for recognition and so forth in that lead?
FANTASIA GOODWIN: Can you repeat the end of your question?

Q. Being in the Big East, so dominated by UConn and Rutgers, what's it like trying to lead your own program up to that level?
FANTASIA GOODWIN: You know, it just challenges you, and I think that a lot has to do with it is working hard every day in and out of the gym, on your own and stuff like that. It's a huge accomplishment, and I'm just thankful to be playing at a level this high.

Q. This is their third time in four years to be here, and this is Erica and Tasha and Shawndrea were not here last year, so how big of an advantage is that for Hartford?
COACH HILLSMAN: I think it's a huge advantage. Honestly, nothing can overcome experience. You can't gain the experience that they've gained by being at the tournament three out of the last four years. When you look at their program and what they've done and the players they have, it's remarkable. They've been here -- I think they were here and they beat Temple last time. They were here early. It's something that I don't think you can overcome. The only thing that you can do is get your kids prepared to play basketball.
You look at their games, their teams when they've played, they've beaten Michigan State, they've beat Virginia, they beat St. John's, they've beaten Providence, so those are very good teams. So I can see why they would have some doubts about us coming into this basketball game and being able to win this basketball game, because they're very experienced and they've been here and they've beaten some good teams.
We're going to go out and do what we've been doing all year. I'm going to play my babies (laughing), and we're going to throw them in the fire, and we're just going to go play basketball, and hopefully they come out and play the way they've been playing. Hopefully Erica comes out and plays like she played at Murry Bergtraum, and hopefully Tasha comes out and plays the way she played at St. Michael's, and we'll just go win the basketball game, because I think you've got to keep it in perspective for your kids because you've also got to put it in the perspective of they have a lot of experience and they know and they've been through this three of the last four years.
A lot of the players on this team have experienced this a couple times. We're just going to come and play basketball and keep it simple and do the things we've been doing all year.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, do you have any closing remarks?
COACH HILLSMAN: I'll close up by just saying, obviously, we feel honored to be here and to be competing at this level. I mean, when you talk about our opponent, just a very, very formidable team who's been at this level for a long time, and they win at a high level. We have a lot of respect for them, and we are really preparing a game plan. We're going to come out and put ourselves in the best position to win this basketball game. It's going to be a tough game, and we are excited for the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully we can keep things in perspective on every front on what we need to do on the floor and the things that we need to do to win this basketball game. So we're excited, and hopefully we come out Saturday with the win.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.

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