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March 22, 2008
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
THE MODERATOR: Coach Blair, you have the floor, sir.
COACH BLAIR: First, I would like to thank the media for being here.
Way back in the days when I was at LA Tech, they used to have fashion editors cover us when we'd go to New York City, and look at the media now. You're here because you want to. You didn't draw the short end of the stick. You're here because of women's basketball. That's what makes all of this worthwhile.
We were ready to play today. The best motivation we had was watching the men's tournaments and watching the upsets or the near upsets. When Duke almost got upset, when Connecticut did get upset and all of a sudden you have to give your opponent credit, give your opponent credit, we have been in that league before so I know what the Southland is all about and it is a very good basketball league. This was their first time to the dance, and we wanted to make sure the first ten minutes was played under our pressure defense and our press and then get out of it and see where we are.
23 turnovers forced in the first half and a lot of them are unforced. I think UTA showed what they could do in the second half because it was an even ball game in the second half. But when you're the 2 seed, you cannot be nonchalant when a game starts. You have to be ready to play. And our coaching staff did a very good job because we respected UTSA. We respected their dribble drive. We respected 33 and 23. We respected what they did.
So defense keys us for easy shots. We were able to give the ball to Danielle Gant early because we figured they would take Starks away, and they were trying, but then all of a sudden Gant was able to get loose. And there is not too many 5' 10 kids -- forget what the media program says. She's 5' 10", not 5' 11". There are not too many 5' 10" kids that can play all over the floor like her.
It was a good victory. We were able to rest a lot of kids, be able to get my bench. It feels good to finally win a game in the LSU's gym and not have to play them. I have been on the losing end against LSU a few times.
Q. Can you just talk about how frustrating it must have been for them and, I guess, just the aggressive nature of your defensive intensity right off the start?
TAKIA STARKS: In our pregame talk, we just talked about putting the pressure on, like Coach said. In a game like this in the first round you don't want to come out playing nonchalant. We wanted to put the pressure on early with our press. They committed turnovers, and just really upped our game on our defense.
Q. Danielle, is this the way you typically play defense? What's your mind-set? What's your basic philosophy you are trying to do? Looks like you get a lot of turnovers and just trying to be more physical than the other team?
DANIELLE GANT: Yes. This is the way we like to play in the Big 12 where we play aggressive defense, and that's what we wanted to bring to this tournament today. Like Takia said in the pregame talk, defense was our main focus, and I think that's what we came out to do today.
Q. Takia, what's it feel like to be on this winning streak you're on right now? What kind of rush has it been for you guys?
TAKIA STARKS: Really, we are just trying to stay humble and take each game as each game and not really looking forward to the next game. Just handing out our business game by game and just staying focused in our game plans and just staying with our principles on defense.
When we play defense, how we did today, we're going to win a lot more games, and hopefully we'll make it far in the tournament this year. That's our goal.
Q. Morenike, can you talk a little bit about playing in your home state and what that was like for you today. Do you have any family that came down from Shreveport?
MORENIKE ATUNRASE: Yes, I have an uncle and a lot more relatives that live here in Baton Rouge. My mother was able to make it from Dallas and the rest of my family from Shreveport.
A lot of my fans that also followed me throughout high school were able to make it down. It means a lot to come back home and play in front of my family. Haven't had the chance to, but I'm glad that we just happened to come back home. So it meant a lot to me.
Q. Ladies, can you just talk about the different feel for that game as opposed to two years ago, TCU, and last year, UTA. Can you just talk about when you take to court what's different about this year?
TAKIA STARKS: Well, I think the main thing -- Coach addressed this before we came here to the media room -- that two years ago we were excited to be there. We were just excited to make it and advance into the NCAA tournament. This year we came out, we have a lot more experience. We've been there. We've been through the wars. The Big 12 has prepared us well for this tournament. And I think they saw this tonight, just how tough we played defense and it just creates so much opportunity for us on offense.
Q. Danielle, can you just take us through that one play that kind of began when you went plowing into the press table, almost into the gate there and ended up with the lay-up? Just take us through what was going through your mind on that play.
DANIELLE GANT: Well, Coach Schaeffer, our defensive coach, was telling me to get up the line because I was letting my girl catch the ball every time down the floor. I just got up the line and knocked it out of bounds and flew over the table. Got back up and my teammate passed me the ball, and so I thought about going to the hole, and I went to the hole.
Q. Danielle, wanted to ask you about that play in particular. Was that something that comes from your preparation in defense, the way that y'all practice and play, that you got to make a play like that? And, also, Coach Blair yesterday talked about the restaurants y'all been to so far. Now you got a couple more days here. Do y'all have a preference what you'd like to have?
DANIELLE GANT: Seafood, shrimp gumbo, and little things like that.
COACH BLAIR: Mike Anderson's tonight.
DANIELLE GANT: Can you repeat the question?
Q. The play when you went into the table and all, is that something that -- you are up 38-10 at that point. What makes you play that intense with a game, you know, already in hand? Is that personal? Is that something that's grilled into you in practice or what?
DANIELLE GANT: That's drilled into us in practice every day. Just getting up the line and pressure defense is what we really look at in defense and practice, just getting up the line and denying the girl the ball.
Q. Danielle, first of all, how tall are you? Second --
DANIELLE GANT: 5' 11".
Q. Now you've gone up an inch. Talk a little bit about your position offensively, what would you consider yourself and then kind of explain your role in the offense.
DANIELLE GANT: I am just a versatile player. I can play the 1, 2, 3, 4, maybe the 5. It is just great being my height and being able to play different positions, being aggressive on the 3 position and the 4 position, just being able to go inside with the tall players and make great shots.
THE MODERATOR: We will excuse the student athletes now.
Coach Blair, any other comments?
COACH BLAIR: Monica Gibbs, very, very good player. Give her a lot of credit. She's very good. She's hard to defend. And if she adds that good outside shot to go with everything else she has, she'll be a Southland Conference player of the year in years to come, if she's not this year.
Reado and Micheaux played very well. Even though you don't see it on the box, what we do to free up our outside game all starts with the inside gains, with their screens in the offensive boards. They do so many little things, hedge and screens. What UTSA does a great job of is dribble penetration, but we did a good job of hedging their high-low, and particularly in the first half. Reado is going to jump out. We can recover back and we can get A'Quo through, and that's the key to our defense.
Q. Coach, just talk a little bit about Danielle's role in the offense and how it's evolved where injuries have played a factor in her playing different spots and helping her grow her game.
COACH BLAIR: We're a very unselfish basketball team. I think Danielle had maybe 14 or 16 in the first half. And all of a sudden she's not going to say, boy, I'm going to go for my career high. We ran the first play of the game for her, a little UCLA cut on the post-up. We missed it, but then we scored on the second or third option off of it.
What we want to do is make sure they don't know how to prepare for us. Who are you going to stop? We've got a lot of different weapons. You can bring Morenike off the bench, and she was in the game for about 5 seconds and hit the most beautiful 3 you've ever seen. Not too many kids can do that.
But Danielle, you can play her at the 4 and you can post her up, which next year we'll probably play her at the 4 like we did her freshman year a lot because we've got Tyra White who will be healthy next year and they will play a lot of 2-3. We're just going to move her all over the court.
She is definitely a next-level player. If I am a WNBA team, I am just drooling, waiting for a 5' 10" kid that can play the 2, 3, or 4. Hopefully next year we will play the three-point game to her repertoire. She shoots it in practice. We just have a little bit of a yellow light on her during ball games.
Q. Coach, you talked about how defense was the key. But only giving up 16 points in the first half, does that even exceed your expectations of what you wanted out of this morning?
COACH BLAIR: We were just -- we were just hooked up, baby. We were wired. When you go in as a coach and realize there's never been a 15 seed beat a 2 seed, I didn't want to be an asterisk, okay, like Stanford was a couple years ago when we watched it firsthand ourselves because we had the winner of that game. We had our team fired up. And you also got to understand, I'm a little slow drawl. You know me very well.
But I've got a guy on a different voltage over there next to me, Coach Schaeffer. I can't keep him down. We're in the second half in time-outs and I thought we were 20 behind because he's wired because we expect perfection. If you practice perfect, you got a better chance of playing perfect.
And we don't have a Candace Parker. Okay? We've got to do it a different way. We don't have a Sylvia Fowles. We do it a different way. My little miniature Danielle Gant and Takia Starks, they're pretty good imitations.
So we have to do it by doing everything we do perfect. And when we don't do it, they're going to hear about it.
Q. What's it mean going into the next round to be able to sit your starters basically the last ten minutes and also the reward for those substitutes coming?
COACH BLAIR: They've practiced so hard. I cannot remember the last game we had. It had to have been November that we had a game like that. Those kids work so hard and they get their shots. I was glad to see Buchanan get very active. She was missing shots early because she was double-teamed, should have passed out. But she was active.
It was great to see Maryann Baker come in and do what she did. All of a sudden we were running a little circle offense, and that's a three-point play. Hit the cutter and she kept hitting the cutter. I said don't hit the cutter, wait for the next screen. We still scored off of both of them.
Those kids have waited their turn, and they realize that top six is very special. It is like looking at LSU with nine seniors, and the same five have started all year. They've earned that right.
This is what my six have done. And if you want to come to A&M, you might have to wait in line because we've got some very good players that are already in place. And that's what kids want to do. They want to play with kids that are fun. 25 minutes is the most anybody played in the game. And Morenike had 19 and 21 minutes. So it's not bad. We were able to rest, get a little bit of Mike Anderson's tonight. We'll sit there and watch this ball game here, and then we will go in to a little hole and get prepared for the game. All right? We want to make sure that we're not sitting there going to Disneyland or something like that.
The first two years that was nice. It's winning time right now, and we got to figure a way to beat one of these two teams that's fixing to be in here.
Q. Coach, you said in Kansas City, I think your exact words, we need to play Saturday, we don't need to wait until Sunday. You are on this roll 13 out of 14. Do you still have a sense of you wonder what's out there? Do you worry about taking it from a Big 12 tournament to the NCAA tournament?
COACH BLAIR: You worry. You do not leave a single stone unturned. We had to play this game like we were playing a Big 12 opponent. As a result, you can see we were a little bit larger, a little bit more physical, and they were not used to this type of pressure in their league. We were able to put the pressure on, force 23 turnovers, ball game.
Second half, they played well. But we didn't have the same intensity or the same pressure and we were playing a lot of kids.
This team is ready -- since we've never been there before, Robert, I mean, Sweet 16 would be great. Second round is damn good. Okay? Second round is good. And I can't wait to see what shirt you are going to wear in the next round, because that's a blockbuster right there.
But we're hungry. We hope you're hungry. We hope you brought a few more shirts because we plan on dancing a while.
By the way, my sister thought you were good. She is back home in Dallas and she reads every one of them. When Brian doesn't write anything good, she lets me know.
Q. Could you just take us through -- I guess through a big-picture standpoint, when did the defense kick in? It was your trademark, but early in the season it wasn't there. What kind of jump-started things for you?
COACH BLAIR: I think we had a lackadaisical off season. We had gone to Europe the year before. We had played a lot of basketball. We sent kids to USA basketball. We gave them a lot of time off during the summer. They didn't come back in the best possible shape, or at least Aggie shape. There is no fat on us.
There is a difference between shape and being able to play the defense that we want to play. And I think it just took a while. And the best thing that could happen to us was probably those four losses. You get a little humble pie early, you get hungry and you get better.
And the biggest thing about this team is every ball game in February and March, including the Oklahoma loss, we've gotten better. A lot of teams win ball games, but we've gotten better and that's what's exciting as a coach.
It is like being a teacher in the classroom, when you can see the kids get it and you feel like you've done something as a teacher. That's the most important aspect of our coaching staff, is we teach the game pretty well.
Q. On behalf of the Houston Chronicle, you can get that where you live.
COACH BLAIR: We sure can.
Q. Can you talk about your potential opponent, either one of these teams.
COACH BLAIR: I told the teams in the dressing room, I want you to watch. Eastern style of ball is a little bit different than the south. Okay? We might run a little bit more. Hartford is a very smart team. They're a reflection of their coach. Jen Rizzotti, I coached her in '96 in the Jones Cup team.
The kids up east know the game very well. It is like every coach I've ever met from Philadelphia or something, they're just junkies of the game. They're gurus, and they talk it 24 hours a day. And when I -- I don't recruit a lot of kids from the East Coast because they're not going to come to the south. But I respect their brand of ball, but I respect the coaches first because of the knowledge of the game that they have up there.
It is old-school basketball. And then you get Q that coaches Syracuse. They're as athletic as we are. I will find a little bit more when I see them live. I have seen enough film on them.
They are very athletic and they have old Moody sitting on the sidelines helping them out, and that's like having Tex Winter over there. And they're a good ball club. Who would we like to play? I would like the next game to go into five overtimes and make them late for their dinner appointment. That's what I want. I want their starters to have to play a little bit longer than ours did.
End of FastScripts