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March 23, 2008

Morenike Atunrase

Gary Blair

A'Quonesia Franklin

Patrice Reado


THE MODERATOR: Our three substitute athletes are A'Quo Franklin, Morenike Atunrase, and Patrice Reado, and we will have the Coach for opening comment and then questions. Coach Gary Blair, who says he loves making the trips to the stable.
COACH BLAIR: Did you all go to Easter Egg hunt today? I did. That was fun. Nothing to do but when you have a four year old grandson -- and they had to drive back this morning, and my wife had to fly back, because they've got to work tomorrow, but we had an Easter Egg hunt, and that was good. When you do it with your four year old grandson, it's even more special.
We're excited to still be sitting up here. It's beautiful weather. We've been treated great, the administration here at LSU has ran a great tournament. The NCAA reps have done good things for us, I hope they have for you. I would like to comment -- I haven't seen all the other papers, but I would like to commend the Baton Rouge paper.
This morning it was nice to pick up the paper and see so much coverage on women's basketball. And for you out-of-towners, they do that all the time.
Okay? It's not just in this tournament, but they do a very good job of coverage and so does the New Orleans' paper as well, but it's good to see that coverage, and it's been going on down here for years.
Jennifer Rizzotti. I had the opportunity to coach her on the Jones' Cup team, along with Michelle Marciniak; those were our point guards, and Carol Walters, one of our post players, Natalie Williams, Nakisha Sales, Sheri Sam, Pee Wee Johnson, Katie Smith, Tina Thompson. It was the best team that didn't go to the Olympics they ever put together, because every kid on that team has gone on to be a WNBA All-Star.
It was a pleasure to coach Jennifer Rizzotti because of the fire. You knew right then she was going to be a great coach. It was just a matter of time until she got all that playing time in the WNBA out of her, got a little bit of Geno out of her and a lot of Geno in her, and she's brought it all to this next level.
And she's similar to who I coach against in my league when I have to go against Kim Mulkey. It's good to see explayers get back into this game and take these programs, the mid-level programs, to the high level, because the mid-level programs can win at the highest level.
You do not have to be a BCS school to get to the Sweet 16, as Marist showed us last year and George Mason showed you in the men's game. It's good to see everybody get an opportunity. We're going to have a lot of opportunities tomorrow. We're going to see defenses that we didn't see against San Antonio. They played us 85 to 90% man-to-man, which we didn't expect, and we're going to expect triangles, box-and-two, denial-and-one's and different defenses to try and slow us down.
We will be playing our same man-to-man defense. That's what we do best. It's not time to change. It's not time to change for Coach Rizzotti if she's held 7 of her last 10 opponents to 46 points or better on the defensive side. She's doing something very well. Go with what brung you to the dance, because it's working! I think we're going to have one of the best second round games around. Open it up for questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Blair.

Q. Ladies, could you breakdown the match-ups, how you see it, what needs to be done outside. A'Quo and Patrice could you talk about what needs to be down outside against Hartford?
STUDENT ATHLETE: As far as the match-ups, preparing for the Big 10 is just like preparing for the Big 12, like Iowa State. We're going to match-up perfect with them, pressure up on our defense, and on offense we're going to dissect and attack the zone.
STUDENT ATHLETE: I think on the defensive end we need to play like we have always been playing, and on the offensive end we need to rebound and get the put-backs.
MORENIKE ATUNRASE: They said it all.

Q. Coach Blair talked about a different approach this year, no Time Square, no Disneyland, no sightseeing, more of the business-like atmosphere. Could you talk about the approach you guys are taking?
A'QUONESIA FRANKLIN: I believe it's the same approach, we go out and sightsee a little bit, but as far as us, we know what to expect. We've been here two years straight, and we know what to expect. We're not just happy to be here, but we're here for business.
MORENIKE ATUNRASE: Just to reiterate what A'Quo was saying, we haven't been sightseeing as much as we have. Coach Blair likes to travel, and we've been everywhere so far, but it's all business. We're here to win games, and that's what's first.
PATRICE READO: I agree with both of them.
COACH BLAIR: These are my three senior starters, really, because we call her a starter, still. They've been to Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Europe, they've been to Disneyland, the state of Washington, they've been to New York City, ESPN Zone, everyplace in the Big 12, which is not Disneyland, and it's been a great ride!
This is what college is doing for ya. Travel is an education, and I believe in taking kids places that will help us in recruiting, but help us in the competition factor, and we will play anybody, anytime. I think that's what you need to do. But when you can get them on neutral floors and have a chance to play teams, like in the Virgin Islands or in Hawaii or something, you take advantage of that. We don't stay in the hotel rooms and just watch game tape all day. We get out and we have a lot of fun.

Q. Sort of along that line, when you signed with A&M they were coming off an 8-straight losing season under their coach. What made you believe you could turn this around, especially for the two of you from Texas?
What was the vision of A&M in those days as compared to Texas or Texas Tech or Baylor?
PATRICE READO: When I was in high school, I excluded all of the Texas schools, but for some reason when Coach Blair called me, right after they moved from Arkansas to Texas A&M, I knew people that went to Texas A&M, and that kind of gave me a hint that I could go there. And when I made my visit, I fell in love with the coaches and the athletes that were there.
And the schools that were recruiting me, they were the top teams, so I wanted to go to a top team that needed more good people, like A'Quo and Morenike, to bring the program up.
A'QUONESIA FRANKLIN: Same for me. I didn't want to go a program that had a name for itself. I would rather be in a program that was on the rise, so I chose Texas A&M.
MORENIKE ATUNRASE: I would say I didn't think I would end up in Texas, but I'm glad I'm there now. I wouldn't go anywhere else. As far as me coming, I played against A'Quo for all my years in high school. We played against their high school, and I knew her, but we weren't talking, but I was playing against her.
And once they told me who all they were recruiting, I said, I think they have great athletes, and I think I have something I can bring to the program and turn things around, and Coach Blair had successful years where he was at prior to coming to Texas A&M, so I knew what type of coach he was and what type of coaching staff he had. I didn't want to leave Louisiana, because I wanted to stay close to home.

Q. What schools were recruiting you?
MORENIKE ATUNRASE: You were asking what schools? Tulane, LA Tech, Southeastern; it was mostly the Louisiana schools.

Q. For Coach and Morenike, this could be addressed to the both of you. I know Morenike has overcome injuries and IS a senior, and you've had to battle adversity, and, Coach, I saw in a story that you were quoted a couple of months ago that you said people better learn how to pronounce her name, because she's come to battle with avengence, so I'm curious, if Morenike -- maybe what she brings and what she has brought since her latest come-back.
COACH BLAIR: First, you have the best voice among these guys because. You're in radio; together, me and you, Morenike, Morenike, Morenike. If I had your voice, I would be doing a radio show, too, but I've got a Monday tone voice. I want your voice, but once you know it, it's Morenike, and it flows like she does out there on the court, okay?

Q. Got it.
COACH BLAIR: All right. And hopefully we can keep playing, and everybody is going to realize it's not Morenike anymore, because we're with Adidas now, thank you.
Now, what was the question?

Q. Battling adversity, injuries, that kind of thing and what she kind of -- her role with the team now.
COACH BLAIR: Basically the role of the team -- she's a senior leader. She will do whatever we ask of her. You notice in that ballgame yesterday, I think she was in the game 5 seconds and all of the sudden drilled a 3 from the corner. She did it today in practice, the same time. She rotates in, all of the sudden the shot is up, and she's got that flow about her. She's instant offense. Sometimes your best players shouldn't be the ones that are starting all the time, particularly when you have a team as balanced as we have.
Because you've got to learn to accept roles. It's nice to know if somebody gets two quick fouls, you can bring in an All-Big 12 performer or All-SEC or All-Big East performer off the bench. The last team that could do that, I believe, was Kathy Poindexter, and we've been able to do that. Danielle Gant did it her first two years. That's because of the strength we have of those top-six players that we have, and we've got some good ones behind them.
So her role is to come in and fix what's broken, and she can play the 2 position, because Takia is in, two fouls, Gant goes to the 3, and she stays at the four. If Gant is coming out, Reado comes out, Gant goes to the 4, and Reado -- I told her when she came out of the ballgame, I said, "3 minutes go in and get Micheaux," so when she went to the bench four minutes into the game, she said, what did I do wrong, probably, in her head, but now I told her in 3 minutes go in and get Micheaux.
But now it's a positive spin, it's not a negative coming out of the game. It's trying to balance six talented kids and get the most out of them.

Q. Coach, you're selling basketball. Can you talk about how important tomorrow night's game is for your program?
COACH BLAIR: I'm selling basketball all over the country, Robert, not just in Aggieland, because we're still in the growth stages all over the country. Our men got eliminated last night in a tremendous basketball game, similar to two years ago when LSU beat our men in the last-second shot.
But it's time to quit playing close and be satisfied. It's time to have that little bit of a hunger. These kids are never going to get another chance. These kids have got to sit there -- yeah, they've earned another Big-12 Championship rank, but to keep playing, you've got to have passion for the game, you've got to know a little bit of the history of the game and appreciate the history, and then you've got to have some hunger to get to that next level. And the eight teams that are seeded in the top two -- we're expected to get to regionals. We're expected to get there.
I looked at the stats this morning in one paper. I think a 10 seed has won three times. They're 3 and whatever -- I want to make sure that doesn't happen. But to do that, give your opponent respect. Because I know what it's like being a nine seed, because we were the lowest-seeded team at Arkansas that ever got to the Final Four in '98; we were a nine seed.
I want to make sure that Coach Rizzotti is going to have her team ready to play. The best thing about it is Rizzotti can't play, okay? Because if I had to play her one-on-one, she would kill me. We're going to have our team ready. It would mean so much for our area back there. We're in the business of selling season tickets. Yes, I've been disappointed, but we still have a 33% growth in season ticket sales. We're 8th in the league in attendance, okay?
That doesn't satisfy me, not if you're Big 12 Champions. I want to go on to that next level. We'll keep working. If I weren't a basketball coach, I could be a damn good marketing director, because that's where you have to do it in certain parts of the country.
And, Robert, you have no idea how low basketball was in the state of Connecticut before those teams that went to New Orleans in '92 and '93. Basketball wasn't worth a flip, men or women, and look at what they're doing at Connecticut now. Could it happen at Texas A&M? It's happening at Hartford right now, and it's happening at a lot of other places. It can happen at Texas A&M, and it's my job and these three girls up here to make sure it does happen.
THE MODERATOR: Anymore questions?

Q. Gary, along that line, Big 12 is No. 1 in RPI this year. Has it surpassed the SEC in the best conference, and if so what makes it -- it's taken 5 years to move up and get competitive. How do you see it?
COACH BLAIR: There are a lot of great conferences out there, particularly the SEC and the ACC and the Big 12. What makes our conference so good is there is not a bottom. You've got Missouri on the bottom right now, because they're the youngest team in the league, and they graduated everybody in two years. What makes the league's strength is the continuity among the coaches within the conference.
In the late '90s the SEC by far was the best conference, because look at who the head coaches were, and they were not going anywhere. Well, there has been a whole lot of change since Moody left Alabama, Champie retired, Foster to Ohio State, Sue passed away, Carol Ross is out of basketball, I left Arkansas and somebody else is gone, too. Van. Okay?
Well, you cannot just replace those players. It takes a while to get it there. We're doing it because we have balance. Perhaps in the Big 12 we do not have the great, great team, but we've got a lot of teams that can play great on a certain night. Those teams can win national championships. That's what we have right now. When we got 8 teams in there, when you look at Iowa State and Texas at 7-9, they deserve to be in that NCAA tournament.
And the SEC will get back once their coaches stay put for a few years and you don't change 'em out as much as they're changing them out right now. The ACC has gotten better and better, the Big East has gotten strong at the top and in the middle, but they're pretty weak at the bottom. When you have 16 teams, there has to be a bottom.
So I love my league, but I love the SEC as well. But right now I think we have the best balance. I'm not going to say we're the best conference, but I'm definitely going to say we have the best balance and the most commitment from administration of the 12 schools.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, any closing comments?
COACH BLAIR: No, I've already talked too long. I'm going to go back and watch basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, we'll see you all tomorrow.

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