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March 28, 2008

Melanie Balcomb

Jennifer Risper

Christina Wirth


THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Coach Balcomb.

Q. You've been in a few states since Monday and flown a lot of miles. Could you just talk about the last three or four days and the whirlwind that it's been to get here.
COACH BALCOMB: Well I think that it really helped us to get out of New Mexico as quickly as we did after our game. We flew through the night so most of the kids slept and then went to class the next morning.
Had that day off. Had a really good practice the next day. And then got on a plane again and had yesterday off. And looking forward to practicing today.
But again, our kids are excited, they're young, they have a lot of energy, and this is where they want to be. So I don't think it's even been discussed or a factor in how we feel. Because I think we feel great.

Q. A lot has been made about all the Big East teams in the Sweet 16 but can you talk about playing in the Southeastern Conference and how playing at such a high level has brought you to this point.
COACH BALCOMB: Absolutely. If you look at our record, since January we haven't lost to anybody but LSU and Tennessee. Yet we have four losses. So you play Tennessee three times and they're a number one seed and you play LSU and they're a number two seed, and I think that's one of the things we keep telling our players is how prepared we are. As well as beating Georgia twice and having other quality opponents like Auburn and Kentucky and teams like that, that we have done really well against. And I think that does build our confidence, because our competition has been very good in the last two and a half months.

Q. As you look at film and stats and all, who does Maryland remind you of teams you've played this year? If anybody.
COACH BALCOMB: A lot like Tennessee, to be honest with you. They have just got some great, great players, individual play, and knowing personnel and defending that personnel. They have five tremendous players on the court that can all create a shot for themselves or for someone else. And they have great experience.
So we have, individually, we have compared people to different teams, but as a team, as a whole, Tennessee seems to come up more than anybody.

Q. Last year you guys were expected to get to this point with a senior-laden team and you didn't. This year it can be kind of considered a little bit of a surprise, how do you keep kids from just having that being happy to be here type of feel?
COACH BALCOMB: I think you just have to know your kids. And I think that they feel like they're playing really well. They feel very confident. They feel like they have a lot of momentum going in to this game. And by being young and not being expected to be here they feel a sense of relaxation that you have to have on offense. Yet at the same time they're competitors and they want to win every game they play.
So it's a great combination, because you want to be intense on defense, but you want to relax on offense. And then they don't have that added pressure of being their last game and feeling, and a lot of them know what that felt like last year. And they just feel a good sense of I think just looking forward to the next opponent and to the next game instead of concern. It's a great feeling. I know as a coach I feel totally different than I did last year. And I know that I'm sure they do too.

Q. Can you just talk about the matchup what concerns you player for player and how you'll matchup with these guys?
COACH BALCOMB: Well, I don't think we play a lot of player for player, but I think that what we like is to keep people off balance. We like to play different defenses. We like to play matchup zone, we like to play man, we like to play trapping, half court, three quarter court. So what we like to do is keep people off balance as a team.
Individually we don't really matchup with them. I don't think there is a matchup to worry about. But we play defense and have all year, it's the best defensive team I've ever coached and we have just held our last two opponents to 46 and 47. And I feel like we did that is a team. And I think the advantage is we know we need each other. And there's a lot of, there's a sense of trust. We help and then we rotate and the next player is there. Defensively that's what I try to teach is team defense, not really individual matchup defense anyway.

Q. Can you pinpoint a game at some point during the season where you can look back and say this is where I knew this team was going to make it this far?
COACH BALCOMB: Not really. I think that our team, our season thus far has been about recovery and the only thing I looked back about is losing two straight games at home. That had never happened to me at Vanderbilt and to our program and we got, we really got beat and beat well by Old Dominion.
So we knew that it was broke and we needed to fix it. And so we had a lot of time to do that. I like the timing of when that happened. And what we did with our program and the things we did and the adjustments we made and then we got everybody on board. And once they have been on board and once we have, we had their attention and made the most of that and we have just, it's been just a focus on getting better every game.
That's why I was talking earlier, I don't think we have had our best game yet. We're that young that we can't wait for another game. We want to keep it going because we want to play our best game.

Q. How important to the program to get past this stage where you've been a few times and you personally have done it at another school, but for this team?
COACH BALCOMB: I think it's something that we strive for as a program. The expectations being from the SEC conference, but the expectations at Vanderbilt when I came there was to get the team back to an Elite 8 and then on to a Final Four and a national championship. And we will always have those expectations and be reaching for those. This year is no different than any other year. And I didn't treat it any differently.

Q. You mentioned earlier you feel different as a coach from last year to this year. Can you kind of expand on that a little bit?
COACH BALCOMB: I think that there's, again, with a senior class, you want so much for them. I feel exactly how may players, what their statements have been interesting, because they haven't talked about them feeling the pressure, they felt like they wanted to do it for Dee and for Carla and Caroline and I felt the same way. They were my first recruiting class and they had been through a lot of adversity. And that first recruiting class of six or seven players, Caroline was a walk on actually in that class, and to get all the SEC Championships and the individual accolades that we did, but we wanted to go farther and make a run in the NCAAs. And so what we had talked about when I recruited them was getting to a Final Four and winning a National Championship.
It was really talked about as one of their goals and that's why they came to play for me at Vanderbilt. And so they wanted to do things that no one else had done. And that's the ultimate goal of a National Championship. That has not been done at Vanderbilt.
So I think we had dreamed about it, and they had the same dream and so then the players we brought in behind that came in with that same vision and wanted it for them before they left. I felt the same exact way. I knew I was going to have another shot, I knew I was going to come back, but I wanted it for Dee and Caroline and Carla.

Q. I know sometimes foul trouble and getting a team's star player in trouble early can be key. Maybe more so with this team, they get over 85 percent of their points from that starting five. Is it maybe even a bigger point of emphasis to get to the bench in this game?
COACH BALCOMB: Not really. I think that most teams down the stretch here once you get into NCAA play have an either five, six or seven man rotation. I don't think there's anything deeper than that. And everybody likes to talk about depth being such a factor, what I think we want to do is not just get them out of the game, but wear people down. Since depth is something that we have, we feel like we have a starting seven.
So that's one of the things we did against West Virginia, so since we just had success with that we'll be trying to do that again. But we, again, we don't want to get in an up tempo game with them, because that's their strength. So we want to go fast to slow. Which is very unique in our program and something that we want to make them defend us in the half court and we want to keep them in the half court.

Q. They get a lot of points also from the foul line and they seem to get into the bonus pretty early in halves. Without necessarily touching that third rail, how important will officiating be, will there be something specific he you'll be looking for in terms of how the game is called?
COACH BALCOMB: No, that's something I try not to focus on at all. Because I don't have any control of that. The officials or who they're going to be. I know our first two games were officiated differently than the SEC was and that's an adjustment for the players.
I think that you don't, again, we're in a new region, different officials, you're going to get a different combination of officials, that might determine how they officiate it. The key is adjusting to those officials in the first couple minutes of play. Your players have to be smart.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
COACH BALCOMB: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll go ahead and take questions for the student-athletes from Vanderbilt.

Q. I asked your coach the same question, a lot has been made about all the Big East teams that have made it to the Sweet 16. Can you talk about playing in the SEC and what a tough conference it is and how it's helped get you to this point?
JENNIFER RISPER: Sure. I think playing in the SEC prepares us for any team that we're going to face just because it's so aggressive and just really physical. And so we're able and capable to when we play teams like that, to just be physical with them and maybe show them some aggression that they never face when they're playing in their conferences.
CHRISTINA WIRTH: It's just, a big thing is we play against great teams like Tennessee and LSU, Georgia, really there's no game in the SEC that you can just completely overlook. It's good because once you get to tournament time you're going to play against a great team every night and everybody is ready to play. So just getting ready for that during your conference play prepares you for tournament play.

Q. How is the kind of sense and the feeling around the team different this year than it was during last year's tournament and is there more kind of relaxation entering in a this game?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: I think that this year we have talked about this a lot, we're just more relaxed this year. Last year we had three seniors who were great players and I think that we were all kind of putting a little pressure on ourselves for them just we wanted to go so far and end into the second round, which it ended there, which was disappointed.
This year because we're so young people don't expect a lot from us. We expect a lot from ourselves, but it's just a different feeling because we're so young and we're just a different kind of team this year. I think that because our defense is so much better this year that it just allows games to be more fun because nobody can take anything away from your defense.
There's nights where your offense is struggling but because that's not really our bread and butter this year, our defense is, we're just allowed to play so much more free and just really go after games and know that we can stay in any game because we can shut people down.

Q. I asked your coach who she thought Maryland resembled of the teams that you've played this year. So I ask you all that, but also I would ask you, who do you think you guys, how would you describe your style to someone?
JENNIFER RISPER: I guess we would say Maryland kind of resembles Tennessee a little bit, where it's more about knowing the personnel, just what the girls like to do and their kind of style of play. They just like to run and get out there and in transition and play. What was the other question?

Q. Who do you think, how would you describe your style?
JENNIFER RISPER: I kind of just go with what Tina said, kind of last thing she said was just our defense. We really take a lot of pride in our defense this year. One of the keys we have is just running to have fun. So I guess that would be our style, just getting out there and playing basketball together as a team.

Q. For Jennifer, your brother played at Eastern Washington here, have you, are you familiar with this part of the country, ever been here before and if not, what he's he told you about this place?
JENNIFER RISPER: Well, no, I've never been to Washington. He really told me that there's not much to do out here.
But I don't really do much anyway except go to the movies and go bowling with Tina, so there's, you know, I don't know. I came here for basketball, so there's not, you know, the mall, that will be fun, but that's it.

Q. You guys have compared them to Tennessee, can you talk about how your games went with Tennessee and how your defense worked against that type of team?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: We played Tennessee three times so far this year and I think that every time we played them we have gotten more competitive with them. We talked about how they're similar to Maryland and that they're just, you need to know their personnel. All five players on the floor can score and they're good at it. So we just need to defensively we just need to know personnel. And just really be aggressive. Teams like that, if you're they have great shooters, if you're going to let them shoot, obviously they're going to knock it down.
So I think with Tennessee we got better every time we played them and just taking those things away from them, not giving them anything easy, and then just really just being the aggressive team. Yeah, Maryland's a great team, they won a National Championship two years ago, but we're not going to be intimidated by that, because we're going to go out there and go after it and we're going to play hard and make them do things that they're not used to doing. And I think that playing Tennessee three times just has prepared us for that.

Q. This ties in with a question about the Big East earlier, but the national perception is that there's two power teams in the SEC with Tennessee and LSU. Does, would you guys getting to the Elite 8 kind of dispel all that national perception that there are a lot of powers teams in the SEC and that you guys and Georgia and the like should be taken seriously as national contenders?
JENNIFER RISPER: Go ahead, Tina.
CHRISTINA WIRTH: I think that nobody makes it to the Elite 8 if they're not a great team. Right now I think that we're in a good position just that we made it this far and we're excited about this game. I think that we're just going to go hard after it and I think that even getting to this point shows people that we deserve to be mentioned up there with the other great teams in the country.
In the SEC we lost to LSU and Tennessee this year. But we played them tough and I don't think that any team in the SEC will say that when they know they're going to play us next game that they overlook that game. I think that we compete with people and we challenge people every night that we play them. So I think that we're kind of on the verge and just, with the youth of this team, I'm just excited for what we're going to continue to do this year but even what we're going to do next year because we're just getting better every day and I think that teams are, they're going to see that we're improving and that they can't take us lightly, because we are a good team.

Q. Have you guys talked to the seniors from last year at all in this run or have they been in contact?
JENNIFER RISPER: Well, Dee Davis she was at our bus when we left to come out here and Caroline is also one of our grad assistants. So just with Caroline there, she's always just encouraging us and just telling us keep pushing, this is the best time of your life right now, this is the time where you go out there and have fun. And so I think it really just, it clicks with a lot of our girls now just because we're so young and that's what we want to do, we just want to have fun. And sometimes basketball can seem like a job and it can seem hard, but when you're out there with a group of girls that it's just fun to play with, then this is the best time.
We're just excited. You're going to see smiles on everybody's faces because they just want to be here and we just can't wait to play on Saturday.
THE MODERATOR: We have talked so much about the youth of your team, you obviously are two of the veterans, just I'll ask Christina first, what have you, maybe talk about some of the conversations you've had with some of those young teammates gets continuing them ready for this trip?
CHRISTINA WIRTH: I think that Jen and I have taken on a leadership role that usually is seniors take because we only have one senior this year and didn't want to leave it all on her, so our younger players have been amazing just in terms of just being open to listening and trying to make the changes that coach asked of them or that we ask of them.
Just we have two freshmen that start and you talk to them and it's all head nods and just, okay, okay, yeah, sure. And which is great. When you have an attitude like that instead of somebody whose going to look at you like, okay, you know, not listening, it just makes it so is easy because they're open to what you're saying they want to make the changes because they want to help the team.
Our freshmen have been amazing, even our sophomores who are relatively young they are just open to it. They're listening, they just want to do anything they can and we have talked a lot this year about roles on the team and just and it might not be the role that you're us a today from high school or whatever, but or not the role that you want, but we have people on this team that are just so willing to do whatever it takes to win that if you talk to someone it's, and you sit them down and say, this is what we need from you, I guarantee you in the next game or the game after that they're going to do it and it's going to be beneficial for the team.
JENNIFER RISPER: That's great.
JENNIFER RISPER: Yeah. Well -- yeah. I don't know, I guess talking to some of them, we can talk about the things that they do well like Merideth she's a great shooter, but in a basketball game sometimes your shots aren't going to fall. So we try to focus on things that you can do. Which is working hard, going after it, just the hustle plays, rebounds and steals and just being out there forcing and dictating the other team.
So I guess we talk about things like that. The biggest thing is just like having fun like when we're playing on the court and we're looking in each other's eyes or someone gets a charge we run over there and we huddle and we're happy that she just gave her body to cause the other girl to get a foul. And that girl's probably going to go sit on the bench now.
So I think that the biggest thing is just we want to have fun together and then also too the attitudes are just great. Especially Jence like as our point guard she's so is focused and determined, but she works so hard and she is a great person she's a great person to just encourage you.
And so I think it's just fun. It's fun to play with these girls just because we're young, but also too another thing is we're so young, but all of our girls like even our freshman and sophomores like they play a lot. And you think that they don't have any experience, but they have been playing all year and in extremely tough games, lots of minutes. So they have gained so much experience over the year, so.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you, ladies and good luck.

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