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March 29, 2008

Gary Blair

A'Quonesia Franklin

Danielle Gant

Takia Starks


THE MODERATOR: Coach, welcome. Your thoughts?
COACH GARY BLAIR: We're still dancing. Good to be here. Good to see all the media here and we just appreciate the coverage we've been getting. If your per diem is good enough, go to Mickey Mantle's to eat. It was very good last night.
I had no idea, we couldn't figure who was playing minor league baseball, my Rangers was playing there last night and it was a little too cold for me to get over there to see 'em and Chicago beat 'em. That's not good.
We're happy to be here. You look at the history of women's basketball and that's Tennessee, that's Duke, and that's Notre Dame. And we're trying to become part of history. We're not a Cinderella team. We're a good basketball team that earned our No. 2 seed, but we have a lot of respect for the teams that are here. I know 'em all, I've played 'em all in past years and they're very well coached. I think you have one of the most balanced regions right here. If you look by RPIs, I think the four of us RPI-wise is the highest of the four regions.
Back in 1998, as some of you know, we had to beat Kansas at San Jose and then played Duke to get to the Final Four and then play Tennessee. And that was a special time for us, and all of the sudden you look up, here is Duke again. And all of the sudden you know who is waiting in the wings, either Notre Dame or Tennessee. And we're just ready to play basketball. I'll open it up for questions right now.

Q. Coach, you guys were here last year, for the Big 12 tournament and you got to know the territory a little bit. Is that an advantage to you at all? And Danielle is coming home this week and what kind of crowd support do you think she's going to have?
COACH GARY BLAIR: I think she's going to have tremendous crowd support because she's an Oklahoma kid, there was a great story in The Oklahoman today and in the Dallas Morning News today about Danielle Gant. Two very well written stories.
This is a kid, it's just a feel-good story. She was a great player in high school, but look at the obstacles that she's overcome to get to where she is today. I don't believe in all my years I've ever coached a kid that plays as hard as her every possession, every time down the court. I could go back to Arkansas and say Christy Smith, my point guard was similar to that, but this is a kid that makes all of us push ourselves just a little bit harder, as coaches and as players. And if somebody it is trying to guard her, if you're guarding Danielle Gant you're going to get embarrassed in a heartbeat if you don't go hard in practice.
Is it an advantage being the only Big 12 school? Sure, I'd love to Sherri Coale here, too, and we had have 12,000 fans here, but at the same time Texas A&M is representing the Big 12. The Big 12 is putting on this regional. We want to be able to put our best foot forward and show you everything about the Big 12. We are disappointed that there are only two teams left out of the eight, but I think we've had a very good year and we shouldn't be ashamed about the six schools that did lose because all of 'em won over 20 games this year. We're just ready to play ball and we hope to recruit the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State fans that didn't go to New Orleans. And I think that's what you're supposed to do is you cheer for your conference.

Q. Coach, your initial thoughts on Duke, your opponent tomorrow.
COACH GARY BLAIR: First, when you look at the ACC, it is the most high-octane, offensive conference in the country, because of the style of ball they play. When you look at North Carolina, Maryland and Duke and Virginia and Florida State, go all the way down the line, it's the most offensive conference in the country. You have teams loaded with All-Americans. You have kids who handle the ball well, 4 and 5 players handle the ball as well on Duke as well as 2 or 3 players on other teams. They all are coming from McDonald's All-American games. They've been everywhere. They're high-profile kids. What I like about Duke is all of 'em can put the ball on the floor and score. They change up their defenses, they're not afraid of turnovers, because they want you to play their style of ball, a fast style. And they realize they're going to turn the ball over as well as you're going to turn the ball over. They just believe they have more offensive fire power than whoever they're playing.
I think I heard once that North Carolina was trying to get 110 possessions a ballgame. That's mind boggling to me. We like to take a team deep into the shot clock if we're playing on the defensive end and that's going to be a little bit different, because in the ACC I don't believe they need a shot clock because that sucker is going up pretty quick.
I like Chante Black. If she plays as well against us as she played against Arizona State, we're going to have a long night. We've got to keep her away from the offensive boards, keep her away from the free-throw lines. Waner, I've been recruiting and watching for seems like eight years. She's always been that great of a player, all the way when she was a seventh, and eighth-grader. You knew about the Waners coming up.
The point guard reminds me of Danielle Robinson. She is that quick and that's just like Robinson for Oklahoma is what Thomas is doing for them. What we've got to do is take her layups away because she can get by you so quick.
Now, the Gay kid coming off the bench, she is an offensive firepower kid, she comes up puts the ball in the hole, sort of like what we have with Morenike coming off to give us instant offense. Very, very good offensive player.
They came through a tremendous conference. When you have to play North Carolina twice, and Maryland twice and the other teams up in their little pod that they have to play twice, it's similar to us playing Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma twice. I think our league is just as good, top to bottom. Theirs might be a little stronger at the very, very top. I think ours 1 through 12 is as good or better than anybody in the country right now.

Q. You've spoken fondly of Oklahoma and the players. What is it that lures you to this place and how important have their players been in your rebuilding process and where you are right now?
COACH GARY BLAIR: What lures me to Oklahoma is a name you haven't heard, Hattie Colbert who played for me in high school at South Oak Cliff. Played I believe for Wayne Merriman. Michelle Packer and Stephanie Bloomer, who I inherited at Arkansas, two very good players who played six-on-six ball, that developed into solid players. And then Wendi Willits and Kamara Stancle, who took me to the Final Four. And Stancle from Muskogee, went to Connors and here. And then you come back and throw in a Danielle Gant. And I'm missing somebody, and I'll be hung if I forget her name. But I think I'm 7 for 7. How about Tasha Brown at Louisiana Tech, first six-on-six player.
This is one of the most underrated coaching states in the country. Whether it was six or four-on-four or five-on-five, they know how to teach the game here. That's why you saw Connecticut come down here and get Hansmeyer and Sauer. Earnesia Williams goes to Texas. Liz Lay fixing to go out to Washington. It's a very good state for basketball. And I will always recruit this state.

Q. Do you see any difference in this team than in the way Gail's teams played?
COACH GARY BLAIR: Yes. I think the personnel is the same, because most of the personnel was recruited by Gail. Sometimes it's very hard, like we're going through this with our men's team at A&M right now, going from the Gillespie style to the Turgeon style, and both teams are already at the top. Usually when a coach comes in, the team is at the bottom. Rarely does that happen that Gillespie and Turgeon coming in and then the coaches coming in, you're never in a win-win situation, it's somebody else's kids or this style or they were recruited to play a different style.
But one thing she has added is the match-up zone. The match-up zone is what she was known for at Michigan State. The other thing is Al Brown. I've known him since the Tennessee days when he was with Pat for so long. Great tactician of the game and he's like having a Tex Winter on your bench to help you out as the head coach. The personnel is very much Gail driven because she recruited it. Now it's up to Joanne to blend her system in. You can win with a lot of different systems. And she's doing very well with her system right there.

Q. Gary, do you have any concern or fear that your team will think, you know, oh my God, Duke, Tennessee, Notre Dame and wilt because they've never been on this stage before? Or do you like that, that you are the underdog, out of these four.
COACH GARY BLAIR: I can promise you one thing, they're not going to wilt, okay? We're going to give it everything we have. We've been playing and practicing so hard, and the kids just have so much confidence in themselves right now, and maybe our kids haven't been on the grand stage before but this isn't my first rodeo. And coach Schaefer, we've been there. So has Coach Bond. The thing is I've got a basketball team, until it's proven different, is as good as the team I took to the Final Four in '98. It is every bit as good defensively and the only way you can prove that is to win, okay? If not, you're yesterday's heroes or something like that, it doesn't work. We're going to go out there and we're going to change out -- not change our, we're going to be in a zone, we're going to man to man. We're going to pressure. We'll mix in our full-court press with our half-court defense. And Joanne is not going to change anything for me, either.
You don't change at this stage, you have confidence and as a head coach you have to wear that confidence into the locker room. You've got to get your kids to believe that. Hey, we're not up here for the tee shirts that we're going to get as we go, we're going to have to pay $25 for 'em, but (Chuckles.) Hey, somebody's making money! What about tee shirts for our teams? We want to buy the tee shirts in Tampa, okay?
But this region is going to be very, very good because of how teams attack. There's no slow-down team here at all. I mean, we're all going to get after it. Duke is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, and we're just going to have to be ready for it. We need to keep the score in the 50s and us in the 60s, and they probably want the score in the 80s and us in the 70s. If that happens, that's to their advantage, if it stays in the 50s, 60s, it's to our advantage.

Q. Gary, obviously the other teams here all have great names, great traditions, but in the Big 12 it's not like you guys go up against a bunch of puds; you're playing Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. How well does that prepare you in your regular season to get into something like that?
COACH GARY BLAIR: You know, I was doing blogs, I'm just like everybody else I try to write like you guys and do a column. I hadn't written one since the middle of December when a good friend of mine in the media passed away, Joe Smith. I wrote one on him, but my next one was going to be 60 long days and 60 short nights. That's what you go through in January and February. Now you add 30 more days to that in March. You try like this to get to April. And to keep playing, and the Big 12 gets you ready for everything because of the different styles of ball that you see. You can go play a Bill Fennelly in a match-up zone, a Mulkey in-your-face defensive style like us, or you play Kansas State where they're going to hold the ball to the last 5 seconds and see if you're going to make a mistake, or then you've got to play Sherri Coale with the twins inside and great personnel. It gets you ready.
I think we have more different styles than the Big 12. Most of styles I've seen in the ACC are very similar, because of their skill players. They have some very, very well skilled players that can put the ball on the floor. I'm trying two get to Tuesday. Why? Because it's my wife's birthday. April the first. And she said she would like to see me on my birthday. And I'm doing a commuter marriage and it's hard to get to Fayetteville and back, so that's what I'm trying to do is be able to give a birthday present to her in person instead of having to mail it. To do that, we need to be playing somehow, some way, and you're at the point now, whatever it takes.
I will have a talk with my players and make them realize that if there is somebody that's hot and it's not Starks or Gant, we will go with that person and everybody better be on the same page. If I've got a kid that's going to come off the bench that might be better at guarding Chante Black, whatever it takes at this stage, put your egos aside and put the team first. Put the team first in whatever it is going to take, because they're doing the same thing with us.
Always, always give respect to your opponent. And Duke is a very good basketball team. And the Black kid, we haven't faced anybody of that magnitude at the post position since Courtney Paris and they're complete opposites. It's like someone guarding Shaq and then guarding Tim Duncan; two different preparations that you've got to do.
So we're going to have a good time and, remember, if you've got per diem get to Mickey Mantle's.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, good luck. Questions for our student-athletes.

Q. Danielle, you're back home, is that a distraction or is that a positive thing this week?
DANIELLE GANT: No, it's not a distraction at all. I think I play well in front of my family and friends, so just coming back home and being able to play in front of them is just a great feeling.

Q. A'Quo and Takia, can you talk about the fact that y'all are here for the first time, while these other programs are used to this. Do you like that role, no one knows much about A&M, doesn't know what to expect?
TAKIA STARKS: Yes, we like it. Being a freshman and become at the bottom of the Big 12, we were out to get people and now in the Big 12 we were kinda like the target. So now the target is off our back and we're out to get other people, even though that Duke has the name and Texas A&M don't. But we're going to try and go out and make a name for ourselves.
DANIELLE GANT: Just to elaborate on what A'Quo said, personally I think we play better when we're the go-getters and we're the underdog. That's a role we play very well, but I promise you this year it hasn't been our role but we expect great things in this next game.

Q. Danielle, Coach Blair came up here and said until this team loses, this team is every bit as good as the Final Four team he had before. That speaks great to your tenacity out front. Just your thoughts that you may be the hunter yet you have no loss of confidence against the big programs in women's basketball.
DANIELLE GANT: Our confidence, since we've been on this winning streak, our confidence has been extremely well. We're not going to be, you know, just because we're Texas A&M we're not going to go out and play -- because they have Duke on their shirt doesn't mean we're not going to play our game. We're going to play good defense.

Q. A'Quo, can you talk about you mentioned your freshman year and where this program has come and now to be on this stage, you know, with some of the elite names in women's college basketball and what this experience is like for you guys this week?
A'QUONESIA FRANKLIN: It's been a great experience. One of the reasons why most of the senior class now came to Texas is because it was a program that was on the rise. So this is what eventually why people are going to be coming to Texas A&M, and we're just really happy to be in the position that we are in.

Q. A'Quo, can you talk about the match-ups tomorrow, what can we expect to see?
A'QUONESIA FRANKLIN: The match-ups we're going to have Takia Starks on Waner, trying to pressure her, not let her get off great shots. We know she can shoot from deep. Gant will probably be on Smith, she is an athletic kid and she can stretch the defense. And basically we'll all match up with the same positions, and just try to keep 'em in front and try to limit the touches.

Q. A'Quo, do you guys watch much ACC ball during the regular season or are you strictly focused on taking care of the next Big 12 opponent?
A'QUONESIA FRANKLIN: We love basketball. We watch basketball no matter who it is, guys, girls. So, yeah, we are aware of ACC-style basketball. We're just going to treat it just like it's another game, and go out and play and try to do what we do in the Big 12 basically and play pressure defense. We're not going to change anything just because they're ACC.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, congratulations on your season, best of luck.

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