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April 5, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll take an opening statement and then entertain questions for student-athletes first. Once all the questions for the student-athletes are answered, then we'll excuse them and take questions for Coach.
So I am joined up here on the podium by Stanford University's head coach, Coach Tara VanDerveer, as well as student athletes Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen.
COACH VANDERVEER: Our team is very excited to be here. It's been a great season, and we just really want to keep it going for two more games. We're working very hard and we just, I feel like we're playing well and we played great opponents to get here.
And I'm really proud of our team to this point, and we just want to continue enjoying this wonderful opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the first matchup with Connecticut. You said you're a different team, how you're different.
THE MODERATOR: Student-athletes first.
Q. Jayne, will you talk about the first matchup with Connecticut and how you guys are different?
JAYNE APPEL: I think we're playing a lot different, different pace than the beginning of the year. I think our game against them at the beginning of the year helped us to really realize how much work we needed to do. And it should be a good game.
Q. Kayla, can you talk about how Candice's game has blossomed? Tara said on the conference call you've gone from caterpillars to butterflies. Can you talk about how Candice's game has gone to the next level.
JAYNE APPEL: I think that Candice is really -- through experience, I think especially this summer when she played with older players on the national team, I think that she really took a lot from that and she's told us that playing with those elite players gave her a lot of experience. And I think that she's taken that and brought it to our team and I think it's what's helped us improve a lot.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Yeah, I feel the same way. I think that Candice has become more of a leader, as the season goes on. Right now she really drives our team. And of course it comes from experience. But I think she has a natural ability to lead us. I think that's the main way she's helped us.
Q. Candice, I understand you got a little award this morning. Can you talk about the reaction and what it means to be bestowed with this?
CANDICE WIGGINS: Yes, the Wade Trophy. This morning, I was very shocked and elated and so honored to receive this award. I've been, you know, at this presentation for three past years and great phenomenal players have received it. I think Simone got it twice and Candace last year. And I was not expecting to -- I was just going to sit back and just -- but to get the award it's so amazing.
I think just to have it this year, my last year with this team, that I just so desperately love, and a coach that I just absolutely love playing for. I think that's what makes it the most special, is because I can share it with the team and with that experience and I'll never forget this this season.
Q. Candice, you just talked about, your teammates talked about how you blossomed as a player. Could you talk about your other starters. You're the lone senior in that starting group. Talk about the younger players and how they've blossomed.
CANDICE WIGGINS: Okay. So this group is amazing. I think the best thing I love about Jayne and Kayla and the team is that they're so young but they're not, you know, afraid of anything. I think the biggest thing I've seen they've always had that just sort of fierce mentality. When you look at Kayla and her game against Rutgers, she was not even fazed by the situation.
And Jayne has improved even from her freshman year and to this year, she's become a leader on the court. And she's getting everybody together. Technical things like their actual game have improved. But I just really love their mind-set and how that's maintained the same throughout the whole entire year. And they just have the biggest, brightest futures. You're going to be seeing them for the next years to come. I'm so excited to them when they're seniors.
Q. A lot's been made in Connecticut about the fact that their senior class had not been to a Final Four and this is going to be their first. Stanford's wait has been much longer than this Connecticut drought. Can you talk about how playing in this Final Four is going to fill that void for you and in your career?
CANDICE WIGGINS: It's going to do wonders. This is, like you said, my first Final Four. I'm really soaking in the experience. And we're here to play. We're here to win, here to compete. But it's also a wonderful celebration of women's basketball.
And I think I would have been happy with the end of the season whether we went to the Final Four or not because I love this team so much. But to have this as my last memory of Stanford is astounding.
Q. Candice, along those lines, earlier in the week you were saying "what do I do, what do I do, this is so new to me," and to be in uniform here, I guess what does that feel like and how are you sharing that with your teammates?
CANDICE WIGGINS: Well, we're all kind of -- you experience the new experience together. I think the craziest part is just even looking at those signs up there and seeing the Stanford S.
I've come to Final Fours, but I've been on the outside looking in. Now to be on the inside, know, that is what is different and is so much fun, because you're able to showcase -- like people are going to see our team play. That's the best part of it, because even if you come here alone, you have your team with you; it's cool.
Q. If you were a guy playing men's basketball, you in all likelihood would have been long gone by now with never having the chance to see your game and your team blossom to this extent in your senior year. Could you address a little bit what that means and how the experience of playing for four years with this team, with this coach has helped you as a player and an individual?
CANDICE WIGGINS: Well, being here four years, I think, it's just -- it seems like a long time. But it really goes by really fast. And I think the biggest thing is the person that I've been able to become. I think that I owe a lot to Tara. She's never allowed me to not be the best I can be. And I just thank her for that, for not letting me settle, to be the best person I can be, the best teammate I can be. The best anything I can be.
So it's just to be able to look back at my career and just see the progress that I've made as a person and as a player, it's great.
Q. Candice, I know that Tara said she wants to tell you each game or each day how special a player you are. What has that meant to you along the way, and will you tell us a few things that she's shared with you each game like that?
CANDICE WIGGINS: Yes, it means a lot, because it makes me so happy that she wants to appreciate every moment. I think it allows me to appreciate every moment, too.
Over the course of the year, I can just remember, you know -- I think after maybe it was the Utah game I struggled shooting and before the next game she was like, I still have confidence -- just basically putting me up, don't worry about it, I still have confidence in you. I remember before the Baylor game, I think I was also going through like maybe a bad shooting slump. We were about to play Baylor. Before the game she's like: Listen, you're allowed to take three bad shots, so don't worry about it. Just take three bad shots, that's fine, you're allowed that. That really helped because I was like: Okay, I can take three bad shots. And it kind of got me back -- got my confidence back.
Then the Pac-10 tournament, she just said nice things about over the course of the years of that.
Q. Kayla, if I'm not mistaken you spent the last two years playing with Maya on the national teams. Talk about your relationship, if you had a chance to bond with her, and if her success this year being Big East player of the year has surprised you?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Maya is a great player and a great person, especially the first year. I think we got to bond a little bit and we hung out with each other a lot. I'm not surprised by her success this season. She's a great player. She's a great leader, and she's extremely talented. But I think it comes mostly from her work ethic. That's what I respect about her, is how hard she works.
Q. Candice, could you talk about the quality of this Final Four field with four First Team All-Americans appearing and obviously a lot of great story lines, how attractive an event you think this could be?
CANDICE WIGGINS: I think this is a great Final Four. I've seen a lot of them. And I'm just so honored to be a part of this, our whole school is.
And I think you look at the history behind Tennessee and Connecticut and that says enough. And then LSU coming for the fourth consecutive Final Four and us coming back, I think it's great.
And the players, I know Sylvia and Candace, they are just the top, the highest at our level. And we've got great players here, too.
So I just hope the country can see that, can see how much the women's game has advanced and what's to come.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for coach.
Q. Talk a little bit about the matchup with Connecticut, how you're a different team, what you anticipate tomorrow to be some of the keys for the game?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I mean, Connecticut has a great team and a great program, and they have -- as Candice and Kayla and Jayne talked about, they have terrific players and they really play with a purpose.
I think they're fun to watch because they run. They really play up tempo. They shoot the ball really well. They have an inside and outside game. They rebound. There's really not anything they don't do.
I think, unfortunately for them, and unfortunately for us, with the two ACLs, that affects their depth and I think it affects our depth, too, although our injuries were earlier than theirs.
But there are certain things I think that you have to do and you have to really try. You have to rebound well. They get a lot of second and third shots. I think you have to do kind of what Rutgers did and get out on key players.
You can't let whether it's Renee Montgomery or Swanier or obviously Maya Moore knock down open shots.
For our team, when we played them for the first time, we did not make open shots. And Connecticut, in November, to me was a November machine. They played like an incredible pace and they were way ahead of us.
And I'm really thankful for that game and our team is, too, that by playing them I think we've really improved. We actually made some significant changes in our offense since then and I think that our team, we could always look at that game and just say, you know, this is how we have to practice in order to ever play them again.
Q. I think Connecticut has won their last four national championships since Stanford had the last opportunity to be in the Final Four. What's that time been like for you? Your program is so well established, nationally known. Before Connecticut's roll started, what's the last 10 years been like?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I think that Geno talked a little bit about this at the salute dinner, the fact that maybe in the early '90s for both Stanford and Connecticut and Tennessee, that maybe players thought they were getting a full scholarship that included a trip to the Final Four.
And it's been hard to be as close as we have been, being at the Elite Eight through the last four years before this year.
And to be that close. But in some ways, when you have something taken away from you, you really -- maybe it makes you appreciate it more. So maybe for both ourselves maybe, Connecticut hasn't been here, and you call it a drought. I mean, that's because the standard is so high. And for Stanford, we haven't been here in 11 years.
And I think we as coaches and our players truly are -- we're thrilled to be here and are thoroughly enjoying the experience and we want to keep it going. A lot of it also, I think Geno referred too, is just sometimes with certain teams, you really -- teams allow you to enjoy it more. And both our teams are allowing us as coaches to really enjoy it.
Q. Tara, with an NCAA tournament, you would think that Candice would be more of a priority for defense than ever before. So how do you explain those 40-point games she's managed?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, honestly, there's sometimes where players get in a zone. And I think she definitely got into one of those zones at Maples with 44 points. Easily she could have had 50, missed some layups and some free throws. We had the lead and I took her out. And the basket got big for her.
But she is the focus of defenses. I know she'll be the focus in Connecticut's defense, but we also have other players stepped up for her. JJ Hones shooting well, playing well against Maryland. Ros Gold-Onwude against Pittsburgh, and Kayla and Jayne have been really steady inside.
And I think we have some other people that will be ready for this semifinal game with Connecticut. It's not all about Candice. Candice is happy to not score a point and have her team win. That's what I think is really special about her.
Q. Can you talk about Candice winning the Wade Trophy?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, for everyone, I think everyone in that room, including Candice, it was a shock I think that in some ways I just kind of thought it was going to be Candace Parker. And I was kind of given a tip before the announcement and so I was watching Candice Wiggins. She was kind of chitchatting with Kristi Toliver next to her and she heard Stanford. And she was in shock. She heard her name and she was, "oh, my God." It was hysterical to watch her. But we're so excited for Candice.
Not because -- I mean, she's a four-time All-American. She has really put her team on her back to get here. But she's just really a special person. And I'm really excited for her. I think she's -- we probably don't like using this word, but she's a great role model for young women and she's so honest with her emotions.
That seems to be a big part of what makes basketball so special, is that she shows her emotion and she shows it so honestly. So I'm really happy for her. And, I don't know, our team was giving me a hard time. I was standing up clapping. It's like I'm so proud of her.
Q. Could you talk specifically how your offense has changed since that game in November?
COACH VANDERVEER: Specifically, for the past -- I want to say we've run our triangle offense for four years. And over the first three years, we basically ran it as a four-round-one, where basically we put Jayne Appel on the block and had four people doing the same things in the same positions around her.
And after playing Connecticut, we changed it to a three-around-two. It changed significantly. I think we're running it a lot better. And it made me a little mad because I think we should have made the change probably two years ago. But it allows us to put players maybe in positions where they're more comfortable.
Some of my ideas about basketball, I want players sometimes to do things maybe that they can't do. I want them all to be versatile facing up, shooting 3s, a little bit of an international way of looking at the game when in reality a lot of our post players are comfortable in two places: high and low.
So we've pretty much moved our post players back into those traditional places.
Q. I'm curious what you think it's going to take for there to be more parity in the sport of women's college basketball from top to bottom? Because you look at this year where it's all 1s and 2s in the Elite Eight and the Tennessees and UConns that are always kind of the top level?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, it's -- maybe a couple of things. There are some 2s at our Final Four and the men's is all 1s. But I think it is happening. But a lot of it will be institutionally. When institutions throughout the country prioritize women's basketball and put the resources and higher-experienced coaches for positions and say we want to be a player in this game.
I don't think it's honestly that hard to do. I mean, it does cost some money and you have to have it a priority. But Stanford made the commitment to women's basketball I think 20 years ago in hiring me from Ohio State. Connecticut made the commitment in hiring Geno. He's done a fabulous job. Pat Summitt has obviously been there a long time but she's really grown to go to 18 Final Fours is incredible.
Different places throughout the country are saying women's basketball is a priority and we're going to -- as they put more resources then I think that they'll work harder to win. And there's more pressure on coaches, which personally I think is a good thing.
Also I think the woman's game is like this way with talent and we need it to be this way (demonstrating), more opportunities for young girls to play. Better coaching, better out of season growth. And I think as that happens I think you will see more and more parity.
Although, I think we are seeing it with first teams first getting into their first Sweet 16s, more teams going to the Final Four.
Q. Obviously a lot of the focus on Connecticut has been on Maya Moore but you mentioned the guards. Could you talk about Renee Montgomery what she brings to that team and what you have to do?
COACH VANDERVEER: Maybe Sheryl Swoopes and her team, I can't name any other of the teammates on her team. She was a phenomenal player.
Maya Moore is going to be a four-time All-American. I believe she'll be a Wade Trophy winner. She's a phenomenal player. But she has a great cast. And Renee Montgomery, I think, has probably been a real key for their team because when Mel Thomas went down, Renee's role has changed.
And she is extremely talented. She plays at both ends of the floor defensively, offensively, she's obviously a leader for them on the court. She has exceptional skills. And personally I'm really impressed with just the development of all their guards. I think Swanier has improved a lot since we played them the last time. Renee Montgomery has helped her. Looks like they have great competition in practice. They really push each other.
But she's a real key to their team. And obviously being an upper classman and being a guard, she passes well. She shoots well. She defends well. I think she has a great future. And she'll be a very tough matchup for us.
End of FastScripts