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April 6, 2009
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
AMY YAKOLA: I'm pleased to be joined on the podium today by Connecticut head coach Gene Auriemma, as well as student-athletes Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, and Kalana Greene.
Coach, an opening statement.
COACH AURIEMMA: I don't know, we're saying the same things every day seems like. If I was you guys, I'd get tired of listening to it. We're tired of saying it. But I know we have to say it because you have to write it.
But nothing has changed in the three days that we've been here. Today we'll do the same thing we did the day before yesterday. Tomorrow hopefully we'll prepare the same way we did yesterday.
We have a great opportunity here in front of us. We're playing a team that obviously has an awful lot going for them right now. And we're playing a team that, from what I heard, really wanted to play us, wants to play us, which I admire their camaraderie that they want it to be an all Big East final. I'm sure that's what they meant.
So all I can say is we've done 38 times what I hope we can do one more time.
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Renee, could you just talk about Angel McCoughtry not just as a player but as a leader of the team and what you're most impressed about her?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I'm just impressed about how she really puts herself aside. I think this last month a lot of the other players on her team have been stepping up and she's allowed them to do it. I know a couple times in the game she drove ball to the basket and dished it off to one of her teammates, and just to have enough trust and faith in her teammates to make a big play, or when it was going down the line, I think there was a few seconds on the shot clock and she let one of her teammates shoot the ball.
You can just see she trusts her teammates, and I think that's big when you have a player that is always used to having the ball and always used to making the big play to put herself aside and let her teammates make that play because she trusts them enough.
Q. Kalana and Maya, I'm sure if you were on Louisville you would be feeling the same they are, the underdog, it's a great role, nothing to lose. And I'm wondering where you think the fantasy ends and the reality begins.
KALANA GREENE: I think when the ball's thrown up in the air, that's when it begins and when the clock ends is when it ends. It's going to be a good game for the fans. I don't think they're looking at it as they're any less than us. At this point in the tournament everyone's 5-0. And they're looking to get a win just like we are.
MAYA MOORE: I agree, the game has to be played. And all talk stops. Like Kalana said, when the ball is thrown up you have to go out and play, and at the end of the game hopefully our reality will be where we want it to be.
Q. Renee and Maya, have you guys played with a refuse-to-lose attitude all year? And have you allowed yourselves to think about what's at stake tomorrow, not only a national championship but an undefeated season?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think we all played with that mentality, because every year before this we've lost. And I think everyone came with the mindset that it takes one game at a time, and we've made it really simple. And we haven't really looked too far in the future. Each game we're just worried about the next game, and not necessarily two games in that advance. So right now we're worried about the national championship game and not really what it's going to mean to be undefeated but just to get one more win and end our season the right way.
MAYA MOORE: Definitely, I think that's the key to our success all year, is staying focused on what's ahead or the next game ahead and not getting too wrapped up in being afraid of what if we lose or what if we do this, but just getting excited and showing up and playing UConn basketball for 40 minutes. And all the things, the records whatever comes with it, it's something we can look at afterwards.
But we're definitely not going to get caught up in the what-ifs; we're just going to come in and get prepared for the game.
Q. Maya and Renee, Coach was saying yesterday that he would rather play anybody but Louisville tomorrow because of what happened in the other games. Do you guys feel that way at all?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I do, just -- I think one of the better things about playing in the NCAA tournament, you get to play teams you haven't played before that you don't know anything about and it's kind of exciting to play someone that you've never played before.
But, I mean, we are playing them. And so we have to get excited for the game and we know that in a sense they're not going to be the same team we played before. So we can look at it that way and just be excited.
MAYA MOORE: Yeah, I agree. It's fun to play different teams in the tournament. It's kind of like a matchup of all the big games we've had so far this season in the regular season championship. We were competing with Louisville and Big East tournament and competing with Louisville. So this is the third time. So it's not a different team, but it's still a big game for us. It's somewhere that our team hasn't been before. So I don't think it will be hard to get excited about it.
Q. Last night your coach was talking about how you've prepared this season in each and every drill as though the national championship was at stake. Was that something that you brought with you this year to the court after you walked off the court at St. Pete Times Forum, and did that drive you? And how did you maintain that intensity day in, day out without allowing it to become drudgery?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it's easy when you have things motivating you. For instance, losing three years in a row. I think you don't get complacent or you don't lose your hunger because you've never won before. And any time you get tired you just think of things to motivate yourself with, and losing is the best motivator for me as well as my teammates.
And then when we have teammates that are going just as hard as I am and pushing themselves and everyone has a lot of energy, it makes it fun. So it's not drudgery because it's fun. Every drill we make it fun. There's a competition. We turn everything into a competition that we do. And I just think practice has been fun all year, and we've had a lot of fun in all the games. So I think it's easy to stay focused when we have the chemistry that we do on this team.
Q. Renee, I was wondering, with the two Big East teams in the final, and then the other day with the four All-Americans from the Big East, what does it say about your conference to have this kind of representation? And also what kind of camaraderie do you have like maybe with Angel? I know you guys have been going back and forth a little bit.
RENEE MONTGOMERY: It says a lot. I think we've been saying all year that the Big East is a really tough conference to play in. And every game, you know, the score might not show it, but it was hard games to play in, and we'd wake up the next morning sore and tired because we got beat up and it was a physical game and it was hard.
And I don't know if the score necessarily reflected it so people didn't really take it to heart, but now that you see it, another Big East team is in the championship game, and that we had four players from the Big East on the All-American team, it just shows that it's a tough conference to play in.
And I definitely think from battling with Louisville over the years that me and Angel have developed a friendship, and I'm sure we'll be friends once we leave college. Just not right now (smiling).
Q. Tiffany and Tina, what did you notice, what did Louisville try to do differently in the Big East championship game that maybe they didn't try in January and what do you think they might try to do tomorrow night that's different?
TINA CHARLES: I think just, you know, it's March, and I think every team is going to come out and play different. I think even our team has been playing different in this tournament and the Big East tournament.
Coach set out a couple of goals for people on the team and individually everyone had to go out and perform. I'm sure they're thinking the same thing that they have to perform to the best ability that they can. So I think that's what they're going to do different.
TIFFANY HAYES: I just think that it's hard beating a team three times in a year. They're going to come out hard. Like you said, it's a national championship game, so they're definitely going to come with something different than what they've been coming with the last couple of games. And we just gotta go out and play UConn basketball.
Q. Renee and Maya, if you could both, I asked Angel what she admired most about the UConn program; she said because UConn players are all business. I wonder if you could talk about is that something you feel like your coach is recruiting when he picks you out, but also is it something that develops once you get on campus?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it's a little bit of both. I think they recruit a certain type of player that they can see potential in being able to play in this program. And to be able to play in this program you have to be about business. It's not that we can't have fun, but we just know when it's time to play and when it's time to have fun.
And I think that's just something we've done really well this year, and in all the situations we've been in, for instance, Cancun, we could have easily went out there and just pretty much had a party for a week and lost the games. But we had fun when it was time to have fun and we played hard when it was time to play. And I think that's what makes -- that's what makes us have so much fun this year.
MAYA MOORE: I think that when you come to Connecticut you have to have a certain competitive mindset. And that's not something you can really teach to a certain point. So the players that Coach recruits, he tries to get tough, competitive people who always want to come to play. When they're in the game or when they're on the bench, whatever it is, they're going to bring everything they can.
And there's a time and a place for everything, like Renee said, and I think our team is a pretty mature group to know when it's time to go to practice or when it's time to go to shoot-around or play the game we have to be extremely focused, and until the buzzer goes off.
We've experienced games, except for Tiffany as a freshman, where if you're not focused you're going to lose. So we know what can happen. And that's why I really think this year we've come more than ever so focused in knowing when we're on the court it is about business and it's about winning.
Q. Renee, probably a week from today your life is going to be so different. You're going to be drafted by somebody. You're going to probably be in a new city, meeting new teammates, coaching staff, everything. Rebecca Lobo said yesterday she thought you would be the first player taken in the draft. And I'm just wondering how you feel about that possibility and do you ever daydream about what's next in your life?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I know people probably don't believe me when I say I don't think about it much. It comes to mind sometimes, when people ask me questions about it. And I'm excited for the future. But it's just -- what's on my mind the most right now is just winning the national championship. And my life is definitely going to change. That's one of the reasons why I'm trying to enjoy these moments I have here right now, because I know the teammates I meet in the future are not going to be like the ones I have now.
And everything is going to be different and I'm excited for the future. And I'm just -- I try to live in the present. But I am definitely excited and wherever I am chosen to go I'm going to be happy.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Geno, could you tell the story of recruiting Renee? Essentially you went to see Alexis Hornbuckle and discovered Renee, could you talk about that a little bit?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, it wasn't necessarily a discovery of her. Obviously we had had a chance to see Renee play quite often. She played on one of those high-powered AAU teams with four or five Division I players. And it was easy to overlook Renee. And you look at her now and to me she's still one of the little guys out there on the floor.
Now, imagine her even 20 pounds lighter than she is right now and playing, again, with all these great players. But when I went to her state tournament game and I actually saw her play with her high school team, that's when I really got a sense for her leadership skills and who she is and what she's able to accomplish.
And I remember coming back and I remember Chris Dailey asking me how was the game. I said it was a great game. She said, What do you think? I said, I think Alexis Hornbuckle is going to Tennessee. She said, Her father told me that it's down to three schools. I said, I don't care what her father told you. I said, I'm telling you she's going to Tennessee.
She said, How do you know? I said, 'Cause I can tell, I know. I've been watching games long enough. But don't worry about it; we're going to get the right one. And we did. And what else can I say?
Q. Can you just address how Louisville-UConn rivalry has matured in the last two years, two Big East finals now and a national championship? And maybe also how after this game how maybe you guys will take this rivalry to even a higher level now that you're playing in a national final?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, it's always interesting for us in the last 10 years or so, however long, it was going to be Connecticut and Notre Dame for the rest of the Big East history. And then it was Connecticut and Rutgers for the rest of the Big East history.
Now it's Connecticut/Louisville. It just seems to me that if you consider yourself the best team or the best, more importantly, the best basketball program in a conference, then it's just natural that as other programs get better you're going to have to deal with that.
And in this case, again, because of Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham, specifically, and generally the way they recruited and the way they've built their program, who knows what's going to happen in the future. Who knows where they'll be next year. I just hope we're still around to still talk about who our big rivals are.
But if you look at our league, there's no shortage of teams that can be your rivals. And Louisville is just the latest one to step up.
Q. It strikes me, you're not much different than you were when we were having these press conferences in 1995. You're very much the same. But everybody talks about evolving in their profession, no matter what their profession is. Can you maybe give us some insight in how you think you might have changed in that time period?
COACH AURIEMMA: I believe I'm a little more cautious, a little more apprehensive about a lot of things. I'm not as free-spirited as I think I was back then. I think a lot of things that have happened in the last 14, 15 years have obviously had an effect on how I view myself and my profession and what I have to do to be successful in it.
I can't just go about doing what I want to do when I want to do it, how I want to do it and have fun. I gotta be somewhat miserable like the rest of the world. Because you always gotta worry about what you say, how you say it and how it's going to be interpreted, what you do, how you do it, who's watching.
So in that respect I probably don't enjoy doing what I do as much as I did back then. But at the same time I probably appreciate it even more because I know how hard it is now. Back then I thought, come on, how hard is this? You go to the Final Four, you win a national championship. And the more times we've been here, the more times I've been able to experience it, the more times we've lost at this level, the more I appreciate how difficult it is and what goes into it.
So I am a better coach in some ways. But anybody who gets the best players every year like I do is always a good coach. So if this was 1995 I'd tell you how I really feel (laughter).
Q. Why has this team been able to maintain its focus throughout the season? And is this one of the more driven teams that you've had?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, yeah. I mean, it's awfully difficult to answer a lot of these questions, and I know they're obviously significant or you wouldn't ask them. But it's difficult to answer a lot of these questions, because how do I say that this team is driven more than the '95 team or more than the 2000 team that won in Philadelphia or the 2002 team that was undefeated, or 2003 and 2004 that Di drove them?
How do I compare that? It's a double-edged sword for us, constantly being compared to other teams, constantly having to answer about our last loss. It's kind of why I'm glad the Stanford game is behind us now. We don't have to answer about our last loss. Now we just have to answer about there's no way you can lose to this team tomorrow night.
So there's a lot of difficult questions that I'm in a tough situation that I can't answer them. The reason that this team is where they are is because they have all those qualities that those other teams have: really good players, really committed, really good role players, and they get really good coaching from their coaching staff. Tonya did a great job for us while she was here, certainly Chris in all the time she's been here.
We've got nothing but national championship coaches working with these guys. But that's all they know. So you put all that together and you almost think, well, we should be. And when you say that, you go, You know how hard it is to get here? It's kind of a double-edged sword for us.
Q. Geno, how much of the evidence that's been presented in the first two games with Louisville, I mean, is indisputable to people trying to evaluate this game on the outside? And, secondly, what is the value in approaching a game like this like Louisville is, with their mindset? How does that alter what the truth is?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, again, it works both ways. I said this the other day, I think, I don't know to who, but if you flip a coin and it comes up heads 10 times in a row, there's no guarantee that the 11th will be tails. They're all individual. They're all in and of itself, its own separate act.
So what we did to them the first game, I don't know that it had any effect on the second game. What we did to them in the second game, I don't know that it has any effect on today. Different environment. Different day. Different attitudes among the players. Different emotions going through.
So, yeah, I mean, there's no disputing the fact that we won by a lot both times. But I don't know what that gets you. You still have to go out tomorrow and make shots and stop them.
If we don't make shots and we don't stop them, we're going to lose. Just like they beat Maryland, just like they beat Oklahoma. So obviously they're really, really good. We have to be really good. And if we are, we'll be fine.
Q. My question to you, you've answered certain parts of my question before, so I'm going to have to restyle it fairly quickly. But with Louisville, what can sneak up on you and what can surprise you about that team that's going to make it difficult for your players tomorrow night?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, that's the one thing that I think is a little bit of a comfort area, that I don't know what could be considered sneaking up on us. We know their players inside out. They know our players inside out.
It's way too much familiarity between both teams. A lot more than you like to have at this time of the year.
Obviously have to see how tonight's game goes between North Carolina and Michigan State. They're not in the same league, but they played once and the game was really one-sided. I think they lost by 36 or something like that. I think if somebody asks me, Would you take Michigan State at 30, I would say, Yeah, I would. Not that I would do anything like that, but if somebody asked me, I would.
Q. What would you say tomorrow night you by 30 points, really?
COACH AURIEMMA: Really? No, I would throw up if somebody told me that that's what was going to happen, because then I know that that's -- exactly the opposite is going to happen. I always think -- I think the worst. I prepare for the best, but I think the worst.
It's the key to being neurotic and Italian and Catholic. Something bad is going to happen five minutes from now, tomorrow; you just count on it.
Q. I know you touched on this last night, but given the special bond between point guard and coach and also the kind of birthright it seems that the great players need to have to win a championship while at UConn, Renee going out on that kind of note, it's going to be a very powerful feeling within yourself toward her these last 24 hours. Could you just explore that a little bit?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah. I wish we were having this conversation Wednesday morning or Tuesday night after the game and she was fortunate enough to do that. But whether it was Jennifer or Sue or Di, Maria, even, to a certain extent, I think any time you have an opportunity to win a national championship, you can pretty much follow that trail and it leads right to the point guard or certainly to a guard who can control the game.
Now you add to that the special ones just transcend all the practices, all the drills, all the Xs and Os, all the bus travel, the plane travel, film sessions. They go above and beyond that. They're not about just, yeah, how are we going to guard the pick-and-roll. That's so insignificant when you're talking about those kinds of players, and certainly Renee Montgomery.
I really admire her as a person. I really do. Even when she doesn't make a shot, when she takes shots that I think are ill-advised, even when she didn't talk to me for a couple of years when Tonya was her coach, I still admired her.
I've gotten to like her now more now that I'm her coach, and it's been a great relationship and she's gotten to like me a little more and let me coach her. But there's -- and if you've been around people like this, and I'm sure you have, every great team has somebody like this on their team.
And she's just one of those special people. But not all fairy tales end with the prince taking the princess home and living happily ever after. Sometimes it doesn't end right. I guess in a short period of time we'll find out. But I don't know that I've wanted anything more than I want this.
Q. Geno, the other day Jim Calhoun was talking about his '06 team that had four or five guys go to the pros. And he said he thought that the lure of the NBA started to affect the way they were playing. Well, this game that we have, we probably have the top two picks in the draft, and they seem to be doing fine. Doesn't seem to be affecting them at all. Why do you think women are able to stay more focused, most of the time, anyway, than men?
COACH AURIEMMA: Obviously, when we talk like that, we're talking in generalities for the most part. And having a son and two daughters, I think women are a little more grounded because guys are just schmoes. They just don't get it. They just don't get it. It's so much about themselves, it's so much about what people around them are telling them, they don't have the backbone to stand up for themselves.
Somebody says: Hey, you're not getting enough shots. You're not getting enough touches. How are you going to get drafted if you don't do this. Now all of a sudden you've got people thinking about everything but winning a national championship or state championship, for that matter, or conference championship.
I think women don't have as many jerks hanging around them. There's not a lot of people telling Renee Montgomery: Hey, you're not getting enough shots. Hey, you're not going to be the first pick if you don't do this, this and that. There's nobody telling Angel McCoughtry: You gotta go out tomorrow night and you've got to be MVP of this tournament so you can be the first pick. That just doesn't exist, I don't think.
Now, I'm sure it does exist, I just don't think, from my experience, the players I've had, anyway, ever have to deal with any of that. And maybe that's why they're able to be as successful in these moments.
But it's just a culture. It's the culture that we live in. That's how those boys are raised from the time they're in junior high to the time they get to wherever they're going. And it's awfully difficult to be successful in that culture. Really difficult.
Q. Two questions. First, do you want to take a second to brag about the Big East since you have two teams in the finals and South Florida won the NIT? And, secondly, as sad as it is, this has been considered a drought for you guys being back here for the first time in a couple of years --
COACH AURIEMMA: I said to somebody -- I think I know where you're going. I said to somebody this morning. I said, Most places in America, they would go -- you know, big headline: UConn going for their sixth national championship. Like that's a big deal, right? I think Connecticut -- UConn, which hasn't won an NCAA championship since 2004, and you go, Holy Jesus.
So that's kind of -- you're right. You're like, That is a drought. Like, How dare you? When you win three in a row and you go four years without one, it's like, Your program has fallen off a cliff.
So, yeah, that's -- I guess that's what we've created and that's what we've got to live with. And it's okay, to a point, I guess.
But one of the things that's gratifying is a few years ago we were at the Big East meetings in Ponte Vedra, and I gotta tell you, it was one of the more tense, contentious Big East meetings I've ever been a part of. Miami was leaving, Virginia Tech was leaving. Boston College said they were staying, they lied, then they were leaving. So there was a lot of emotion running through those athletic directors, presidents, coaches.
And the perception was you'll never be the same. You'll never be as good. It's the end of the Big East. And now here we are X number of years later and we have two teams in the men's Final Four. Two in the women's Final Four playing for the national championship. That's four out of eight. You know, there's a lot of good conferences, a lot of good schools, but I would venture to say that the Big East is healthier, stronger, and better than it's ever been.
And Mike Tanghese and John Marinatto and everybody in that Providence office, I know they're probably the proudest people in the country right now for what's happened in this conference.
Q. Taking it a step further with the draft coming up on Thursday, do you have a sense either from what you know about the league or instincts, conversations you've had, how they may evaluate Renee and Angel on Thursday and how that might all work out?
COACH AURIEMMA: No. Again, I don't allow myself. We've had a couple of coaches and a couple general managers and those people come to practice and all that. But I'm not really involved in any of that at that point. I really don't care.
As a matter of fact, I didn't even tell Renee that she was invited to the draft. They want her there in person. I didn't even tell her that. I didn't tell Maya Moore that she was AP Player of the Year. I don't tell these guys anything. I figure in due time they'll find out. I didn't tell her that she won the Wade Trophy. I figure in time they'll find out. When it's time for them to know, they'll know.
If I was a general manager and I had the draft, I don't know, obviously I would pick Renee because I've coached Renee. But if you pick Angel McCoughtry, how can you go wrong? I love her. I love her as a player. She does so many things. I like Kristi Toliver. I like Courtney Paris. There's a lot of really good players out there.
I think a team's going to have to make their evaluations and say what's more important to us, which position and which kind of player is there a best chance for us to be really good. And sometimes it's not just about this year.
If you look down, a couple years down the road, is there another player like this coming along that if we pass on this one we'll get another one. A lot of things go into making these decisions. Michael Jordan was picked third. Wonder what those two guys are doing today. He's going in the Hall of Fame. The other two guys are what? You know?
Q. A lot of stars in this game. I'm wondering with your familiarity with them what your thoughts might be on Candyce Bingham who is a player that doesn't get a lot of --
COACH AURIEMMA: Very overlooked and as key to their team as anybody else. Angel just dominates the stat sheets so much. What did she get five steals last night. They all probably led to buckets. Sometimes turnovers just go out of bounds. When there's a turnover at Louisville there's a basket at the other end and she's the big reason why.
But I think Deseree' and Candyce are way overlooked. They're probably the reasons why they're in the Final Four and playing for a national championship game. As good as Angel has been, I think since this tournament has started, and especially Deseree', I think those people have stepped up their game so much that it's allowed people to -- you can't just concentrate on Angel McCoughtry.
So I've often believed that those players, those other players that nobody's talking about, are going to be the ones that are going to decide the game. And I love both of those two kids. They're exceptional competitors and they're tough kids.
And that second game at the Civic Center was a little bit of a slugfest. I got a feeling the referees are going to have their hands full tomorrow night.
Q. You've been in this situation before. How does an undefeated record change things?
COACH AURIEMMA: Not that much. Right now that's not the issue for them, for me, because if you had three losses you wouldn't approach it any different than you approach it now. If you had 10 losses, you wouldn't approach tomorrow any different than you approach it.
What's in the past is in the past. Being undefeated is a big deal to everybody else as you go through the season. It becomes a big deal to you if you finish the regular season and then the tournament undefeated and look back and go, whoa, that was unbelievable. As you're going along it really doesn't enter into it.
If tomorrow we're more worried about being undefeated than winning one game, I don't know that that's going to be the winning edge for us.
Q. Is there a pressure element at all, do you compartmentalize it and get it out of the way?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, there's pressure in everything we do. I criticize our guys the way they eat breakfast. So there's pressure in everything we do, in every pass, every drill, every time we do anything.
So the pressure to win at Connecticut is great. Maybe too great. But without pressure you can't be great. So we love the pressure. We embrace it and we run with it.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts