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March 27, 2010
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
THE MODERATOR: Coach Coale has joined us up here at the head table. Coach Coale, welcome and congratulations on a great season and your comments.
COACH COALE: Thank you so much. We're honored to be here and excited about the opportunity that awaits us and excited to be back in Kansas City. It feels like we just left a day or two ago. Excited to be back here and ready to get it going.
Q. The last time you played Notre Dame, Whitney had just been injured in the game before and didn't play. People probably didn't know their roles. How different are you this time going against Notre Dame?
COACH COALE: Completely different. You know, I think every team progresses and changes throughout the course of a season and grows their own identity, but particularly a team that changes personnel as emphatically as we did at that point, because Whitney was our -- she and Danielle are really our returning leaders who had had such experience in the previous season in the Final Four run.
Whitney had really become our heartbeat. She had become our identity. Even last year I thought down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament that we played in her likeness as a team, took on her personality and her demeanor. So to lose her and have basically less than 24 hours to recover and play, I'm not sure we had any idea who we were when we played Notre Dame in the Virgin Islands.
We're just obviously over the course of the season, we've figured out how to win games. It's not always pretty, but it's been quite effective, and guys know the roles and have accepted their responsibilities and have done a phenomenal job, and I'm really proud of our team. I think the great thing about it is we're still getting better. We're still learning and improving and evolving.
Q. I'm just wondering, you don't see a lot of rematches at this point. Are you happy you had the chance to play Notre Dame before or would you rather come in with a little element of surprise to it?
COACH COALE: Well, when you play the free conference schedule that we do, we were bound to play somebody that we had already played before. I don't know that it matters at all. I think Notre Dame is a different team, and I think they're better.
Skylar was so young and trying to figure out what her role was as a freshman surrounded by all those seniors. Peters didn't play when we met in the Virgin Islands. So I think we're both different teams than we were at that time. Maybe a little bit of familiarity, and excited about the opportunity -- we are anyway, about competing again.
Q. Just trying to get an idea of what difficulties Danielle presents for the defense. What match-ups are difficult to handle her?
COACH COALE: Well, Danielle is difficult for a lot of people because of her quickness, and it's one of those things that's very difficult to judge. Obviously Notre Dame has seen her before so they understand how fast she is. It's a combination, she's very fast and she's also very quick, and those two things together can obviously wreak some havoc.
Skylar is quick in her own way, too. She's got fantastic hands and is a good ball handler, as well. I don't know that it'll be necessarily any different of a challenge than what perhaps Notre Dame has seen from some teams along the way.
Q. You've got three senior starters. Notre Dame has got a bunch of seniors. When you've got a bunch of seniors in a game with both teams, how does that sort of stamp a game at this level?
COACH COALE: I think it depends on the team and the kids, also. I've seen seniors try to hard and press and get in their own way, and then I've seen seniors be so hungry and so unrelenting that they become super human. So I think it can be an either/or or maybe a combination of. I always think that underclassmen play a key role down the stretch. I think it's how your younger guys handle themselves. They tend to play a little truer to who they are and what they've been throughout the entire year, and if they can maintain that consistency, I think that's maybe the little slice that sets the team over the top.
Q. The first game I think Notre Dame had a big run in the second half. Is their transition game a main point of concern for you?
COACH COALE: Well, Notre Dame does a very nice job with the ball in transition. They take opportunities and take full advantage of them. But what happened in the second half in the Virgin Islands is Danielle got into foul trouble and we didn't have any idea how to play without her on the floor at that time. So I don't necessarily -- I just think that situation is completely different than what we're seeing now. I hope so, anyway.
Q. Going back to the seniors, just talk about how your three seniors have played here down the stretch as a group. It's been solid these past few weeks.
COACH COALE: Yeah, I could not be prouder of Abi, Ny and Amanda. They've been phenomenal all season long, and the way they practice every day, their work ethic, their continued willingness to learn, the glue that they've been for the younger guys in teaching them how to be a team and how to work and how to have high expectations. And interestingly enough, the three of them, or at least a combination of two out of the three, have been really, really good over the last month and a half, and in our game against Arkansas, Little Rock, none of the three were very good offensively, anyway, against Arkansas, Little Rock. And the other guys -- well, Abi was really good, I take that back. Abi was really good in that game.
When all three of those guys have really been sitting on all cylinders, then some pretty magical things have happened for our team. I like the way our three seniors' mindset is right now. I think they have a steadiness and excitement about them that's really refreshing to see.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH COALE: You know, I assume you're referencing UConn. Okay. I understand both sides of the argument, I really do. I get both sides of the argument. But any time a team has done something as phenomenal as the University of Connecticut has done, it takes not just the basketball world and the sporting world but the world at large, it takes them by storm.
And some people who maybe aren't even sports fans pay attention to the fact that somebody has just done a phenomenal thing. I realize that I've heard Geno talk about (inaudible), and I agree with that totally. But to a non-sporting group of people, John Wooden's record has been surpassed, and that's newsworthy. That's conversation at cocktail parties and at dinner. And if they're talking about women's basketball, that has to be pretty good for everybody involved.
Yes, it's up to all of us to stop that streak and get right up there with them and create streaks of our own. But at the same time, I think we'd be remiss if we didn't piggyback on the audience that this is reaching and take advantage of it.
Back in the day, and I've said this many times, back in the day when we were trying to build our program and trying to get a full house (inaudible), and most of those people kept coming back when Connecticut left because they wanted to watch Oklahoma. So for all of us to have this opportunity to share in this broad light that Connecticut has brought on the sport of women's basketball have an opportunity, and need to look at it as that.
Q. In the game down in the Virgin Islands, you guys went something like seven minutes without a basket. Do you chalk that up to Danielle not being on the court?
COACH COALE: I had no idea we did that. I'm not really surprised. A big reason why would be Danielle not being on the floor. Again, being in the Virgin Islands, the thing that was so disrupting was for the past entire year our entire backcourt had been Whitney Hand and Danielle Robinson. Whitney and Danielle were always on the floor. I can't think of a time when one of those guys wasn't on the floor. So when you don't have Whitney in uniform and then Danielle is in foul trouble so we don't have either one of them, we're just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, so I'm not sure the comparison is really relevant.
Q. What do you expect out of the crowd in terms of support for each other? Is there a chance if the Big Reds get together they can create a home court advantage?
COACH COALE: Well, I thought Nebraska fans were phenomenal. I remember preparing for our game in the semifinal and being in the locker room, and I could tell immediately, I didn't need to know the score and what was happening because of the roar in the arena at Municipal. They turn out in record numbers in Lincoln, and I expect they'll be here in record numbers, as well. What we're hoping for is a little Big 12 love in the arena tomorrow night and we'll figure it out on Tuesday if we're fortunate enough tomorrow night.
Q. You made the comment prior to the Big 12 conference tournament that your team would love -- maybe not you personally, but your team made the comment that you'd love another crack at Nebraska, perhaps they might get one. You also get another crack at Notre Dame here, and as you were just asked, playing here in Kansas City where Oklahoma has had some success in the past, do you see that as an advantage in your opening game with Notre Dame tomorrow?
COACH COALE: You know, in a way I do, but I think we as coaches can look at every situation, find an advantage in it if we try hard enough, and I think the advantage here is the mindset.
I think our kids feel comfortable here in Kansas City. I think we feel like we left some business unfinished in the Big 12 tournament, and I'm sure Nebraska shares that sentiment, as well. I think when you go through the NCAA tournament, if you can find ways to get a mental edge, it doesn't even matter if it's real. What matters is if your kids buy into it, and I think our guys feel really comfortable about playing in the city.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about the balance that Notre Dame has and maybe the problems that Skylar Diggins presents?
COACH COALE: As I mentioned earlier, very, very efficient basketball team. They share the ball well. They pass the ball well. They move without the ball very well. I think, too, that their big guys, the fact that they can rotate so many in, they have a very deep bench and very capable players who come in and spell one another with really very little dropoff; on the guard play, the same way.
I think Skylar has just continued to assert herself, and the complexion of their team has changed as her confidence and her comfort level has improved. I don't think there's any doubt about it when you watch them play, it's Skylar's team.
Q. For Danielle, Coach talked a lot about losing Whitney and right before the last game and how you've since rediscovered your identity. How specifically did you guys kind of figure out who you were through the course of the season?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: It started with her challenging us when we got back from the Virgin Islands to step up that much more, each person individually, to make up for the presence that Whitney had displayed on the floor.
It was just about us maturing, though, night in and night out and every day in practice.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the match-up with Skylar Diggins? I'm sure that as a true freshman she's changed since you last played her. But talk about what you see and how her game has changed but also how your game has changed since then.
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Skylar is a great player, and she's done some great things at Notre Dame so far as a freshman. You can just tell that her confidence level is so much greater now, especially on the defensive end. I mean, that really creates a lot of easy points for her, a lot of transition lay-ups.
I guess you can say being a junior also pays dividends just because you've had the experience and you've been here a couple times before.
Q. Just looking at Notre Dame, a guard-based team, Danielle, how do you approach a team like that and deal with the -- between the Skylar and Barlow and Schrader and that whole group?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: We just have to play hard on the defensive end. Barlow is a great shooter. Melissa does some great things at the point guard position, and Skylar, of course, is pretty much all-around. So it's about guarding one-on-one, really, and guarding as a unit on top of that.
Q. Danielle, does Skylar remind you of yourself when you were a freshman?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Yeah, a little bit, except she's left-handed and I'm not. But definitely. You can just tell over the course of a season how you've grown and matured, and she's definitely done that.
Q. I'm going to make Amanda talk. How exciting is it to have a chance to settle some scores with some people, playing Notre Dame a second time, might get a chance to play Nebraska again?
AMANDA THOMPSON: I think it's exciting, and it's good for women's basketball in general. We've played them several times. I mean, a couple years ago we played them in the same kind of tournament, and it's kind of like payback.
Q. This is a question actually for both of you, but I'll start with Amanda since, Danielle, you've had the spotlight most of the time here. I believe this is your fourth trip in the last five years to the Sweet 16, and of course you've been even further than that over that time. All of that time, those last four years, were with the Paris sisters and others. What's it going to be like this time as you come into this tournament without Courtney and Ashley?
AMANDA THOMPSON: You'll just see a different team. We won't rely so much on the post, and we have strength in all positions. You'll see a little bit of transition, a little bit of defense, a little bit of offensive execution, and just playing basketball. When you can dominate all those parts of the game, that's how you go far.
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Like Amanda talked about, we're just a different team. I guess we're more guard-oriented this year than anything, but we have experience, and that's what we're going to have to use to win some games here in Kansas City.
Q. For both players, when you look back at the game in the Virgin Islands, what jumps out at you about either how you played or how they played?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: To be honest, we played horrible. I wasn't going to say -- yeah, it was pretty bad. We didn't have any kind of effort at all. I mean, you can give some of it -- we were kind of in shock that Whitney wasn't out there, I mean, on the first game back, but we just played with no life, really.
AMANDA THOMPSON: We just were a different team. I feel like we just -- she said it earlier, we were in shock, and we didn't know how to make the adjustment so quickly. We've learned a lot since then, and we took a lot more pride in our effort and our toughness, and you can see that. We've seen that over the last couple months.
Q. Amanda, can you talk about the defense in last weekend's games down in Norman?
AMANDA THOMPSON: You know, our defense was pretty good. Our defense was pretty good. We made key stops and we took a little pride in getting scored on or just playing together, not just one-on-one, you know, helping each other and blocking out and doing all the little things that count. Now we just need to make that on the offensive end.
Q. Danielle, you mentioned that Notre Dame game after Whitney's injury, and you had foul trouble. Was that you trying to find a place and sort of figure out what you needed to do, or can you just talk a little bit about that?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Some of it was just dumb decisions. I mean, one of the fouls I guess I ran over Schrader trying to get through a screen. It just wasn't smart plays. Some were fouling in transition. So I guess it could be out of frustration, could have been out of frustration. But as far as that I know I need to stay on the floor, and since that game I've made a ton of adjustments.
Q. Amanda, could you talk about how you and your two fellow seniors have played here the last few weeks? It's almost as if you don't want your college careers to end?
AMANDA THOMPSON: Not at all. We're trying to make it to the end, to the very end. We've worked a lot over the past couple years just developing our game altogether, and I think it would mean the world to us and our teammates if we make it to the last game. It would just be fun. You work so hard all year to be at this point, and it's always nice to go out with a bang.
Q. Danielle, did you run into Skylar at all before you played here? Was there any USA Basketball experiences where you guys might have crossed paths?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: I've never played against her. I've been in Colorado Springs with her this past summer when she was trying out for the U19 team and I was trying out for the World University Games team. Even then I didn't really get a chance to watch her play because we were on two different schedules, and when they were practicing we had free time to eat and take a nap, so it was different things like that.
The only time I really talked to her was in the Virgin Islands after the game.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, ladies, we're going to let you go. Thank you very much. Best of luck tomorrow, and we'll see you tomorrow evening.
End of FastScripts