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March 29, 2010
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
THE MODERATOR: Coach, your thoughts about last night's game?
COACH COALE: Again, very, very proud of our kids. I thought we made the plays down the stretch obviously, showed a lot of grit and determination, very, very proud to be playing in the Elite 8 and to have the opportunity that we'll have tomorrow night.
Q. I guess we'll start with you, Danielle. Kentucky really, I mean, they used their speed and quickness so well last night, and having seen Nebraska, were you surprised how well they were able to use that to beat Nebraska and what are going to be sort of the keys to addressing that tomorrow night?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Well, Kentucky has been doing that all year. They've been the underdog, and I mean, that's extra motivation for them. And so they definitely used their speed and athleticism to their advantage with whoever their opponent is, and just getting out in passing lanes and running in transition is what they like to do. We know we have to value every possession and not turn the ball over.
Q. Danielle, it was 20 years ago this week that your school decided to drop women's basketball. As you know, they reinstated it. What do you think that would mean? I mean, what has the experience meant to you and your teammates and your friends, playing women's basketball at Oklahoma? How do you think it benefits young women?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Well, it's definitely a blessing and a great opportunity that we've all received to go and play -- come and play at the University of Oklahoma. You can just tell how special the program is and how much it's been through by the stories that you hear from Coach Coale about when they weren't really supported, and now we have one of the top five attendances in the nation. It's just a special privilege to be able to play for such amazing coaches and be supported like we do in the state of Oklahoma.
Q. Danielle, can you talk about, it's sort of interesting that you guys sort of all this season have been thinking you have yourselves as the underdog because of what you lost, but Kentucky will try to say, Hey, we're more the underdog. We haven't ever been in this position before. Talk about just what that sort of means in terms of the mentality going into this game. You guys in a lot of ways have to feel like the favorites because you've had this experience before?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Yeah, we definitely come in with a lot of experience, especially previous season, Final Four appearance. So we have to use that to our advantage. And we have three special seniors that we don't want to lose yet, so we're going to do all that we can to spend as much time as we can with them.
Q. Amanda, Kentucky is sort of a newcomer to the big stage in women's basketball. How much do you know about Kentucky just in general? Were you able to watch them much? Do you know anything about them other than what you've learned in the last six, eight hours?
AMANDA THOMPSON: I watched them a little bit when they played Michigan State, and I saw a little bit of their fight and fire and how they got out and ran in transition. You know, saw a lot of film today.
They're just a team that plays hard. I mean, they're scrappy. They're going to find a way to get in people and to get baskets. We're just going to have to keep our composure and use our basketball IQ to outwork them and outsmart them.
Q. Amanda, can you talk a little bit about Victoria Dunlap and who she reminds you of from the Big 12?
AMANDA THOMPSON: All of them are pretty athletic. They work hard, and you know, they're fast. We've got quickness, too, so I mean, it'll be a great match-up. The game will be fun.
Q. For Nyeshia, you talked a little bit last night about how you thought about the maturity that you had learned in the last two years really helped you last night as far as being aggressive and taking those shots. What do you think last night's win did for, I guess, this team going forward?
NYESHIA STEVENSON: It just showed our toughness and like our will and how well we play for each other and how much we'll fight. It just showed that we've been there before and that if we ever get in a dog fight like that, we won't back down.
Q. Abi, talk a little bit about how the preparation for playing Kentucky would have been different had you played Nebraska, a team you know very well, against a team that OU has never played in the history of the program?
ABI OLAJUWON: Well, obviously the familiarity is something that we came in. When we played Notre Dame, that was something -- we had played them before. We knew what they did and didn't do and now we have to base everything off film and what we've seen in the NCAA Tournament.
I think that they're a very fast team as you can tell, and Victoria Dunlap, you don't become SEC Player of the Year just by doing nothing. So she's an amazing player, and I feel like at the end of the day we played in the Big 12, and it's the No. 1 and hardest conference for a reason and we played day in and day out different kinds of teams that are very versatile. It kind of reminded me a little bit about Texas A & M, how fast they are and especially how scrappy they are. So I feel like even though they are a different team that we've never played before, the dynamics of them are a lot like Texas A & M.
Q. This is for both Amanda and Abi. One of the things Connie Yori said she thought really hurt Nebraska very badly last night was they got out-rebounded, and they got out-rebounded by a smaller team. You know, they have Dunlap and basically four guards, so they were out-rebounded by quickness. What can you do, I guess, asserting your size to make sure you win the rebounding edge?
AMANDA THOMPSON: Well, I think we just have to be aggressive. We have to be strong on the boards and make sure they don't -- if we're putting a body on them, they can't really out-quick us. If we're aware of what's going on at all times, I think we won't have that problem.
ABI OLAJUWON: One thing Coach Coale tells us a lot, and I guess it showed yesterday when Kentucky played Nebraska, rebounding is all about will and determination. So it doesn't really matter the size. If you want the ball bad enough, you're going to get it, and I feel like they took a lot of long shots, and long shots rebound long.
But our guards do a great job of getting the shots that go over our heads and pushing the ball, and I feel like that's going to be to our advantage, not only the post players rebounding. That will help us.
Q. Abi, you had a big game against UALR and Sherri mentioned you were the best player in practice a day or two later and then you have this huge game last night. The player you were ten days ago versus the player you are now, do you feel like you're in a different place that quickly?
ABI OLAJUWON: I guess it could be the urgency. Every game could be my last and when you think of it that way and your back is against the wall, you're going to do anything and everything to make sure that it isn't until it's the last game and you're okay with it being the last one. But you don't want your season to end and you do everything in your power to make sure that that doesn't happen, and I guess just the urgency.
Q. Jasmine, can you talk a little bit about your defense over the last month and a half?
JASMINE HARTMAN: I just think it's just being tough and going out there and playing hard and just trying to stick to the best player and also just -- really just watching film on them.
Q. Nyeshia, after making a shot and having a game like you did last night, is it easier to go to sleep or harder to go to sleep?
NYESHIA STEVENSON: It's easier to go to sleep, just to know that we finished out tough and our teammates -- everyone contributed, and it wasn't -- people like to blame and point fingers at the end when it comes down to one shot, so yeah, I think it's a lot easier to go to bed at night.
Q. Amanda, can you talk about how well this team has played in close games this year and the belief that this team appears to have that they're going to win every game down the stretch when it's tight?
AMANDA THOMPSON: I don't know, it's just our heart and our passion for winning games. I mean, we've been in situations all year where we've either been close or in overtime, and when you've had that kind of experience, you learn what to do and what not to do, and I feel like we've learned that over the year.
You know, we just stick together. We don't play as individuals, we play as a whole, and when you have a group of people that do that, I mean, that's how you become successful at the end.
Q. Nyeshia, you guys had 21 assists last night. Talk about how well this team is sharing the ball.
NYESHIA STEVENSON: Yes, very well, and typically to me, honestly, I think we share a lot all the times. Last night we just happened to knock down shots, and it's a big difference when you're going in -- our guards and everything, we fed Abi, you know, we just basically turned out big, and it was like, okay, we're going to finish this out and get the W. So we just found it deep within and knocked down shots.
Q. Amanda and Nyeshia, about Abi, if you're willing, as she sits next to you, the last ten days, just what you've seen from her and where she's -- just where she is now.
AMANDA THOMPSON: She has been unbelievable over the past couple days, couple games. You can see it in her eyes how much she wants to win. You know, it just shows what she's done over the year and in the off-season has been paying off. I just want nothing but the best for her, so as long as she keeps doing what she's doing, I'm fine with it.
NYESHIA STEVENSON: As far as me, Abi has done great things throughout the season, but I could just go back to what she says. Now I think she gets it. She sees a sense of urgency, and she knows that we need her every time. She's been great. You can look back every time as a team we've been successful and won. I think there's just a sense of urgency for her.
Q. Danielle, do you enjoy going against an opponent that really goes against your strength? Kentucky is a team that's going to attack, put a lot of pressure on you guys, bringing the ball up the court. That's your bread and butter, what you specialize in doing. Do you sort of enjoy that because you're confident in your ability to do that?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Oh, yeah. We're definitely confident in everything that we do. They pressure us, but it's nothing that we haven't seen coming into this game. The best thing is you can attack it and exploit it, and that's something we have to do for 40 minutes tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, we're going to let you return to your locker room, and we'll now take questions for Coach Coale.
Q. I know you've addressed this a lot, but I think for outsiders who may just sort of be tuning in to see what Abi has done when she waited for three years. You talked to the Big 12 tournament about how these kids got better every day even though people didn't know it. What about the character that that takes to sort of wait your turn and wait as long as she did.
COACH COALE: Well, I think that there are very few young players anywhere today who are even okay with sitting as a freshman. I mean, kids today come in and they want to immediately play for 35 minutes, and they think that that's -- that they're entitled to that because they got a scholarship. That's the mindset.
Abi was so different from that and so refreshing. It wasn't as if she said, Oh, I'm okay to come and sit on the bench for three years. She said, I want to come and get better. When I play, I play. When I can help you, I help you, and I just want to get better.
Why else would she choose to come to Oklahoma and play behind Courtney? And Courtney deserves a lot of credit for Abi's development, as well, going against her every day in practice and being unrelenting. Courtney and Abi had known one another for years, and trust me, every day in practice, Courtney was never nice to Abi, and that was probably the best thing she could ever do to her to make her better.
Abi is just one of those great stories, never complained, never whined, never felt like she was getting the raw end of the deal. She just came to work and got better every day, and then when it came time for her to have her opportunity, she just took full advantage of it.
Last night was just -- good story. That's the way that's supposed to happen.
Q. Sherri, going back to Doug's question about 20 years ago, can you take us back to what you thought? You were a Norman High in March of 1990. Can you take us back to what went through your mind when you heard that news and just sort of reflect on how far it's come in 20 years and what you can even achieve tomorrow night?
COACH COALE: Well, of course I was a student at Norman High. You left that wide open.
Yeah, I was teaching senior English at Norman High School, and I remember vividly, I went into the teacher's lounge to get my attendance records out of the mailboxes where we all go, and a couple of the guys who teach upper level courses at Norman High who were just sports junkies stuck their heads around the corner and said, Did you just hear what happened? I said, No, what just happened? They said OU just dropped their women's basketball program. I said, No, they didn't. They said, Yes, they did. It was just on the radio. I said, Is everything on the radio true? No, promise, it's really happening, it's really happening. I said, They can't. They said, They did. I said, They can't.
I walked out the door and went back to the north gym and wrote my practice plan for the day. That's really all I thought about it at the time. There was this little thing called Title IX that wasn't going to let it stick for very long. So I watched on TV and watched the players and I felt horrible for the players who were losing their opportunity to compete. Watched nationally at the coaches' convention as coaches en masse just rallied around and said, Don't let this happen at one of the major institutions in our country. Don't let it happen, and they didn't, and the program was reinstated.
It was a tough period and obviously a tough mark on our program, but you know, sometimes what you do after the dark day is the most important thing. I will never forget when we went to the Final Four in 2002, and it was in San Antonio ironically, just a fantastic place for the Final Four. People are everywhere around the river walk, and that's where I met Kay Yow. She brought a red ribbon to me, and she said, You don't know me, but my name is Kay Yow. I said, Yes, I do know you. She said, What a moment, what a moment for this sport that this program was dropped and here you are in 2002 at the Final Four. That should be a message to everyone who has a women's basketball program, that you can do anything you want to do, and that was my first encounter with the legend Kay Yow. I walked around the river walk and saw a lot of folks wearing red ribbons on the lapel of their shirt, wearing ribbons to say look what can happen.
Q. Along those same lines, would you agree that the events of that week, I think it took a week for them to reinstate the women's program, was a catalyst for the success that followed, at least the interest -- it seemed like a lot of people back then became aware of women's basketball at Oklahoma and kind of agreed, well, okay, maybe we should give it more support and more of our attention? Do you think that in the long run looking back it helped the program?
COACH COALE: Honest answer, no. When I took over in '96 we averaged about 200 people per game. They hadn't decided yet that it was important. They decided it was important that somebody should have a program but not that they should do anything about it.
For whatever reason, we were able to generate a little bit of excitement and bring in some players, and when we got the exposure to the right people, it began to grow and grow and grow. And I really think maybe that's something that's really unique about Oklahoma. Once we got the product in front of people -- you've got to give them some reason to come, whether you're giving tickets away or you're having a carnival or whatever it might be, get them in there. I knew if we got them in there that Oklahoma people would love our product. I knew that they would fall in love with our effort and the way that we competed for each other and everything that we stood for, but we had to get them there.
It was kind of like the old Herbal Essence -- I'm really going to date myself now -- where they told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and so on. That's how we built it. That's what happened. We were able to do that because we had some phenomenal kids who were just willing to lay it on the line and let people fall in love with them, and that's what happened.
Q. I'm sure you've been asked this a million times, but for those of us not as familiar with your program, you have a lot of familiar names to a lot of sports fans in Olajuwon and Roethlisberger and you had the Parises. Is there somebody about your program where there's a comfort level with either the siblings or with the parents of these players?
COACH COALE: No, I don't coach the siblings nor the players' parents. It's just mere coincidence. I found Carlee Roethlisberger doing a coaching clinic in Ohio, and after the clinic person after person after person came through and said, Hey, have you seen this kid at Findlay. I said, Where's Findlay? I'm in Ohio. I have no idea; not where we go to recruit quite often. After about the sixth person said it, I was like, Who is the person at Findlay? Who is this kid and why is she not going somewhere? And the next person in line was Carlee's high school coach, and she said, Actually, she plays for me and her name is Carlee Roethlisberger. And I said, Okay. Carlee what? And she said, Roethlisberger and shook her head like this. That was the extent of our conversation. It never even went any further. I said, Okay. Sent T.K. up to watch her and we loved her. She's a great kid and fell in love with her work ethic and her ability and signed her.
Same thing down the stretch. I had recruited Courtney and Ashley for a long time before I figured out who Bubba Paris was. So it's about the kids.
Q. I asked the players this about their belief that they're going to win close games. When you're in the huddle and you're looking them in the eyes, do you get a comfort level there with what they believe they can do?
COACH COALE: These guys have great eyes. They're full of faith and belief and commitment, and they lock in on me in huddles. They listen. They buy into everything. They buy into one another. They buy into our coaching staff. I always tell my point guards that point guards arrive at the gym with their teammates with their best performance in their eyes. This is a team that player for player does that.
Danielle shows up seeing Amanda's best game in her eyes, but I think Abi shows up seeing Nyeshia's best game in her eyes, and it's just passed along one to the other, and I think that's something special that keeps us playing.
Q. Your famous manifesto that you wrote before you got the OU job, I know all about it except what's in it. I'm not asking for everything that's in it, but did you have any kind of vision for what you could achieve, and is this something close to it, Final Four with Stacey Dale, the Final Four with Courtney Paris, on the verge of another one if you win tomorrow night without either one of those, I mean, just consistent top-level success?
COACH COALE: Well, you would be sorely disappointed if you saw the contents. You know, what is that, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I mean, it was an outline of my vision of how I could get from where we were to where I wanted to be, and is this what I envisioned? Absolutely. Absolutely. Just didn't have a timeline on anything. I felt like we could become one of the elite women's basketball programs in the country. I didn't see any reason why not.
For one of the same reasons I loved the Norman High School job when I took it barely out of college was, you know what, they win football championships all the time. They win volleyball championships all the time. There got to be athletes walking around the school. We've got to be able to win. It's a culture of success. You go to the University of Oklahoma, it's a culture of success.
Shoot, I walk around campus and go to head coaches' round tables and I'm like 12th on the list in terms of success and we're about to go to the Final Four again. You walk in last year after the Final Four and a couple people won national championships, and you're like, Oh, we went to the Final Four.
That's what happens. It's a culture of success, so why could we not be successful? There was a reason. So of course there was a vision and the infamous manifesto was simply how I figured out that I wanted the job and thought I could do the job. It was more a message to myself than anyone else. It was a process.
Q. Danielle I think said that Kentucky, they've seen pressure before, that it's nothing they haven't seen, but Nebraska and Michigan State, they've all said that's pressure like we've never seen. Do you think they know what they're in for just based on what you've seen the last few hours?
COACH COALE: Well, I think we have a pretty good guess because we play in the Big 12 south. If anything can prepare you for that, it is that. We've played Texas A & M three times. We've played Baylor three times. We've learned some things about ourselves over the course of that. And I agree if you have not been on the floor with that, watching film doesn't do it justice. Sitting court side doesn't really do it justice. You have to be out there on the floor with it.
I do think they're a little different from A & M. They're not as long as rangy. They may be faster, though, if that's even humanly possible. But I think the way that they play, the relentless waves, that's very much like Texas A & M, and that's probably the greatest comparison, even more than the athleticism is just the unrelenting defense, and it never changes. It never lets up, regardless of what's going on, score, time, et cetera. So I think we're probably just about as prepared as anybody could be.
Q. It seems like this offense is really in the best rhythm it's been in all season, and obviously that will come into play as you're facing Kentucky's defense.
COACH COALE: Yeah, I think rhythmic offense is often as a result of trust, and the more you play together and the more you buy into one another, the higher your level of trust, and thus the improved performance.
I made a great point that's often taken for granted. Someone asked about the assist total, and you can ask our guys when I come in the locker room after a game that's one of the first things I point to, that's what I talk about at halftime. She simply said, We made a lot of baskets. It's awful hard to get very many assists if you're not making baskets. There have been games this year where we've shared the ball, but when the ball doesn't go in, you don't get an assist for it. I think that's what makes those numbers so pretty from last night. We did make baskets.
But I do think our rhythm is good. I think we're sharing it, and I think that begins with Danielle Robinson. She has just got to play at the right pace and she's got to handle the tempo, and I'm personally very happy for her that she has been on the floor with Texas A & M three times because she has allowed it to speed her up in the past, and I think she's figured out how to prevent that, and I think she'll be a key obviously tomorrow night.
Q. How have you changed as a coach, not psychological, not dealing with personality and that kind of stuff, but just strategy and in-game stuff? Are you a lot better than you used to be, or was that always easy? How do you think you've progressed just X's and O's wise?
COACH COALE: I'm sorry. I just keep thinking about this tee shirt I have that says, "The older I get, the better I was." I don't know why. I just can't get that one out of my mind.
I don't know. I think the development of my staff as much as anything, the amount of faith and trust I have in them and the way we are together. I probably spend a lot more time focusing on offense now, and Chad Thrailkill I say is in charge of our defense, but we rotate assignments every year and he is in charge of our defense. He and Jan often talk at time-outs about changing coverages or swapping match-ups or whatever, how we're guarding ball screens. They're kind of figuring that out while I'm thinking about what we want to do on offense next, and I think that balance and that faith that we have, how we all work together, that's helped me, I think, improve and grow and make better decisions.
Hopefully I'm getting better. Hopefully I'm better right now than I was last year. That's kind of the idea just like a player. You want to keep getting better and better. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be as good as Tom Izzo. I'm going to work real hard overnight to see if I can be.
Q. That triangle thing you guys do, is that relatively new or is that something you've been doing for several years?
COACH COALE: Triangle thing?
Q. I don't know anything about it, but everybody is saying they're running a triangle offense.
COACH COALE: That's hysterical. Yes, Tex Winter actually invented that, and the Chicago Bulls made it famous, and when we run it, it doesn't look very much like that at all, but we try real hard.
We call it cornering -- there are a lot of different names for it, but we call it cornering. We use it on sidelines. We use it for set situations. We've used it for entire games. I think against Kansas we ran it the entire game.
It's just something, it's a way for us to get some action that we can be successful with, and there are different pieces of that. But it can be a beautiful offense. Nobody runs it better than Stanford right now in the women's college game, and I think the key for it all is to have a great passing post guy, and obviously Stanford has those, and when we put Amanda Thompson in there, she's pretty good at it, too. And Abi is not bad at it at all, either. She's thrown her fair share of backdoor passes.
But it's a beautiful way to play, and it's really a lot less scripted -- I guess you could run it in a very scripted manner if you wanted to, but it's got a lot of reads and requires a high level of basketball IQ to really run well.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, Coach, thank you very much. We'll see you tomorrow evening.
End of FastScripts