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April 2, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now from Stanford, student-athletes Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen and Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Head Coach Tara VanDerveer.
We'll begin with an opening statement from Coach VanDerveer.
COACH VANDERVEER: Good morning. We are thrilled to be here. We're very excited to get to practice on the new floor, and we're really looking forward to our game with a great opponent playing against Texas A&M.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. For any of you that want to answer this, you've had a chance to go over stuff in practice now since last time we talked to you. What further do you know about Texas A&M and what do you think that you need to do specifically to try to win the game?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I think what we need to do is take care of the ball. You know, I think we need to rebound the basketball and make sure we get a lot of possessions, and I think that's probably the main thing.
Q. Nneka, you and your sister were really dominant in the regional. Do you play off each other? And, I don't know, do you kind of conspire to incite each other like that?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE: I mean, absolutely. In our last game against Gonzaga, a lot of people were saying we have this kind of unspoken connection where if I were to miss a shot she would rebound and if she would miss a shot I would rebound.
But at the same time I share that connection with all my teammates. It may seem a little stronger, a little more evident given that she's my sister. But we definitely have each other's back out on the court.
And I definitely have to say that, yeah, it's real special playing with her. And it's real exciting and I'd like to play a little bit longer with her this year.
Q. As a follow-up to that question, Nneka, exactly how nervous is Chiney today and what have you told her about the Final Four and how do you get her calmed down or whatever in preparation for this?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE: I wouldn't say she's nervous at all. She's more anxious. She really just wants to work hard and focus and concentrate on what we have at hand, and I've just been helping her throughout. Obviously it's her first Final Four as a player, rather than a spectator.
And she's definitely basking in the moment. She's really enjoying herself. But at the same time she's also focusing, because she's had to kind of hold a large responsibility so early on and so young in this season, and I think she's doing a really good job of containing herself and understanding what we need from her right now while also enjoying Indianapolis.
Q. Jeanette and Kayla, this is the fourth time you guys have been here. Can you both address what you think experience means in this game, going against a team that's not been here before?
JEANETTE POHLEN: I think -- I mean, at this point in the season experience helps definitely. Just, I mean, being in the Final Four kind of knowing what to expect helps.
But, you know, I think all four of the teams that are here have just as good a chance of winning. It's kind of up in the air. Yeah, you have people that might know a little bit better what's going on as far as like just the overall picture. But there's two games left, and I think people are just going to lay it out all on the floor.
I don't think it's going to be too much of an issue. I think overall we have a lot of experience on the team, which definitely helps.
But that's just kind of how our team's been all year. I don't know if that gives us an advantage, but just in general I think it's helped to get here.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I agree with Jeanette. I think experience takes you only so far. I don't think it will be the main factor in the outcome of these games, but it definitely helps. It makes you more comfortable with your surroundings. But at the same time all the teams have played in big games here.
Great crowds in front a lot of people. So I think just that experience will kind of take a little bit of pressure off and make it more comfortable. But I don't necessarily think it will determine the outcome.
Q. Nneka, I wonder your impressions of Danielle Adams, how much of a load she'll be in the post?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE: She's obviously shown everyone how great she is. She's very good at what she does. She's definitely going to be a big defensive matchup for us. But I'm excited.
She's very talented, and she's very crafty, and I'm just really excited to be able to play against a player like her. And she has a really great support system. She has a lot of guards and forwards that really help her do what she does.
And I'm just really excited to be able to play against a great player like her, and hopefully we can contain her.
Q. Nneka, Gary Blair said he recruited you very hard coming out of Texas. I know some other Big 12 schools were in on you. Could you just talk about the process and what it finally came down to, why you picked Stanford and maybe who some of the other schools you were considering at the end?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE: Well, as it may be for a lot of other student-athletes, leaving home is a really hard thing, especially from Texas, because I love Texas.
And he definitely did recruit me very hard. He was great in the recruiting process, as were all the other coaches. But ultimately what it came down to was the mix of academics and athletics. I mean, obviously if you go to a university, you can get academics anywhere, but Stanford really stood out in that aspect. And it really just came down to what place I felt most comfortable and where I would fit in the most.
I'm not trying to downplay any other school, because all the universities are great. I'm really grateful that I was able to get recruited by Coach Blair. He's a great person.
Q. Jeanette, Texas A&M's guards really play a lot of ball pressure. When you have just been looking at film, how do you counter that and what do you see when you look at the two Sydneys on film in terms of that 30, 40 minutes of pressure?
JEANETTE POHLEN: I mean, watching them on film, they definitely get a lot of points off turnovers and in transition, but we played a good amount of teams this year that have pressured us.
I think it will be important for everyone to get open, especially our posts, to kind of just relieve some pressure.
But I think first and foremost we have to be aware of how they're playing us and really work to get open, I think. That will be first and foremost.
Q. Jeanette and Kayla, as your fourth time doing this, is there any different feeling or -- since the last time? What are your feelings on how this time maybe is a little different?
JEANETTE POHLEN: I don't know, I guess maybe because this is our last chance, a little bit more anxious, you know, knowing that we might not have -- we're not going to have any games after this season, kind of puts a little bit -- puts it a little bit into perspective.
You know, it's been a great career here. And I think leaving with a national championship would be kind of the icing on the cake.
But for me, and I think a lot of people on our team, we're just very focused. Maybe a little bit more relaxed. I know Kayla and I have talked about it's such a privilege to be here, and we're very grateful to have been able to make it this far for four years.
But we definitely haven't gotten the job done each time we've been here. So we're very focused, I think.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: As Jeanette said, it's more of like -- we're more focused. I think we're more concentrated on what we need to do, how to get the job done.
But at the same time, this is probably the most relaxed I've felt out of all my Final Fours. I'm just trying to enjoy every moment, trying to have fun with my teammates.
Leave everything on the floor. Whatever happens, happens, just as long as all of us just lay it all out there for each other.
Q. I would like to know if you guys have ever done any community service, and, if so, how has this helped you as an athlete.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Yeah, our team -- we try to do a community service event every month. We've been to soup kitchens. We've visited schools. We've spoken to a lot of students and played basketball with them at recess.
It's definitely developed us as student-athletes, because just getting to interact with these kids, trying to inspire them to stay active and stay in school really pushes us.
It really makes us motivated to want to play for them and try to be great role models.
Q. Were you ever bullied? And if so, how did you overcome it?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I wouldn't call it bullying. I was always an awkward-looking person because I was pretty tall. I was pretty nerdy when I was a kid. But I embraced it. And it never affected me.
I just kind of focused on what's important, and it's just being me. And I found that I was good at basketball and I kept doing it. And I was able to accentuate my height on the court and use it to the best of my abilities.
So I guess you could say I was kind of a blessing in disguise. I mean, that's pretty much my story.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Kayla said this is the most relaxed she's been at a Final Four. How relaxed are you?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, I think that we're very excited. I feel good. I'm working as hard as I can to get to know Texas A&M, their personnel, their schemes.
And I think the fact that you've been through kind of some of the -- whether it's interviews, all the different things that you've done, there's a certain routine. And you don't feel as maybe just stressed about things.
If you're five minutes late, maybe the first year you were worried. But I feel that our team has worked very hard, and we know we're playing a great opponent, but we're very confident.
Q. Geno has bristled a little bit throughout the first few rounds of the tournament about the attendance, the attendance at the venues that they played, including Gampel. It seems your experience and your team has been a little bit different playing out west. I was wondering what is it you think makes for the most compelling draws in the tournament, in the women's tournament?
COACH VANDERVEER: Our experience has been really positive with attendance. We had -- as far as I can remember -- and this is just eyeballing it, but we had the most ever for our first and second round game at Stanford.
And I think a lot of it is game time, game days, and obviously having a local team, bringing in new and different competition. We played -- Davis was a local team, which was great to bring in Davis, and then St. John's. We drew very well for that.
When we played in Spokane, the crowds were exceptional. I think that Gonzaga being in that tournament was a big part of it. But when we played there, even three years ago, they're a hotbed of women's basketball. I think we should go -- play where people come and watch and support women's basketball.
Just look at the attendance of different venues throughout the country and play there.
Q. Do you think sometimes when people anticipate that the games will not be close, that that -- especially given the fact that they're all on TV, that that is an incentive to not go, whereas, for instance, the Texas A&M/Baylor game was highly anticipated and drew quite well in Dallas?
COACH VANDERVEER: All right. Well, I think in the situation with -- I mean, they had teams that could drive. You had your fans that could drive to the games. And I don't know that -- I mean, as our game progresses, it's less and less predictable.
But I think also part of the situation may be with, for us as an example we didn't play our Pac-10 tournament right at Stanford. Some of it is the saturation point, where you have so many games. How many games can people go to? They do have other lives.
And I think that with the NCAA Tournament, it's really looking at places that draw really well and bring the games to them instead of making people go to where we want to put the games.
But obviously having big draw games is really key.
Q. Wanted to ask you about your seniors, the young ladies that have been in so many Final Fours leading up to this point and the sense of urgency that they may feel. I think Jeanette made mention she didn't feel like they had got the job done yet. Can you talk about that feeling and how you think those kids are handling that?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I mean, I think it's a great accomplishment for any team to go to any Final Four. And, you know, when you get here, obviously playing well is the key. And our team has played very well in the Final Four getting to the championship two out of three years.
But I think there is a sense that, you know, when you're here you want to win it. And our team -- our seniors, they really want to win it very badly, not having won it, having been here and been so close.
But I think that that is a good thing. They're playing very motivated, playing hungry. They're very excited.
But I don't want them to put pressure on themselves, nor do I put pressure on myself or any of the other people on the team. I want them to enjoy the process, to be here in this city that really knows how to host, just a wonderful environment.
The court -- it's so exciting to look at the court, and for them to really come out and play with a lot of spirit and a lot of enthusiasm and not feel like, oh, we have to do this.
What we have to do is just do what we've been doing all season long, and that will be enough.
Q. You said you were trying to learn as fast as you could or as much as you could about Texas A&M. Can you talk about what you've learned and how much of maybe, I don't know if it's 180 degrees, but you had to make a switch because the Brittney Griner Baylor team has been looming in the background for everyone who had aspirations to get to this and now you don't have to deal with that?
COACH VANDERVEER: Baylor is a great team. And they're obviously a Final Four-caliber team, as I think Tennessee is, as DePaul could be. This is a game of musical chairs where there's four seats and there's a lot of capable teams that could be here.
I didn't assume that Baylor was going to make it. When I saw the bracket, I was like, whoa, this is a challenge.
And I've watched a lot of Texas A&M games along the line and watched Baylor games, a lot more of the Baylor, Texas A&M games. So I feel like I had familiarity with both teams, but once we had to really get working on it, I studied their team. And they have a great team; they have great players.
I've learned a lot. I love a lot of the things they do. And we are going to be very challenged to come out and be successful tomorrow night.
Q. I know this question focuses on the other game, but as someone who has been a thoughtful observer of women's basketball, in your opinion how good a coaching job has Geno Auriemma done with what's now essentially a six-player rotation?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, I think that -- I think you have less margin for error in the fact that about maybe about things you can't control. Sprained ankle.
We had one time appendectomy. And so sometimes you have to have some luck or be very fortunate. And I don't know that -- it doesn't really matter the six players. I mean, they play six great players. And most teams, like for us in the tight tournament games, you're not playing -- we've won with six players.
So I don't think that's the issue. I think the issue is obviously you don't want people getting into foul trouble. You have to keep them healthy. But I think Geno's done a great job with this team. It's less talented than last year's team. But he has arguably one of the very best players to ever play women's basketball in Maya Moore, and that counts for a lot.
Q. You talked about how badly Kayla and Jeanette want to win this. What about for you? This is going to be, well, four in a row. Seven since you last won a championship. How badly do you want to come away with a national championship?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think that you can talk about what you want. But it's more the actions, what you're willing to do for it. And I feel that for me personally I've worked harder with this team in terms of the time putting in maybe than any other team I've coached at Stanford, just in that having come so close and it was exceedingly painful to have a -- to be there two out of the three years.
We didn't play very well in the year in between. But to be in the championship game, to be knocking at the door and to be denied. So I feel like I've done everything that I can do. And so I can't talk about it. I've got to back it up with my actions.
And I feel our team is doing the same thing. But I feel like our coaching staff, myself and Amy, Bobbie and Kate, have dedicated themselves this year to really studying what not only our team's doing but our opponents and working extra with our team to give our team the best chance of being successful.
Q. When you see Colson and Carter on film, what troubles you the most about them? And maybe in particular the defensive pressure that they put on the ball?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, I think there's a lot of things actually that really impress me about them. I mean, it's obvious that they're very athletic. They work hard defensively. But they also -- they take the ball out of the basket. They knock down outside shots.
But I think a lot of it is the things you have to be very impressed with their game against Baylor where maybe some teams you get beat, you get beat, you get beat and they just said we're not taking it anymore. I think it's more with intangibles.
A lot of players -- there's a lot of teams that have very athletic, talented, quick guards. But it's the fact that they play well together. They play within themselves. They're very well coached. And they're driven.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Danielle Adams, and she didn't have a great game against Baylor, but just what you think of her as a player and what challenges she poses?
COACH VANDERVEER: She's an interesting player in that maybe like if you went to the gym and you were kind of shooting around, you might not say, well, this is who I want on my team right off the bat.
She's maybe not the most athletic-looking player. She's not that big for a post player. But I saw her last night at du Salute dinner and I went up and congratulated to her for being All-American. And I said, Now, be nice to our Stanford players tomorrow. She smiled.
She seems like a really nice, nice young lady. She's old school in a way that I think she is a great basketball player. She has great hands, great feet. Versatile. She scores inside. She's extremely powerful, scores outside with her 3.
She likes to think she's a guard in a 6'2" body. And I just -- she has a great demeanor on the court. And she complements their other players very well, with White, the three perimeter players, and Elonu. But she to me seems like would be, just a really great player to play with in that she gets it done, kind of rebounds it at every end of the floor.
I think she struggles maybe just against Baylor with their size or with kind of their schemes, it was just a little bit different. But we know she has to be the focus of our defense.
Q. I didn't see Jeanette on the State Farm All-American team this morning. I wonder if you think that was a bit of an injustice?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I think that the team that was selected was an outstanding team. And I think there are several players that are All-American caliber, but there's just not enough chairs, in the same way there are more than four Final Four-caliber teams.
Jeanette is an All-American-caliber player, as Kayla is. But as someone like Danielle Robinson or just Victoria Dunlap, there are a lot of players there just weren't room for. I believe she's All-American caliber, as I believe Kayla is, too.
But they know that the most important thing is the Tuesday night prize. And we're very excited that Nneka was named to the State Farm WBCA All-American team. And the committee did an excellent job in selecting their team.
And I truly believe that different players, Courtney Vandersloot was a great selection to that team. So I don't feel -- and I don't think Jeanette feels slighted in any way.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports