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March 6, 2012

Geno Auriemma

Stefanie Dolson

Bria Hartley

Tiffany Hayes

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis


Connecticut – 63
Notre Dame – 54

THE MODERATOR:  Coach, an opening statement?
COACH AURIEMMA:  You know, when you play in these kind of games and you go through what it takes first to get to this point of the season, knowing what you have to go through for the last five months and then you find yourself in this situation, as did Notre Dame and two teams that know each other so well, you just hope that it's a great game.  You hope that both teams play their hearts out.
I know my players are exhausted, and they should be.  I think they're a little bit more grown up now than they were a week ago, and they've come a long way.  It seems like they've come a long way in a short period of time since last week, but really they've been building on this since September.  It just wasn't apparent what it was going to be like, and now they found out what it can be like.
I'm thrilled for them.  The championship, I know they're exhausted about it, but if you were in our locker room, you would know that the championship is important, but I think the other stuff, the intangible stuff that I think came out of this weekend, is maybe even more important.  So I want to congratulate them, the players, Notre Dame for an unbelievable year.
I told Muffet to do what they did in our league this year was pretty amazing.  To do what they did with their schedule is pretty amazing.  I think we've got two of the best teams in America coming out of our conference.  I'll put our conference up against any other conference in America, and I don't think we take a back seat to anybody, ever.  And I think tonight, you saw why.

Q.  Kaleena, can you just address the way you guys were able to fight tonight and make the little things work well and come out and get this win?
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:  I think we just really wanted it, you know.  We've been working towards this, like Coach said, since the beginning of the season.  We felt like with the losses that we had, it all had to do with the mindset that we had.  So tonight we came out tough, we came out aggressive, and I think we just wanted it enough and we played our hearts out tonight.

Q.  Bria, the fire you played with tonight, does that kind of go back to Monday night when the starters went off the court with about 3:00 left in that game?  Was there a message that was received and implemented tonight?
BRIA HARTLEY:  I think it proves that we had some fight in.  Every time we step on the court we want to go out and prove that we play hard.  We're going to fight, and we're going to fight to the end no matter what happens.  I think us sitting out that last three minutes, didn't seem like we had that much fight.
So tonight, no matter what we did, no matter if Notre Dame went on a run or anything, we made sure we came back and made plays.

Q.  Tiffany, how important was it to win like you did?  You had the least, you lost it, then Notre Dame took the lead and you came back and kind of took the game away.  How important was it to win like that?
TIFFANY HAYES:  I think it was big.  Like Bria just said, we gave up in a couple of games before, and we just wanted to show everybody that we did have fight in us.  For us to come back, even though they went on their run, we went on ours and kept pushing it at them.  We ended up getting the win because of it.

Q.  Stefanie, a big part of this game was the rebounding tonight.  Can you talk about the difference that you guys made in the lane and were you guys able to handle that?
STEFANIE DOLSON:  Well, we knew coming out into this game that like you said it was going to be a huge emphasis for us.  I think we did a great job of just making sure all the guards were boxed out, making sure Devereaux was boxed out.  We just went after the ball.  We had the mindset tonight of being so aggressive.  We went after every, every ball.  We had so many hustle plays.  It wasn't just rebounds.  It was everything.

Q.  Tiffany, for a player who didn't lose a game in her first two years here, how much did losing three straight to Notre Dame prey on you and weigh on your mind?  How does it affect your teammates too?
TIFFANY HAYES:  It's hard to lose any game, and to lose to one team three straight times doesn't sit well.  I don't think it would sit well with anyone.  But with this team, we just knew we were better than we had played in those last couple games.  So we just wanted to come out tonight, and like we already said, we wanted to fight until the end.

Q.  Tiffany, last week we heard how important it was for Notre Dame to win that first championship for Coach McGraw.  How important was it to you guys to get number 800 here and win the championship for Coach Auriemma?
TIFFANY HAYES:  It was very important.  To be honest, I think he's one of the best coaches, and he definitely deserved it.  I think we owe him that much.  We've been through a lot this year as a team, and it was just nice to get the win at home in front of a big crowd.  Yeah, we got the championship.

Q.  Bria, last time out you and the other guards were outplayed.  What did you, Kelly and Tiffany do different this time?
BRIA HARTLEY:  I think we took care of the ball, one thing they force a lot of turnovers the first two times we played them.  We worked on handling pressure and making good passes.  We did that, and tonight we came out and played hard defense and got steals and just took it to them the entire game.

Q.  Geno, how much is this team finding its way this time of year can you hope to control, and how much is it out of your hands?
COACH AURIEMMA:  You know, I think so much of what we do is out of our control, really.  Doug and I were talking last night about the kind of kids you recruit.  Because so much is out of your control, you have to recruit the kind of kid that's kind of believe in what you're doing and they buy into what you're doing.  Because ultimately they're going to have to make the plays that are going to determine the game.  I don't think I was any smarter tonight than I was a week ago Monday.  I don't think, other than setting an agenda for a team, I don't think coaches can control as much as they think they can.
The one thing we wanted to control tonight was how and what our approach was.  Whether we won the game or not, that wasn't necessarily within our control, but our approach to the game was definitely within our control.  How difficult it would be for them to rebound the ball was certainly within our control.
Going forward though.  Today's Tuesday.  I wish the NCAA Tournament started Saturday.  This is the time when you really want to just keep going.  So for us to have to wait two weeks almost, it's difficult.  So we'll have to work really hard to try to hold on to this thing that we have right now.

Q.  Reading some of your comments yesterday, you mentioned about the UCONN mentality and how it had kind of gotten lost a little bit.  Do you think it was maybe found a little bit tonight?
COACH AURIEMMA:  I think last night and tonight, for sure.  Those of you that follow our team and watched us play throughout the season, it was a little different approach last night and tonight.  You could see that something had been missing when you compare that to our St. John's game, our last Notre Dame game, our Marquette game.  There are just a lot of games that just didn't play out the way we had hoped.
With these young players, if you're not careful, they think that winning is Connecticut basketball.  So we would look at them and say, Coach, we're like 25‑4, whatever we are, 25‑3.  Why do I get the sense you're not happy, Coach?  Because in their minds, we're winning.  We're good.
Then the Notre Dame game comes up and reminds them, no, that's not how you measure whether you're good or not.  You measure whether you're good whether you're playing Connecticut basketball other ways, not just by whether you won or lost.
So, yeah, we got it back last night.  We got it back a little more tonight, and hopefully now we can, as Graham said, we can hold on to it for three weekends, right?  It's three weekends now.  Amazing.  Amazing.  Good.  Three weeks from now I'll be done.  I hope it goes three weeks.  Could be done next weekend.

Q.  Geno, you talked last night about the underdog mentality a little bit and how you didn't want to be the underdog.  You hate underdogs and all that other stuff.  You won five straight now in the conference tournament.  What's been through this year coming together in this last few‑‑ you mentioned you were not the favorite coming in maybe, and to win this one with this group versus two weeks ago to this weekend?
COACH AURIEMMA:  Yeah, this is one thing we talked about.  We've been talking about this a lot this year, and it's kind of hit home now for them.  We have a couple players that have won two National Championships.  Caroline was part of one; Tiffany was part of two; and Kelly was part of two.  But in those two National Championships, they were kind of like the shortstop and second baseman whose job was don't hurt the team.
Play good defense, turn the double‑play when you can, and move the runner along.  But the number two, three, and four five hitters are going to carry us.
So all of a sudden, you look up and there is no Tina; there is no Renee; there is no Maya, and you start to figure things out for yourself.  Like our team is going to have to win it.  Sometimes that's a scary feeling because you don't know whether you can do it or not.  You don't know whether can you do it or not.
Tonight and last night they weren't looking for Maya Moore.  They weren't looking for Tina.  They weren't looking for Renee.  They kind of looked over and looked at each other and said this is what we've got.  This one feels really good for them, I think, because it's theirs.  They own this one.  The other ones, I'm sure there is a feeling like, yeah.
But this one, they own it.  Those guys really, really own this one, and I think it feels way better than the other ones that they've won.

Q.  You had a ten‑point lead in the first half‑‑
COACH AURIEMMA:  Why do you have to go back there?

Q.  They obviously cut it to one without Natalie and without Devereaux.  What was their message and demeanor at the half?
COACH AURIEMMA:  Actually it wasn't bad.  I've learned my lesson with this group.  There are not a lot of tough guys in this group.  I can't go in there like when we had Diana, and Sveta, and Tina and those guys when they were older.  I can't go in there and rant and rave and start throwing things around.  Because back then they'd throw it back at me.  I'd have to duck because it would be flying back at me.  These guys, you have to be really careful how you deal with them.
So what was disappointing was that we worked so hard to get that 27‑17 lead.  It was so taxing.  I mean, we just played our butts off.  Then all of a sudden, we just took the foot off the gas pedal, and we just stopped.  They're not going to go away.  This isn't like any team you're playing.  This is Notre Dame.
So when they came at us, we started doing the same thing that cost us last Monday.  Everybody becoming tentative.  Afraid to make the next pass.  Wondering where our next score was going to come from.  And the last three was my fault.  That was my fault.  That was totally my fault, and we went in at halftime and talked about, you know what, I think we're better than them tonight.
They've been better than us a lot the last couple months, but I just said I think we're better than them tonight.  They're not going to lose.  Notre Dame's not going to lose this game.  We have to beat them.  So let's not go out there and play like we played the last seven minutes like, oh, my God, who is going to make a shot?  We need a couple heroes tonight because they're not going to lose.
They're like we used to be a couple years ago.  We're not going to lose to anybody.  You have to beat us.  I think that's the one thing that feels really good is I don't think Notre Dame‑‑ I mean, I'm sure they feel a certain way about it.  I don't know, but we beat them.  I don't think they lost to us.  I think we beat them.  They might feel like they lost to us, but we feel like we beat them.

Q.  You talked about how they have to look to each other and all, but they're still looking and seeing number 23.  Is this like the old Michael Jordan?  It's got to be the shoe commercial.  It's the jersey.
COACH AURIEMMA:  I don't know.  She just makes it look so effortless.  She makes it look so easy that when the shot doesn't go in, you almost look appalled like, "What happened?"  She came out and missed that wide open shot on the wing right in front of me.  We had a time out, and I looked at her and said, "Do you need to come out?  Are you all right?"
And she was taken back.  Like, yeah, why.  I said, "You're not supposed to miss that."  Like every shot she takes was supposed to go in.
She's done that.  She's done that to me.  She's done that to our team.  She's made us feel that way.  She's just one of those special kids.  She's unique.  Not many people are wired like that.  She is.  God bless her.  She took that first half and made it what it was.
Then Bria took the second half parts of it and made it what it was.  She took apart the second half and what it what it was.  Kelly Faris made some shots that no one in the building thought she could make and made it what it was, and Stefanie.
So it was the kind of game where all five players, and Caroline might have played one of her best games and she didn't score.  It's been a real struggle to get her to do that because she feels left out.  Everybody else is making shots.  Everybody else is having fun, and I'm not.  Now we're trying to get her to understand that tonight was fun, and she understands it.
I think Kaleena, in some of our other big games did the same thing she did tonight.  But then everybody started look to go her to do it the whole game, and when she didn't, we lost.  Tonight they helped her a little bit.  They helped her a little bit, and it was incredibly rewarding.  I'm really thrilled for them.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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