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March 16, 2012

Markeshia Grant

Dawn Staley

La'Keisha Sutton

Ieasia Walker


THE MODERATOR:  We have with us from the University of South Carolina,  Dawn Staley, and our three players whose names are posted in front of them.  We would like you to ask any questions specific to any of the athletes and with that first of all, we would like to open for questions.

Q.  Dawn, just reading up on your team, Sylvia Hatfield called your team "street fighters."  Is that a definition that you like associated with your team or is that not a good definition for your team?
COACH STALEY:  Well, street fighters is a team that's a very physical basketball team; a team that can come out and play the game the way it's supposed to be played.  I deem it as a pretty good name.

Q.  Coach, all season you've been known as a lock it down type of defense, holding teams 31 times below their scoring average.  What do you need to do tomorrow to contain their leading scorer, James, who I'm sure you've been able to watch some video of, and what does she do so well that allows her to get to that bucket with ease?
COACH STALEY:  James, she's a scorer.  She has a scorer's mentality.  She likes to put the ball up.  She shoots a lot of baskets.  But what we need to do is we need to take discipline to the game plan.  We need to make it very difficult for her to get touches.  We need to contest every shot she takes.
Certainly we have to do some things that we have done in our conference.  I don't foresee us doing anything as far as out of the box, jump defenses or anything.  I think our players are really disciplined when it comes to sticking to the game plan.

Q.  La'Keisha, talk about the trip over here yesterday, flying in, and getting settled in.  What's this experience been like for you so far and is it hitting you that you are getting ready to partake in an NCAA Tournament game?
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:  We had our Gamescocks' fans meet us as practice and a lot of people from Columbia came out to see us off; a lot of cheering, hugs and smiles and a lot of pictures were taken.  It was an exciting trip for myself personally, and my teammates and the whole coaching staff.

Q.  I feel like you all are extensions of each other a little bit.  Just talk a little bit about the rapport all three of you guys have and how well you've worked all season offensively being able to find each other in transition really well.
MARKESHIA GRANT:¬† I think we all bring something different to the table.¬† I think Ieasia is our leader of this group of guards.¬† She's our point guard.¬† And I think Keisha is very dynamic in what she does.¬† She can do everything.¬† She can shoot; she can drive; she can defend.¬† And I bring our three‑point shooting.¬† So I think we just bring a lot of different things to the table, and it's hard to guard us.

Q.  Curious of the players, has Coach Staley or Coach McCray shared any stories with you about their experiences?
COACH STALEY:  No, we haven't.  It's been over 20 years, so I think our players are more tangible in the here and the now.  And for them, I want them to experience it for themselves, because they have been part of this program since year one for La'Keisha and Ieasia has been here for three years, and Markeshia, this is her second year.  For them, they have seen the program go through some growth and we know with growth, it doesn't always feel good.  But you know, it's their experience, so you know, we rarely share some of the things we have done in our lives from a coaching standpoint because we are a little out of touch.

Q.  I haven't seen your team a whole lot this year, could you describe through your defensive style what you hang your hat on, some of your fundamentals that have allowed you to play so well defensively?
COACH STALEY:  Well, we are committed; we are a committed defensive basketball team, where as we know, what butters our broad.  From an offensive standpoint we are not very consistent and if you look at us on paper, it's not very pretty.  So we can't bank on something that we do probably a third of the time well, which is shoot the basketball.
From a defensive standpoint, you know, we don't allow teams to get up as many shots as they would like to get up.  We don't take the air out of them, but we certainly shrink the game as far as possessions are concerned and our players are committed to it. 
You can't really coach a team that's not committed to something, but they really see ‑‑ they are tangible.¬† What they have been able to do to opponents as far as how many points they score, how many ‑‑ stopping from teams from doing what they like to do.

Q.  Aleighsa Welch, how is she doing?  Is she going to play tomorrow with the knee?
COACH STALEY:  Aleighsa is back.  She played a little in the SEC Tournament.  She's a resilient player.  We are looking to get her a little bit more minutes than we did in the SEC Tournament.  She's practiced well for the past week and a half, and hopefully we'll have her at full strength tomorrow morning.

Q.  You talk about the depth of your team; you have a bunchof people you can rotate off the bench, and if you look at the numbers your bench contributes heavily to the scoring and rebounds.  Talk about the depth of your team this year.
COACH STALEY:  I think coming into the season, we knew we were bringing in a lot of players who could contribute in one area or another.
I think probably the backbone of what we have been able to do is because we have had a lot of players who can come off the bench and do a lot of different things.  Aleighsa Welch, she leads us in rebounding.  We got Ebony Wilson, as well, and Sancheon White and Tina Roy, they all come off the bench to give us a little bit something different, whether it's defense or offense.
We feel real good about having these guys maybe get a blow during the course of the game and not miss a beat.

Q.  Who is the floor general of this team for you?
COACH STALEY:  The floor general is Ieasia Walker.  She's done a tremendous job at running our basketball team.  She's probably sacrificed some of her offense, just so some of our other players can get shots that they normally get.  But hopefully she'll pick up her offensive prowess as we take the floor tomorrow morning.

Q.¬† Seems that your focus is here and now; I know your players have gone on YouTube and see you play; have you guys done that yet‑‑ look at the laughs (players laughing).¬† You guys haven't seen your coach play on YouTube or anything like that?¬† So you don't share your experience with them in this special situation.
COACH STALEY:  You have to know your personnel.  You have to know what they are listening to.  Usually if you are telling them something that's going to help them, they are listening pretty deeply.  But when we talk about something like myself or Coach McCray, they have this running, like, joke, where they will bang on the table, wall, anything that they can hit; that means be quiet.  (Laughter) we have heard that a number of times.

Q.  Ieasia, Coach talked about you guys being committed to defense, but when you first came into the program, did you come in committed to defense, or did Dawn have to make you guys committed to defense?
IEASIA WALKER:  I think I was more committed to defense because my offense was not there immediately and so I had my mind set on being an energy player and a defensive stop my freshman year.  As I progressed along, I started playing both sides and that's what she always emphasized; to play defense, so I just stayed with it.

Q.  When you first got in the program, did you realize that defense would come first in this program?
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:¬† To be honest, no, I didn't.¬† I thought it was all about offense and stuff like that but coach emphasized defense and being able to be discipline a lot, and just taking part with your teammates and competing night‑in and night‑out, I kind of locked in on defense with my teammates.

Q.  At what point were you really committed to defense?
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:  I think my freshman year because I was thrown into the game to stop the other team's best player.  I guess I was good at it, so every time I'm always guarding best player.

Q.  Dawn, some battles when you first got the to battle as far as the style you wanted to play and the commitment to defense that you wanted out of your program?
COACH STALEY:¬† Well, you know, I mean, we have just‑‑ the very beginning, you know, of coaching, when I was at Temple, something that we can always bank on was being a very good defensive team and that stuck with me throughout my career, because offense, you know, it's great to have skills from an offensive standpoint, but you know, you can't keep trading back.
We knew the strength of our team would be defense.¬† We knew we had the type of athletes that could, you know, pretty much play 94 feet, and we also knew it was an asset, from an offensive standpoint.¬† We shoot‑‑ most of our players shoot 30 to 40 percent, which isn't a great percentage, but a percentage of us getting stops is a lot greater than the percentage of us hitting baskets night‑in and night‑out.

Q.¬† How have you seen Coach's personality, or how has she handled the team change‑‑ you're already starting to smile‑‑ over the last four years and why do you think it's been so successful the last four years?
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:¬† I think her personality‑‑ well not just her personality but her coaching style because she let's us hold each other accountable and kind of correct each other before she steps in to stay something.¬† Pretty much she's always been easy to talk to and like a silly person.¬† So it's not hard.
You know, if you make a mistake you don't just dwell on that mistake because she finds a way to bring us out of it.   She's always been intense and really competitive, and just, you know, if you make a mistake, she won't tell you about it; but at the same time, if you are doing good, she won't tell, you, too.  So she's not that hard to play for.

Q.  Have you had to take a step back occasionally?
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:  Freshman year, we were knew to her, she was knew to us and it was an adjustment, getting used to each other.  I think we bought into her system and trust in the process, and helped us win a lot of games this career.

Q.  How much have you learned in terms of being the floor general?
IEASIA WALKER:¬† A whole lot.¬† You just have to be a leader on and off the court.¬† It really never stops.¬† You just always have to set an example and be very vocal, which is something that I had to get used to when I came in, because I was not very vocal.¬† I was more of a lead‑by‑example; so I learned to add the vocal ability and also the leading by example to my game.

Q.  How will you manage the nerves?  You've played in big games, so it's not like it's your first big game but certainly a different stage in the NCAA Tournament.
MARKESHIA GRANT:  I think we are all excited and we have seen games of this calibre, so I think we are just going to be focused and ready and we are going to stick to what we do best, and that's be disciplined on defense.

Q.  Coach, you addressed the team after the selection show on Monday, that you'll know what type of cereal Eastern Michigan will be eating in the morning; have you figured that out or do you think you'll be comfortable?
COACH STALEY:  I haven't gotten to that one yet, but we do know.  I think we have got a pretty good handle on the type of thing that Eastern Michigan is, and we have got a battle ahead of us.
But certainly we feel like we like who we are bringing into the game.  We like the style of play that we are taking into the game, and I like the approach and the focus of our players.
So you know, it's going to be a battle, and it's one that, you know, we accept the challenge because we are here at the NCAA Tournament.

Q.  Coach, can you just talk about the relationship that you've got with Coach McCray and how you convinced her to come here and what she's done for this program?
COACH STALEY:¬† Well, with Coach McCray we battle.¬† We battled together.¬† We have been in the foxhole together.¬† She's one that she's a tireless worker.¬† She recruits.¬† She does an excellent job preparing our team.¬† It's got to be taught just like the rest of our staff.¬† But she's pretty easy to convince.¬† You've just got to stroke her ego a little bit (laughing) and she's easy to, you know‑‑ I think she understands what the task at hand and coming to South Carolina, she knew that we wanted to turn the program around.¬† She wanted to be a part of, you know, that process.
It's been a long, hard‑fought battle.¬† I think for us to do it once again, being able to overcome some challenges as coaches now instead of being players, it's a beautiful thing.

Q.  Why do you struggle so much at the free throw line?
COACH STALEY:  Why do we struggle so much at the free throw line?  It's a good question.  It really is a good question.
We have tried to change up the way we practice shooting free throws.  We actually consulted with a specialist when it comes to free throw shooting.  And quite honestly, I think it's a little bit better than it was at the beginning and midway through the season.  And in particular, it's probably actually Boomer.  She's shooting it a little bit better.  She's probably the one that's bringing that thing way down, the average way down.
But over the past couple of weeks, she's been shooting it a lot better in the SEC tournament.  She shot a lot better.  But if I knew, we probably would have more wins or probably less losses than we do at this stage of the game.

Q.  Through your WNBA career, you're like an 85 percent free throw shooter; how frustrating is it to watch your team, knowing the level of free throw shooting that you achieved?
COACH STALEY:¬† It is frustrating at times, but you know, it is what it is.¬† I think it probably just puts pressure on our defense to get stops.¬† You know, for us, we are going to knock‑on‑wood and hopefully we can get them to fall, because when we do get them to fall, we end up victorious in closely‑matched basketball games.

Q.  Obviously you had success getting Temple to the NCAA Tournament.  What do you take away from those experiences and what may you do differently this time trying to get this team prepared going into Game1 against Eastern Michigan?
COACH STALEY:  For us, it's pretty much the same thing.  We are not going to change the approach.  We are going to try to stay as normal as possible in how we prepare.  I think the more familiar you are with your approach to the game, the better off you're going to play.
Of course, I do think our players are going to have some jitters at the beginning of the game.  That's only right for them to feel that way.  But you know, once the game settles down, I think we'll get into doing the things that we have done all season long, which is defend and hopefully knock down some shots within our offense and maybe create some easy opportunities from our defense.

Q.¬† To any of the players, specifically Grant and Sutton, knowing this is your final run, that this is it, what's it like knowing this is do‑or‑die mode and this is where your career at USC comes to an end?
MARKESHIA GRANT:  It just shows how much, like, our hard work has paid off and what our sacrifice to be at this point; and it just shows like how much my teammates and my coaching staff has believed in me.
I'm just thankful though come to the NCAA Tournament and be able to play with these great people.  So it's just a blessing.
LA'KEISHA SUTTON:  I pretty much agree with Markeshia, just being thankful and just it's a blessing really, because to see where we started out at my freshman year in particular, the belief that the coaches had in us and the belief my teammates had in me and the amount of belief that we had in each other, we finally got to where we wanted to be since day one.
I'm not too much focused on it being my last time, my last time in a Gamecock uniform.  Just trying to focus on getting a win and trying to do as much as I can to help my team. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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