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March 17, 2012

AnnMarie Gilbert

Tavelyn James

Natachia Watkins


South Carolina – 80
Eastern Michigan – 48

COACH GILBERT:  Well, the first thing I'd like to say is that I'm really thrilled that our players were able to fight hard enough throughout the regular season to win our conference tournament and to be here.  We certainly wanted to do more than just make a showing here in this tournament, and we tip our hat to the defense of the No.4 ranked defense in the country, South Carolina Gamecocks.  They played a tremendous defensive game, had us on our heels most of the game.
I thought we started out fairly well offensively.  They scored, we answered quickly.  But I just think their defense proved to be more than we could handle, and we certainly respect meeting a defense that was better than our own.  I'd like to say kudos to the job they did defensively.
I'm very proud of my team, just the way that they tried to fight back a little bit in the second half.  We want man to man, got a few stops, not nearly enough, but they didn't give up.  They faced a team that was a little bit bigger, a little bit more aggressive on the boards.  We haven't played a team that's been like South Carolina.  So this was a true test for us, and I'm just really proud that our kids hung in there until the end.
My center, Paige Reddick, was able to get her 1,000th point in this game.  She was just very resilient, and our players could get her the ball down the stretch knowing what was at stake for her as she ended her career.  I'm really proud of their overall effort.

Q.  Tavelyn, what was different about their defense that maybe you had not seen from another team this year?
TAVELYN JAMES:  Their defense was a lot more aggressive than any defense we've probably felt.  But I still feel like as a team we don't get stymied by pressure defense.  We're a team that's about offense and transition, so somebody playing hard defense on us shouldn't make us not make baskets.  We should still be able to play our game and make baskets.

Q.  Natachia, it seemed like you guys had the first five minutes of the game.  What were you guys doing that was succeeding against South Carolina and then what did they do to adjust?
NATACHIA WATKINS:  We had a lot of transition baskets at the beginning of the game when we was running with them, and we was actually stopping them on defense and being physical.

Q.  Natachia, how difficult was it to keep them out of the paint?  They seemed to get a lot of easy baskets, a lot of penetration in there.
NATACHIA WATKINS:  I mean, we all knew that they were a driving team, so we all had our game plans on which way to force them or to play under, but they just kept finding a way to get into the paint.

Q.  Tavelyn, you talked about their defense.  What adjustments did you try to make so that maybe you could have gotten into a groove?
TAVELYN JAMES:  I noticed that they was forcing me less, which I tried to drive less, and shots wasn't falling today for Eastern.  It wasn't like we didn't get any shots up, we just couldn't hit them.

Q.  Did they do anything different than what you saw from them on film this week?
TAVELYN JAMES:  The film we watched, no, they basically did the same thing, besides key on like the key players on our team and do what they were supposed to do to try to shut us down.  I mean, that's really it.
NATACHIA WATKINS:  From what we watched, they was the exact same, except I felt like their post got a lot more touches and looks this game than they have previous to what we watched.

Q.  Tavelyn, just kind of what's your hope for this program moving forward?  What do you want to see out of this program over the next couple years?
TAVELYN JAMES:  I mean, I want to see the program do the same exact thing that we've done this year.  I mean, no one can take this year away from us, regardless of this game or not.  But we wanted to make a statement in the NCAA that there are MAC teams that can play.  We didn't want to go out this way; I'm sure no team wants to go out this way.  But as long as this team plays hard and plays as Eastern, they'll make it.

Q.  Tavelyn, if you had another game against South Carolina, what do you think you would do differently, or if you were talking to the team that plays them on Monday, what would you suggest to try to stop them?
TAVELYN JAMES:  Just play our game.  It's about heart, I feel, around this time.  Everybody needs to dig in and play.  I don't believe that even if a team was prepared for us for seven weeks before we played this game, it's about heart and will.

Q.  Tavelyn, how does this team take the next step?
TAVELYN JAMES:  I would say they would need a leader because the two leaders are leaving, so somebody else on the team would have to step up to make sure the things that me and Paige tried to get done get done.

Q.  Just the challenge of keeping them out of the paint, how difficult was that, and how big of a concern was that going in, in your mind?
COACH GILBERT:  You know, we thought that our zone play would keep them out of the paint a bit more than it did.  They were able to hit a few outside shots that really changed the game, made us expand a little bit, which opened the paint up a little bit more.
I was excited that you could see Page Reddick is someone no matter what the level of team is, she's able to take charges against anyone.  She may have four or five charges that she took in this game, and she's sort of our inside stopper.  She's a kid that really has a lot of miles on her, and with the big bodies she faced today they were able to lean on her.
At the next level, it's hard to create for our players in our league the kind of physicality that you face in teams in different conferences, bigger power conferences, SEC.  This wasn't the biggest SEC team but they were a physical team, and they went as far as the referees would allow.  In our league we get a little bit more of those bumps and contact fouls.  We didn't get them today.  And it's hard to create on the spot what they were going to face.
And this was a first time for many of our players, or for all of our players, in the NCAA Tournament.  You can't create this experience for them to let them know how physical the game will be.  We've played a lot of tough opponents, but they did a great job of getting that ball, forcing the ball inside and forcing our bigs to guard.

Q.  What would be your suggestion to the team that plays South Carolina on Monday to challenge them, again, sort of looking as if you had maybe a do‑over to challenge them?
COACH GILBERT:  As I mentioned in my last interview regarding South Carolina, they do a great job.  They have just enough interior to keep you honest, and their kids on the outside can shoot the ball.  They're not pure shooters, but they can stroke it.  They move the ball well.  They force you‑‑ they make extra passes and force your defense to shift.  They use skip passes.  You're going to have to contain their exterior and stay connected to their interior pieces.  They did a nice job on the offensive glass to get second chance points.  Their post didn't do anything magical.  They played extremely hard, and that is‑‑ they're coached that way, and it reflected on the floor.
But you're going to have to keep their guards from shooting threes and stay close to their post players to keep them off the glass.

Q.  Was that what was working for you in those first five minutes when you had a six‑point lead?
COACH GILBERT:  That was our thought.  Our thought was that we could possibly jump out on them early.  Even our pressure, I just felt like the toll of a long season, we needed a lot more in the paint to be able to press this South Carolina team the way we press.  One thing I want to say, my heart goes out to my kids because my kids are so much better than what they reflected today.  They just found a team that could push back.  We usually push people around, but we found a team today that can push back, and when they pushed back, they pushed really hard.  So they were looking over at me, and I'm saying, hey, I'm not an official.
But I feel bad for them.  My heart hurts for them because they lost to a very good team.  We shouldn't have lost this way, but we lost to a very good team.

Q.  I guess now that a majority of teams got a taste of this, what's your hope moving forward for your players coming back and all the new kids coming in?
COACH GILBERT:  You know, the one thing that I like, that I read in the transcript regarding South Carolina, they were committed to defense.  I want to see an investment in the things that win games, rebounding and defense, and we've been committed.  But this was a team that was committed at a higher level than we were.  Our defense has been good enough to beat the teams that we've played and to really challenge some teams in some other conferences.  We beat Michigan, lost to Michigan State by one point in overtime.  We've played some strong teams.  But this team was really ‑‑ this South Carolina team was committed to defensive rebounding.  Those are the two keys that I thought we had to do better than South Carolina, and I'd just like to see our players continue to grow, get better.
In terms of their skill, I thought this team hit some great pull‑up jump shots on the baseline, in the paint.  I'd like to see our players just through our recruiting get a little bit bigger so when we face bigger teams we've got bigger bodies.  But I'd just like to see more of a commitment, a true commitment, that even when your offense isn't clicking, your defense never has an off‑night.

Q.  If Tavelyn puts up the points that she typically does, what's different in this game today?
COACH GILBERT:  You know, I think it would have opened things up a lot more from some of our other players.  We missed a lot of easy baskets inside, even when our post got some baskets inside.  They've got to make those baskets in order to free Tavelyn up a little bit.  We didn't make those and Tavelyn didn't make hers on the outside, which made for a terrible combination.  Natachia Watkins was a little bit off balance.  She's a kid that had 25 in the championship game of our conference tournament.  She's so much better than what she reflected, but the players we faced today, they could jump to her level.  They could rebound to her level.  Tavelyn James met players that could body up on her, not let her run off staggers without being bumped with a strong forearm.
So I think if Tavelyn had been able to get her game off a little bit earlier, it would have made for a much better ballgame, a closer ballgame.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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