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March 31, 2012

Toni Kokenis

Nnemkadi Ogwumike

Chiney Ogwumike

Tara VanDerveer


THE MODERATOR:¬† Joining us from Stanford, Tara VanDerveer and student‑athletes Neka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike and Toni Kokenis.
COACH VANDERVEER:  We're thrilled to be here.  Our team has worked really hard.  We have I think some outstanding talent on our team, but we have a specially good leadership and I think team camaraderie.  Everyone is working hard to have a great game tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR:¬† Questions for the student‑athletes.

Q.  Neka, I didn't get a chance to grab you to ask you this the other day, so I'll ask it now.  Can you just articulate your emotions and feelings about the final days of playing with Chiney in college?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:¬† I think it's‑‑ right now everything is happening fast but at the same time slow because I'm trying to soak in every moment.¬† Not everybody can say they played with their sister, and it's been a lot of fun.¬† Definitely some ups and some downs, but mostly ups.
And I'm just really‑‑ I think it's kind of a bittersweet moment.¬† We want to play two more games, and I want to have two more games with my sister and also my teammates.
But I think it's also kind of‑‑ I'm kind of passing the torch on.¬† It's her turn to do her two years on her own like I did my first two years.¬† I think she'll do fine, just like all my other teammates.¬† I look forward watching her in the future.¬† It's been a lot of fun, and I'm ready to have fun on Sunday.

Q.  Chiney, what kind of inspiration has your sister been for you and what has she meant to this team?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  In everything that's been done she set the bar extremely high.  Growing up I was like, How am I going to compare?  In high school she was doing great things, winning Gatorade Awards and College Player of the Year.
She's setting the bar super high, but what I learned in this process is just to work as hard as she does and try and fill in her footsteps, I'm going to be in a good place.
I'm excited for her.  It's pretty bittersweet that this could be the last few games of our run.  It's been a long run.  But it also has been a little too long, you know what I mean?
But I'm just excited.  We've had so many memories.  They stack up.  And I'm excited to see where her journey will go and where ours will, because I have sisters on the side too.

Q.  What have you guys learned from the past Final Fours and the disappointment that you can apply here this weekend?
TONI KOKENIS:  I think last year we learned that like we need to play for all 40minutes.  We kind of let the game slip away from us at the end.
Just really picking up our defense is something we're focusing on, and we've kind of let down a little bit in the second half in our past Final Four games, and teams have scored more than they should in the second half, which kind of hurt us.
So we're definitely focusing on defense and just finishing games and focusing for all 40minutes.
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:  I totally agree with Toni.  I think also it kind of has a lot to do with having fun, and our team is really good at having fun.  And we're also good at staying poised.  We don't panic.  I think that's a really good quality for our team.  But, most importantly, playing for 40minutes is really what it's down to.

Q.¬† Neka, the other day you used words‑‑ you talked about the last couple of experiences here at the Final Four.¬† You said two years ago you were devastated.¬† Last year it was really annoying, I think was the word that you used, the way you guys finished up.¬† So you're here now again and this is your last chance at it.¬† What is your‑‑ what is your feeling kind of going into these last‑‑ potentially last two games, and how much do you want to get this done?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:¬† Surprisingly enough, I'm very calm.¬† I've been calm‑‑ I was probably the most stressed maybe against South Carolina, I think.¬† I don't know.¬† And I was also pretty nervous for the Hampton game.
But coming into the Final Four, I'm kind of taking it one day at a time, one minute at a time, enjoying the times I have with my coaches and my team.
I'm not trying to go overboard and be too ecstatic, but I'm very happy.  I'm so grateful that I'm here.  Grateful for the awards that have been given to me and Chiney and all the girls participating in the Final Four, and I'm just enjoying every moment.  I got to catch up with friends at the banquet yesterday.
And it's kind of tranquil for me right now.  I'm not even worried.  And I know when it comes down to it, when I step on to the court, I just go out there and have fun and I play as hard as I can.

Q.¬† Brittney Griner mentioned something that she called sister instinct; she sees you guys have an on‑court connection, and I'm sure you do, which supersedes what you might have with your other teammates.¬† And can you talk about that?¬† And, Toni, can you talk about what you see with them on the court?¬† Thank you.
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:  I'm repeating myself, but I talk about playing on the court with Chiney is like playing with three teammates, not four.  We kind of understand each other's games.  And when it comes to constructive criticism, things are a little different when we communicate between each other.
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:¬† But she's responsive.¬† And it's also mutual.¬† She helps me out as well on the court.¬† And a lot of times‑‑ sometimes Tara doesn't need to say anything to her because I've already said it to her.¬† Kate jokes around and says I should have a whistle.
But it's been a lot of fun.  And I know Chiney can attest to me yelling at her.
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  It's not that big of a deal.  It's more than the yelling.  She knows I hear her.  I may not listen, but I hear her.
No, all jokes aside, it's been great.  I think the best example was last game, coming down to the wire a team will be pressing us, and I take the ball out and I know she will work her butt off to catch the ball.  Little things like that; that she's not looking to make herself look good, she's looking to help me out.
And it's just something like that that we've sort of spread that kind of intuition with our entire team.  We're very close.  That's one of the things I say the best quality of our team is our chemistry.  And it's not even just on the court, it's off the court.
We don't really argue that much.  We all understand each other.  People's viewpoints get out.  I think that really helps us a lot just being able to understand each other and to push each other.
And it starts with Coach Tara.  She's really helped us.  She gives us criticism, and we soak it in.  She tells us what to do, and we try to do it to the best of our abilities.
And that's the sister instinct I think Brittney was talking about.
TONI KOKENIS:  Well, I can definitely tell as like a teammate, when we'll like go to a huddle or something, and either somebody might have made a mistake, and they'll kind of just look at each other, and like someone will start to say something, and then the other one is like, I know.  So they have a little like silent kind of conversation.
But it's more like just‑‑ like they said, the whole like sisterhood has kind of infiltrated our whole team and we're all sisters, and it's from watching them and seeing how helpful they are to each other.

Q.  The question of playing at Denver's altitude always comes up for teams coming in here.  The fact that you played in Boulder this year, does that give you any indications of how difficult it is to play here?
TONI KOKENIS:  We definitely think it's to our advantage that we played here earlier in the year.  And it really didn't bother us the first time.  So we're very confident and comfortable playing at the altitude, however high up it is.
TONI KOKENIS:  The Mile High City.  Doesn't bother us at all and we feel pretty good.

Q.  Neka and Chiney, how would you describe Brittney Griner's development over the last few years, and how difficult exactly is it to guard somebody like that without getting in foul trouble?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:  I can't say that I've been watching every one of her games, but I definitely think that since she came out in high school she's definitely gotten better.
I just mentioned this to someone earlier.  She's not just big, she's athletic, and she has skills, which makes that kind of a triple dagger.  But it's going to be a challenge, and I'm excited.  I'm stepping up to it, and I know our entire team is as well.
It's going to be a collaborative effort.¬† But I think that with the belief in ourselves that we'll be just fine.¬† If we follow our rules, Tara and the coaching staff has done a really great job of helping us figure out our defensive plan, but at this point I'm just‑‑ I was excited from Selection Monday that Baylor was on our side, and I'm so happy we get to play them, especially with me being a senior.¬† I don't want to say that I didn't get to play her before I left, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:¬† I think growing up in Houston we were miles apart, Nimitz, Cy‑Fair, and even Dulles with Kelsey Bone.¬† So we grew up together.¬† We played in the same basketball tournaments.¬† Funny we never ever played Nimitz High School, but I always saw her play against Dulles and Kelsey.¬† It was a nice little circle we had supporting each other knowing that we had hopes of playing DI.
But just seeing how far she's come, I remember the first time I saw the YouTube video, it was on the local news, I went to sleep that night and it was like, The phenom that can dunk, and it was just dunking, but then to see her game evolve and expand and going right, left, finishing outside of the paint, it's been great because it shows how much people can develop in basketball.
And it's going to be a challenge, definitely.  And I think we're all excited.  The only way you can approach something like this is you're all in, we're all in, and we're going to do to counter what she brings.

Q.  Neka, following up on the Griner question, one, are you still tranquil when you look at film of what you're going to face tomorrow?  And also what's the bigger challenge, on the offensive end or defensive end, or are they equal?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:  I mean, I'm pretty calm.  I mean, because it's film.  I've been doing this for four years.  I know how film is.  Granted at this point we've been watching a lot of it.  But it's still film.  And I think the coaching staff does a really good job putting together tape reels of what we need to be focusing on.
We don't just look at Baylor; we look at things we've done well in different situations.  And, I mean, watching the tape, it's going to be a challenge.  But I'm really excited.
What was your second question?

Q.  Offense and defense.
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:¬† I think it's going to be‑‑ it's going to be more of a challenge for us to focus on offense really.¬† If you don't follow your rules on defense, then things don't go your way.¬† But I think our team is really good at following our rules.¬† We have to make sure we play hard and defend for 40minutes.
It's actually funny that you ask that, because Coach Donnie Dawkins, our men's team, they just won the NIT, congrats, and he was talking to us before we left about how it's going to be all about defense, defense, defense.
And I think our defense is something that a lot of people kind of look over.¬† We do a really good job following our rules, and our coaches do a great job scouting and letting us know what we have to do, but offensively, especially for a team like us where we're versatile, we can score inside and out‑‑ inside game is obviously going to be very different.¬† It's different for every team that plays against Baylor.
But I think the challenges that are posed on offense are going to prove that our team knows how to concentrate and focus and we can play together and kind of adjust and strategize against Baylor.

Q.  Coach Mulkey said she really recruited you hard.  Did you consider Baylor?  And what made you decide on Stanford?
NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE:¬† I definitely did consider Baylor.¬† Coach Mulkey, she's a great coach.¬† It was really fun getting recruited by her.¬† I made a lot of, you know, I guess you could say‑‑ not really unofficial visits, I would always go up and watch the games because our high school team‑‑ it's only about a three‑hour drive from my house.
And ultimately I chose Stanford because I felt that‑‑ as hard as it was, because Baylor's a good school and a drive away from my home‑‑ and I think my mom really wanted me to go there, but she's happy I'm at Stanford now.¬† Because my mom likes being so close.
But it was all about I think just the academics and the athletic demands that the Stanford community really demands from different players and athletes and students.
But, most importantly, when I went there I couldn't think of another place to go after meeting all the people that I had met.  Whether it was Tara and the coaches or my teammates, or even just students that came to greet me at the football game.  And I can say right now that was probably the one reason why I went to Stanford.  And I've met so many people.
I can say I'm friends with Andrew Luck.  Like that's really cool.  And I know Chiney really likes that, too.  The students there are superstars.  The professors are superstars.  The coaches are superstars, even though Tara probably doesn't want me to say that.  But it's just worldly people there, and I'm very happy I made the choice to go to Stanford.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Questions for Coach.

Q.¬† If I could ask the same thing of you about the sister instinct and the on‑court connection between them and I guess how it's been infiltrated throughout the team and what's your observations of that.
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think that first you have when they play together, they have played together so long that they can anticipate what the other person is going to do.  So you do have that sister factor on the court, just Xs and Os, passes, screens, things like that.  Like Chiney said, throwing a long pass to Neka; she knew she was going and she was going to catch it.
I think off the court‑‑ I noticed this right away when Chiney was on our team with Neka‑‑ that other people look at them and you have a great player like Neka and now a rising star like Chiney and you see how they treat each other, how they talk about each other, and they have a great relationship.¬† And that sisterhood does permeate our team.
And I think it's a wonderful thing and it's something that everyone on our team‑‑ I've talked to Amber about‑‑ she's from Houston‑‑ being little sister.
It's just a really, really fun group to be around, and the leadership and the maturity that Neka provides and then Chiney and Jos and all the way down, it's something really special.

Q.¬† A couple teams have come through here and they out‑and‑out said up there today:¬† We're here to win a national championship.¬† I feel like you guys are downplaying that a little bit.¬† Would that be accurate?
COACH VANDERVEER:  We're all here for that.  That seems kind of obvious.  But it's always one step at a time.  It's always doing the little things right.  So we're working as hard as we can preparing our team for Game No.1, which is Baylor.  And there's no national championship without beating them.

Q.  Tara, Baylor has really had only three nailbiters all year.  You've had considerably more than that.  Is there a problem for a team if this does get to be a close game, not having had that experience and going down to the end, is that a problem?  Can that be a problem for a team that's got such great expectations as Baylor?
COACH VANDERVEER:¬† I don't really know how to figure out‑‑ I concentrate on Stanford.¬† For us, we just‑‑ we try to prepare.¬† We haven't had‑‑ we did have an overtime game, which I'm thankful for, but not at the time, but I am now.
But I just really try to focus on what we will have to do.  And they present so many challenges.  There's a reason that they haven't had a lot of close games because of all the great things they do.
But if you're‑‑ I think our team coming in being confident, being loose, knowing what we need to do and then just applying themselves to doing what their job is, then that's all I'm going to ask for.

Q.¬† Tara, how do you compare your personal desire to win a third national title compared to the one‑‑ the desire to win your first one way back when?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think I realize how much harder it is.  When we went the first time in 1990 and won the Regional, I was happy.  I just thought:  This is it; I don't need anything more.  Then when we got to the Final Four, I'm like:  Wow, who knows if you're ever coming back and let's try and get it.
We did win the first time, and then we've gone back several times, and it's really, really demanding.  A lot of things have to go right.  And I look at years that we've been with the last five years, and really getting to the championship game in 2008 and we didn't really play that well in the second half especially against Tennessee.  But they took it to us.
I think that we realized kind of there's a whole big difference between the semifinal game and the final game, and then the next year we didn't have really‑‑ I don't think we matched up really well with Connecticut that year and they were on a mission.
'10 was playing Connecticut in the championship game, and I think that game, again, had‑‑ we had a good shot at halftime, and then they just had a little run that got away from us.¬† And then last year not getting the championship game, we had an opportunity and just didn't‑‑ we didn't do what we needed to do.
So I think that the experience that all of our players have had, our staff has had, you know, we want it as bad as anyone this year.  Our team wants it as bad.  Our staff wants it as bad.  We're working as hard or harder than anyone.  So we know we just have to do the right things.

Q.  Robert Griffin, III, is going to be here to support Baylor.  I'm wondering if you've been able to convince Andrew Luck to come?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I haven't made the effort.  Maybe John Elway.  He might be in town.  I'd take him.

Q.¬† Would you agree with Neka's assessment that defense is the key to the game in terms of that that's going to be‑‑ that offense is going to be more of a challenge that you guys are going to be locked down on, do you think?
COACH VANDERVEER:¬† I think it's an equal challenge.¬† I think it's an equal challenge of how to defend them.¬† And then she, Brittney Griner, is a game‑changer.¬† There's no two ways about it.¬† She impacts the game at both ends of the court.¬† She's a phenomenal player.¬† And she has improved so much.
And they just‑‑ and they know‑‑ they know how to use her.¬† So I think it's going to be equally challenging for us at both ends of the court.

Q.  You sort of just started to touch on this, but in terms of attacking them, where would you try to attack them offensively?  Because they really are athletic and long in almost every position.
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think you're going to have to wait and watch tomorrow.  But we do have an idea.  Our team is focused on specific things, what to do and what not to do.  And we have the benefit of watching, for the most part, 30 of their games and really watching and seeing what things work and what things don't work.

Q.  Can you put into words, Coach, what Neka has meant to this program?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I could put them in words, but you don't have enough paper and ink to print them all.  I'll give you an idea.  When we signed Neka, I had two new assistants, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye and then Amy Tucker had been at Stanford.  And I bought each one of them a GPS.  I said, We're going in the right direction.
It's like she is an amazing young woman.¬† She's improved so much from her freshman year until now, and she will continue to improve.¬† But more than that, she's a solid person.¬† How many coaches can say they've coached someone for four years and they've never had one minute of getting upset with them, being mad at them, having to have a parent‑‑ or coach/player or daughter word with them.
She's just outstanding.  And it's why you coach.  Everyone's out there looking for a player like Neka, and she's sitting right next to me.

Q.¬† GPS, you bought one for Neka or‑‑
COACH VANDERVEER:  The coaches.  Neka, I'd be in trouble with.  For Amy, Kate, and Bobbie.  That was in the old days before they had them on your phone.

Q.  Knowing you, assuming that you've got a plan that you're comfortable with, and I'm wondering if that's the case, and how confident you are that the guys can go out there and execute it?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I was asked this already maybe by some that might be in this room.  But, yes, we do have a plan.  And now the question is will we be able to execute the plan.  Thinking of the plan is a lot easier than executing the plan.
But I have a lot of confidence in our team.  And I feel the same way Neka does.  We're very excited about this game.  We love the challenge.  We love to put the puzzle together.  This is a really, really different puzzle to put together, playing against someone that's 6'8" that has 199blocks or against Odyssey Sims who has 114 turnovers.
I don't know that we've‑‑ we've played against a team one year that had three All‑Americans, which was Connecticut.¬† We played against talent before.¬† But this is a very talented team, top to bottom.
And we know we're going to have to do the right things, and that's‑‑ I think that that's what we've worked hard for all year.¬† This is what we work hard all summer and all fall to, who is going to box out tomorrow?¬† Who is going to get on the floor?¬† Who is going to take a charge?
So this will be the questions that, if I'm sitting up here happy, two days, it's because we did those things.  And if I'm not, then we didn't do those things.

Q.  Baylor's favored tomorrow.  And you're not underdogs very often and you're probably underdogs in at least three of the four previous Final Fours.  Psychologically, do you do anything with the kids to kind of prepare them to play a team that is considered superior than you guys?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Yes.  I mean, I think it's true.  I don't think we go into so many games where we're expected to win, and as Baylor does and as Connecticut does and as Tennessee or Notre Dame, but we go into games where we're expected to win and then even if we win by 20, that wasn't good enough.
But this game, there might not be anyone in this room besides me that thinks we are going to win.  So we do some special things.

Q.  To ask the question about strategy in a different way.  The teams who have had relative success against Baylor, what have they been able to do?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Well, I think they've controlled the tempo.  The scores are low.  They understand if your 5'7'' guard goes in against Brittney Griner she's going to need a toothpick to pick out the leather from her teeth.  They understand certain things they're not going to change.
I told our team:  This is not a game to show me your macho move to the basket against Brittney Griner.  I don't need it.
I told our team:  We have to do what we're good at.  Don't show me something I've not seen before.  Don't come out with if you've not made a 3 all year I'll need to see it now.
But I do think we study‑‑ I mean, it's really fun, I love it, we study what people do against us, we study what they do against them.¬† And if there are things, there might be just things that maybe Odyssey Sims doesn't get as many steals, maybe Brittney doesn't get as many blocks.¬† And we try to look and see tendencies.¬† And with the technology that we have now, we can watch a lot of stuff, and I do.

Q.¬† Texas Tech played them twice within 10 and seemed to sort of press out the floor‑‑
COACH VANDERVEER:  In fact, beat them last year.

Q.¬† They seem to try to sort of milk the clock before the ball could get inside to‑‑ I'm not sure if I'm saying that correctly.
COACH VANDERVEER:  I've watched that.  That didn't get lost on me.  We have to study.  And I'm sure they've studied games that were close for us, too.  But we have to play within ourselves.  We have to have a plan that fits Stanford.  We can't say, well, Texas Tech did this and now we're going to do that.  We have to look at what they did, and we have to say, well, what do they do that fits us and our personnel.
As much as it's hard‑‑ who has Baylor played against that's like Neka?¬† As hard as it is to play against someone like Brittney Griner, and it is, who is going to guard Neka?¬† She's got a pretty versatile game.

Q.  Been doing it for a long time.  You've gone against a lot of great players, and Neka mentioned it several times, the rule that you guys have told her to follow.  Are you in a different page of the rule book in dealing with Brittney Griner?  And she kind of downplays if she's changing the game, but I know the game has changed, in general, but is she changing it even more so?
COACH VANDERVEER:¬† Neka is talking about things like our team gets the fact that we aren't here unless people do what they're supposed to do.¬† We're not a roll‑the‑ball‑out team where you can go out and take any shots you want or decide if you want to sprint back on defense.
What Neka means by following rules:  We have to sprint back on defense.  Box out.  We have to do the little things.  If you're going to set a screen, set a screen.  Can't be ships passing in the night.
So for us to be successful, to me, it's everyone being, as kind of Chiney said, all in.  It's not being a weak link.  Not someone not doing what they're supposed to do.  Not knowing the scouting report.  We do like written quizzes of scouting reports in walkthroughs.  So maybe our approach is a little bit academic, because that's why I'm coaching the kids I do.
I think that's all Neka meant by following the rules.  Because we talk about things:  This is where you need to be on this play; these are the things you need to do.
And we're being‑‑ basketball to me is not rocket science.¬† We have to defend well.¬† We have to score well.¬† We have to rebound well.¬† And through all that, you know, I can't be blowing my top at people, and our kids have to have fun.
And we're thrilled to be here, and we're really looking forward to tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

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