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March 30, 2013

Sherri Coale

Aaryn Ellenberg

Morgan Hook

Joanna McFarland


THE MODERATOR:  Coach, congratulations on your wins and your thoughts about this upcoming event.
COACH COALE:  We're thrilled to be back in Oklahoma City, have the opportunity to compete in the Sweet 16.  Four tremendous basketball teams at this location.  It should be a great weekend of the highest caliber of women's basketball.
I'm proud of my team.  I'm proud of our fan base for how they're supporting and buying tickets.  Can't wait for Sunday afternoon.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll take questions.

Q.  This is an interesting matchup because even though the Lady Vols like to run, so does Oklahoma.  Could you talk about this matchup.
COACH COALE:  I think we do both like to play up‑tempo, although our up‑tempos are a little bit different.  Tennessee is really, really fast, explosively fast.  Meighan Simmons might be the fastest guard I've ever seen on the floor.  You remember I coached Danielle Robinson for four years.
We like to play fast as well.  I think it's really important to play at our speed and not theirs.  Part of that is taking care of the basketball.  You can limit their ability to run a little bit if you don't turn it over obviously in the open floor.
I think another part of that is shot selection.  We have to take the right shots so there aren't long rebounds that lead to that transition that they love, as well.

Q.  Can you describe how you held it together this year with the loss of Whitney and injuries, your mindset after that game.
COACH COALE:  You know what, it's been a crazy ride this year.  I still remember vividly exactly how I felt the moment Whitney went down.  I don't remember with much clarity what happened after the game.  But the moment she planted her feet and went up for the jump shot I remember clearly.
I remember holding her hand on the court and I remember walking out of an arena that had the absolute breath sucked out of it.  It was the quietest and yet an arousing standing ovation for her.  Just one of those moments in sports you don't see very often, thank goodness.
But we made a decision that we were going to find a way to do special things and to be extraordinary.  I think that's been the most rewarding part of this journey, has been the continuous correct decisions by a bunch of courageous young student‑athletes who simply wake up every day and decide they want to be special.  I don't use that word 'special' very often, but this group is special.

Q.  Can you talk about your overall satisfaction of making the Sweet 16.  What does it say about this team?
COACH COALE:  That's a really fine line because we are incredibly proud of what we've done.  It is very satisfying.  Here is my thing.  I always have these really smart kids.  I can talk around stuff.  They're going to know what's happening anyway.
So we just call spades spades.  We talk about what an accomplishment this is to be here.  We let it sort of sink in.  We looked at each other, we talked about it, we digested it, then we said, Okay, that was fun.  Now we have work ahead of us.  Don't let this be the end all.  Just getting here is not enough.  Who is to say what is enough?  What is enough is what you're capable of.
We believe we have a lot of basketball left in us and that's what we're looking for on Sunday.

Q.  You talk about smart kids, tough kids.  Joanna McFarland embodies both of those, especially when you've needed her in big situations.  If you could expound a little bit how she's done that.
COACH COALE:  She's one of my favorite stories because Jo is a perfectionist, probably has been since the moment she came into the world.  As a high school player, when I watched her play in the summer, if she missed one shot, she acted like she could not believe she missed a shot.  I loved that competitive bend she had.  I loved how physical she was.
She got to Oklahoma and expected to be perfect every day.  It plagued her for a while because one mistake would sit on her back and ride with her to the other end.  After a four‑minute interval, she couldn't move.  Basketball moves too fast, no such thing as a perfect player or a perfect game.
In the classroom she's the same way.  98 on a biochem test isn't enough.  She thinks it should be 100.  That's why she has 3.92 in biochemistry and has been accepted into pharmacy school.  It drives her it makes her great, and yet she had to figure out how to get on the right side of that line.
It's a precariously difficult balance to find and she found it just when we needed her to find it most.
That's a great story.

Q.  I think you've had other teams that sort of bounced around and tended to find themselves here at the end playing their best basketball.  This team did that.  It sounds like what you're saying is behind the scenes they weren't bouncing around.  Take us inside.  How were they special?  Even while out on the court there were these things happening.  Tell us about that.
COACH COALE:  Well, depends on what your definition of 'together' is.  The transcending trademark of this group of kids has been how much respect and admiration they have for each other.  That's been the trademark of this group.
Never once in all of the difficult days that we went through, injury, gather ourselves, another injury, gather ourselves.  Those are lots of dynamics going on there.  Never once did that care, admiration and respect that they have for one another vacillate in any way.
Then we get into Big 12 Conference play.  Here we go.  We go great for a while.  Then all of a sudden a really tall mountain, we can't get over it, we find ourselves in a swamp, in the middle of quicksand.  In the midst of all that, these guys continued to respect one another and care for one another.  There's just an absence of pretense that grows from that.  When people are real with one another, that allows you to continue even in the face of difficult circumstances.
As long as they were trying to do that, this isn't working, we have to figure it out, if you have that core, that core is tight, and people trust one another, they believe in one another, they have respect for one another, then anything is always possible.  So that's been the thing that's made them special throughout the entire season.

Q.  One of the best moments of this program was a few years ago when Whit was a freshman and Tennessee came, Oklahoma put on a show that day and upset Tennessee.  Coach Summitt was very close to a milestone.  That was a great moment in Oklahoma history.  What did that do for your program going forward?
COACH COALE:  I love what you just said when you said Oklahoma put on a show.  What I remember most about that is Oklahoma did put on a show.  I'm not talking about my basketball team, I'm talking about the state, that environment, and it was nationally televised for everybody that had a camera, potentially Coach Summitt's milestone.  Whether you were a women's basketball fan or not, everybody was watching.  I think Bob Knight was calling the game for heaven's sakes.
The state of Oklahoma, we really looked good that night.  Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand made us look really good.  That game played back yesterday on a couple networks.  I had people texting me, Does Whitney ever miss a shot?  I think she missed one.  That was sort of the opening window of this is who Whitney Hand is for the rest the world.
Physically her career didn't play out the way the rest of us wanted to.  The light she brings, the way she makes a part of all these better, that continued throughout and is still happening today.

Q.  Could you talk about the situation Holly is in.  She's there as an assistant forever, now taking over, trying to establish herself.  And does this look like the same old Tennessee or do you see some differences in them under her?
COACH COALE:  First of all, I would just be guessing like the rest of you what that might be like, because I never sat in that other chair, which is really weird.  Folks that have sat in it have told me that's a long, long way, those 15 inches.
I think that Holly is in a tremendous situation, though, in that if you're going to sit next to somebody for a long, long time as an assistant coach, don't you want it to be Pat Summitt, really?  What she's learned, been able to acquire over the years, now it's her turn.
I think it takes somebody who really gets that program to be able to follow Coach Summitt, to be able to bridge that, share all those lessons and that tradition with them.  I think it was a natural choice, a great choice.
I think she's done an amazing job.  In many ways, it is vintage Tennessee.  They have better athletes at every spot than we do.  They're athletic.  Their guards are big.  They can all shoot it.  They get after the basketball.  They deny passing lanes.  All that is Tennessee and has been Tennessee for decades.
Yet there's a little something about 'em that's different, and it's hard to put a title on.  I don't really know how to even describe it.  But there's a little something different.  That's Holly Warlick.  That's the stamp she's putting on this program.

Q.  You mentioned the game where Whitney was so good here against Tennessee.  I know it has nothing to do with tomorrow, all things pretty much meaningless, but then I think back to Bob Stoops after winning the 2000 Orange Bowl, like there's some connection.  Are you able to draw some connection for your team to maybe put them in as good of a place as they can be going into it?
COACH COALE:  That's the beautiful thing about sports.  If you look hard enough, you can draw a correlation to make it feel like it's all in your favor, no matter what.
I think our guys do have a great, great feeling about Oklahoma playing in this building.  I think we obviously have a great feeling about playing in front of Oklahoma fans.
So I think as things line up, I was thinking earlier this morning, I don't even know if Maddie Manning and Nicole Kornet, youngest on our squad, if they're aware of that game.  I have no idea.  We've not referenced it much, though I'm sure everybody around them is talking about it.
Having been in this arena and played here and played well here on a stage with a lot of pressure, it wasn't to go to the Elite 8, but there were a lot of eyes on this game, to play as well as we did can only be good.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach, good luck tomorrow.
COACH COALE:  Thank you.
THE MODERATOR:  We're now joined by the Oklahoma student‑athletes.  We'll begin with questions.

Q.  Joanna, when Whitney went down, a lot of people felt that's it for Oklahoma.  You rallied and played some really good basketball from that point on, especially you.  What happened that day?  Why did this team actually play even better basketball the rest of the way without your best player?
JOANNA McFARLAND:  Because it was a lot of playing for the people who couldn't play.  When Whitney went down, it was four total.  I remember right from our next game, they applied a motivational clip for people who couldn't play or an injured player.  That's what hit me.  I'm going to play for the people who can't, especially my fellow seniors.  I know it killed Whitney as a senior who couldn't play.
I think it was all of us stepping up our game so we could give the people who couldn't play an opportunity to go and be a part of something special.

Q.  You played likely your best game of the season against UCLA.  How do you replicate that game, bring it back?
MORGAN HOOK:  We just went out there and said there's nothing to lose.  We were the bottom seed.  We were going to go out there and play for each other.  Just like Joanna said, when Whitney went down, we were all playing to play another game to with Jazz and Jo.

Q.  Joanna, I covered both of your older sisters.  Both of them had different games.  How much learning from them helped you?  Coach was talking about your perfectionist streak.  How have you learned to manage that?
JOANNA McFARLAND:  It's been hard.  I think that's been the place that I've grown the most over my four years, is coming to grips with the fact that you don't have to be perfect, as long as you give everything that you have.  You can rest easy at night, have no regrets.
As for my sisters, I owe a lot to them because they took me to our little recreation center and beat me in the paint, taught me moves.  I was probably ahead of the game a little bit just 'cause they knew so much and told me so much.

Q.  Aaryn, after all you have been through, what does it mean to make the Sweet 16?
AARYN ELLENBERG:  It's definitely a big accomplishment for us because, I mean, we expected to be here, but not in sort of the way it went.  We expected to have Whitney and everybody by us.  They're still there on the bench, but it's a little bit different.
It still means a lot.

Q.  Morgan and Joanna, do you sort of take pride in the national stage that Oklahoma is going to be on?  This is a program that is very well‑supported.  Just the fact you're going to have your home fans, national TV audience, what that means to you, the appreciation of women's basketball in this area.
MORGAN HOOK:  I think it shows a lot about our fans.  I know they've told us so many tickets have been sold.  We can pretty much guarantee a lot of those will be fans for us.
It just shows that people still are interested in women's basketball and do enjoy watching us play.  I think as a team, we play with a lot of class, a lot of championship behavior.  I think it's a positive for women's basketball.
JOANNA McFARLAND:  I would agree.  I think a lot of it also is the people who came before us, the players before us who built the program, built the legacy that we play in now.  Class and grace, pass it on, a big thing in our locker room.
It is fun to play in front of a home crowd in Oklahoma City because it is a really good base for women's basketball.

Q.  Aaryn, what is your job tomorrow and specifically is it your job to get going quickly, to be a factor early in the game?
AARYN ELLENBERG:  My job's really just to do what I've been doing.  I mean, there's no added pressure or anything for me to try to go score the most points or score all the points early.
Just pretty much do what I've been doing and really just play along with the rest of everybody else and we'll be okay.

Q.  Joanna, you've gone against as good of posts as there are in the country, one in particular.  Your thoughts specifically on Tennessee?  It's a young, athletic group.  What are the biggest challenges that Tennessee will provide inside?
JOANNA McFARLAND:  Like you said, they're very athletic.  Just from the little bit of film we've watched, they're animals going on the boards.  I think a big thing is going to be rebounding, like always.  Post defense is all about position early.  It's going to be a lot of that position game, staying low, being ready.

Q.  Morgan, being the point guard of this team, you know the weapons that you have.  Griffin has grown up as a post player for you, playing well.  How good has she become and how much has she helped this team this year?
MORGAN HOOK:  She's grown with her confidence completely.  I think that's what it stems down to.  I mean, last year she wouldn't call for the ball.  Now she demands the ball when she's in there.  It gives us as guards confidence to pass it in there because she is ready for it, has great position.
I just think it comes from her confidence.  That's why she has been such a factor for us this year.

Q.  Aaryn, Morgan, Joanna, what is it in Coach Coale, was it somebody on the team that brought you to where you are after everything fell apart?  Did she say something special?
AARYN ELLENBERG:  It's probably just a combination of a lot of things.  Her just never letting us be satisfied with just being okay after we've lost so many people.  Just with everybody in general in our mindset as to, This isn't good enough.  Yeah, we've lost four people, but nonetheless, we're still going to play hard and expect from ourselves just as much as we expected before.
MORGAN HOOK:  Yeah, I would say that she just never let us feel sorry for ourselves.  She said she recruits character, I think that showed when the four injuries happened.  We kind of got together and said, This is it, this is what we have now, this is what we're going to have to do.  We never had that moment where we felt sorry for ourselves.  That came from Coach Coale not letting that happen.
JOANNA McFARLAND:  I remember being in the film room after Whitney went down, I can't remember now, I lost it, but something like how great of a story is it going to be.  We've been through all this adversity, how great is it going to be when we do something special.  That really motivated me ‑ I think all of us.

Q.  Joanna, what have Whitney and Lyndsey, two senior captains who cannot play, what has it meant their sticking around the program?  What have they given you, albeit not their presence on the court?
JOANNA McFARLAND:  They have a lot of knowledge.  They've been in the system four years.  Especially Whitney, five.  They know a lot and they try to help us in whatever way they can.
I know for me personally, because they're my senior class, I try and do everything I can when I'm on the court for them because they can't be out there.

Q.  Aaryn, how critical is hitting three‑pointers early?  That's such a big part of the two victories you've had already.  Is that something you're consciously thinking about, getting hot early from outside?
AARYN ELLENBERG:  Definitely.  I mean, that's a big part of our identity.  We're all really good shooters.  For us to just be able to knock down shots, it gives us a breath of fresh air for just other things, just to be free to go after rebounds, get lower in the stance.  It's definitely important for us to make shots.
I think regardless of any of that, we're going to have to do a lot of other things really well in order to win a game.

Q.  Morgan, Coach Coale said you guys are a special group.  Do you feel special?  If so, why?  What is it about you that is special?
MORGAN HOOK:  Just our togetherness.  I mean, we have this bond where we want to continue to play so we have another week together.
I mean, I think all of these girls can vouch for it.  We're like sisters.  We have that sisterly love.  We go out there and play the way we play for each other.  I think that's why she says we're a special group.  A lot of teams don't really have that.
THE MODERATOR:  Ladies, we'll let you go.  Have a great game tomorrow.  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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