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April 6, 2013
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
THE MODERATOR:Â Joining us now from Connecticut, head coach Geno Auriemma, student‑athletes Kaleena Mosqueda‑Lewis and Kelly Faris.Â We'll start with questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Proper pronunciation is Mosqueda.Â No, no, you got it right.Â I'm glad you did.Â I don't know what that means in Mexican‑‑ that's Mexican for something, but I'm not sure what it is.
THE MODERATOR:Â Spanish.Â We have a question right here in the front row (laughter).
Q.Â Kelly, you and Skylar have been playing together summer All‑Star teams and U.S.A. Basketball.Â Could you describe the rivalry and maybe the mutual respect you two earned over all these years?
KELLY FARIS:Â Yeah, I don't think I'm the only one.Â I think quite a few have played with a different people along the way that we come across.Â And it makes it more fun.Â You always love playing people you know or grew up playing against and you know their type of personality and how they are on the court.
And she's a very competitive, smart player.Â So it just makes it that much more fun to play.
Q.Â This is for both the players.Â Coach during the middle of the season seemed to indicate that this was not one of UConn's standards, one of the best teams.Â Did that motivate you all in any way and did you think there was a grain of truth in it?
KELLY FARIS:Â I think he tries to get something out of us every single day.Â With everything he says, he's constantly trying to get a response from us.Â So when he makes comments like that, of course it's going to get under our skin a little bit and make us want to prove him wrong.Â He's somebody that you want to be on his side, and you want to gain his trust and his respect.
So that's definitely something that we take to heart.Â But at the same time you have to be careful not to let it get too much into your head.Â Use it for what it's worth and for the positive.
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â Yeah, I agree with Kelly.Â We've been working toward that all season, and I think we're finally starting to get the hang of it and getting confident in ourselves and playing well.
Q.Â Kelly and Kaleena, why do you expect tomorrow night to be different from the three previous games we've seen you two play?
KELLY FARIS:Â I think we've said it multiple times.Â I think coach says it a lot.Â It's not about the Xs and Os between us.Â We know each other like it's the back of our hand.Â We've played them so many times throughout the year.
And this is it.Â This is one and done.Â And the stakes are high.Â So we just have to learn from our past mistakes.Â And the games we've played against them we've lost by‑‑ I don't know what the total point was, but it's not very many.Â And we've had our opportunities and we just didn't finish it off.
We know we're right there.Â And, like Kaleena said, we've been working really hard to prepare for this game and building our confidence.Â I think we're in a much better place than we were before.
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â Like Kelly said, the little things is what seem to kill us in those games, in those big games and finishing them off.Â There's spurts in the games before where we played great and we did everything we were supposed to do.Â But when it came down to the wire, it just didn't end the way we wanted it to.
We've been working on making sure that didn't happen.Â We've putting ourselves in positions like that in practice and being successful.Â And if it comes down to that tomorrow, then we'll be ready.
Q.Â Kelly, this is for you.Â As a senior, you come to UConn to win championships, and you took one when you were a freshman.Â So much has been made about Notre Dame losing in the last two years.Â What about the frustration for you and your other seniors of not having any championships since then and knowing now this is your last shot?
KELLY FARIS:Â Obviously the past two years haven't ended the way we would have liked.Â And I think the hardest part was to send the seniors out on that type of note.
So we know how it feels.Â And, like you said, this is it for us.Â And we don't have another opportunity for the seniors to get it.Â And this is our last chance.Â So we're going to leave everything out on the court and make the most of it.
Q.Â Kaleena, you went through this last year.Â Could you talk about how tough it is for freshmen to go through that first year but also to develop the way Breanna and Moriah are developing and to peak at the right time?
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â Yeah, it's definitely something that is a hard process going through your freshman year, especially jumping from high school to college basketball.Â It's just completely different.Â The game's faster.Â It's more aggressive.
But I think now they're definitely peaking when we need them to.Â They're playing great and their confidence level is high.Â And regardless of what's happened during the season, they've gotten better and they've risen to the occasion at this point.Â This is when they need them most.Â The fact they're playing great right now is awesome for our team.
Q.Â Kaleena, being the fourth time you played Notre Dame, this week, leading up to it, practice, film work, things like that, do you find that you're sharp and intense and focused on them because you know them so well, or is it a little bit‑‑ I don't want to say maybe boredom set in about it?
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â No, not boredom at all.Â Definitely still watching them as intently as I did the first time, especially now it's a little easier to watch film and know what I'm looking for having played them so many times.
And just trying to make sure that, if anything, the mindset's right before we go into the game tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you, ladies.
We'll start with questions for Coach Auriemma.
Q.Â Kelly was referring to the fact that you say things that inspires the players, either directly or to a third party that they hear and read and gets them going.Â Muffet said today that she had read or heard something you said before the Big East Tournament about Skylar and used that to motivate the team to‑‑ in the Big East championship game.Â You always say what's on your mind.Â Are you ever worried that opponents might use it to their advantage?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I wish I was smart enough to do that because I don't remember what it was that I said that inspired Skylar.Â But I'm glad I helped.Â I'll always do whatever I can to motivate players.
So whether they're on my team or the other team, I just want to be known as a great motivator.Â I'm glad I'm still working on it.Â But I don't know what she's talking about.Â I don't remember what I said.Â I wish I did.
Q.Â Could you talk a little bit about Jefferson and Stewart are different players now and how do you get freshmen to develop so they can thrive in the tournament?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I don't know what the exact answer is to that question.Â A lot of times the process has a lot to do with what each individual is made up of.Â I didn't do anything with Kaleena last year from October to the Final Four last year.Â I didn't do anything different.Â And this year, whether it's Moriah or Breanna Stewart or Morgan Tuck, my approach wasn't any different.Â But their personalities are much different than Kaleena's.
So a lot of times it's how much are they able to handle and retain, what are they able to let go off, how long can they keep their confidence.Â Those are things that freshmen struggle with.
And I think as coaches, you know, you try to evaluate that and you say, okay, how much leeway can I give this particular freshman and how much do I have to hold them back a little bit because they're not quite ready for it yet.
And this year was a real struggle with all three of our freshmen, because so much was expected of them to have to perform at a real high level.Â And maybe they felt some of that throughout the season.Â And that doesn't exist anymore.Â And I don't know if it's what I did as much as what they've done.
Q.Â Along those lines, do you feel the start that Stewart had to be here and her pedigree coming in maybe exacerbated what was a normal process for freshmen to go through, that sort of the physicality picks up in December and the conference play, the usual things happen?Â Do you think there was more made of that than the normal freshman process for them to go through?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â There's nothing normal playing at Connecticut.Â So for Breanna, everything she did that was really good‑‑ her first six or seven games, everything she did was good.Â She was the greatest player to ever come to Connecticut.Â Then everything she did that was bad, well, she's not as good as everyone said she was.
So when you're that highly skilled and highly talented and you come to Connecticut, you're going to get to experience a little bit of everything.Â And how you handle that in the end is going to determine how good a player you are.
And certainly in five months Breanna Stewart has gone through everything you can imagine.Â Being called better than Maya Moore and being looked at as you'll never be a great player until junior year.Â So takes a pretty strong type of person to play basketball at Connecticut.
Q.Â (Off microphone) and for what it produces this year it seems like there's a collective entity here, it kind of shifts and moves.Â How is that different for the program to have that than in the past where there's not an identifiable personality around for which everything might move?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Yeah, we weren't fortunate enough to have any of the three to see that ESPN talks about all the time.Â So we had to do it as a group rather than rely on one person.
But that's always been the case at Connecticut.Â We don't build our program around one person, no matter who that is.Â We don't aspire to be that, when we have players like Tina and Maya and Renee and Diana and Sue and Sveta and Shea, and I could go on and on.Â It was always in the context of we'll let them decide, each player, how big their role is going to be.
And because of their personalities and how big their personalities were, they just became superstars.Â And we don't have anybody with that personality this year.Â We just don't.Â Kaleena Lewis has the kind of basketball game, the kind of skill level that if she had a different type of personality she would be like Maya or like Diana in terms of how she would act, but she doesn't have that yet.Â Maybe she'll get it next year.
But, you know, you just have to kind of take advantage of what you have.Â And this year's been frustrating and rewarding, because it's been collectively.Â And collectively when we're good, we're really, really good.
And the four losses that we had this year can be in some ways directly attributed to that one person in the past who in the last two minutes decides the game.Â And it's taken us a long time to figure out who that is.
Q.Â Kelly sort of alluded to this, but in terms of late‑game execution, are there things that you can do in practice to get your team better for late‑game execution against an opponent like Notre Dame where ultimately that's really been the difference?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Yeah, yeah, I was talking to somebody else the other day and when we were up 5 in overtime and still unfortunately missed those free throws, we went back to practice and I put the time on the clock and made a triple overtime and still we made 15 in a row.Â So next year I'm going to practice really hard on our guys making free throws in late‑game situations because that's all about coaching, you know.
And I said this 100 times.Â If Stewy makes those free throws, I'm a great coach; if Stewy misses them, then I'm an ass.Â So many of those things basically come down to something as simple as every one of our games, one possession or one play ends up being a difference, like you said.
And it may be the exact same outcome Sunday night.Â I have no idea.Â I have no idea.Â I love the play they ran, though, at the end of regulation at their place, when we're up 3, and they would double team Skylar and she throws it to Kayla McBride who dribbles to the 3‑point line and ties the game.Â I don't know why I can't think of that.Â One of these days I'll have that play.Â Just give it to the guy, let 'em dribble to the 3‑point line and shoot it.
Q.Â Geno, Kaleena and Stefanie were named to the WBCA team today.Â Your thoughts on that honor and being rewarded for the work they put in?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â You know, I think every kid goes to college, whether it's Notre Dame or Connecticut or Louisville or Cal, with goals:Â I want to win national championships, I want to be an All‑American, I want all these things.Â But unfortunately it doesn't happen for everybody.Â And when it does happen, you're thrilled because you know how hard they have to work to make that happen, that it was a goal of theirs from the time they were in high school and that they're fortunate enough to play on the kind of team that allows for them to play like All‑Americans.
And both Stefanie and Kaleena deserve to be on that All‑American team this year.Â Just like Bria deserved to be on it last year.Â And the other eight players that were named on that team, the same with them.Â I don't think there's anybody on that ten‑member team that you would say, you know, somebody else should have made it than them.Â I thought it was the absolute perfect ten.Â They did a great job.
Q.Â Can you talk a little bit about the job Muffet did this season and just what attributes have enabled her to be successful in the profession?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Well, everyone assumed that because you graduate three starters like they did that your team is going to really suffer the following year.Â And in the normal situation, they might have.Â But when you've got a guard like Skylar Diggins who can miss eight shots in a row and then when it's time to make the next four she makes the next four.Â And I think people maybe underestimated just how much of an impact someone like that can have on your team.
I know it's the same thing when we lost our four starters and Diana was the only starter coming back and everybody said now we'll get them.Â You don't underestimate just how good a great guard can do.
The other thing that I've seen happen is I think Muffet's really good at taking advantage of what her players are really good at.Â She puts them in situations where they can be successful.Â They're not running an offense that doesn't fit their players.Â They're not playing a defense that doesn't suit their style of play.Â She's really smart.Â She keeps her composure on the sidelines.
They're as prepared if not better prepared than any team we play all long year.Â And it's been like that for a long, long time.Â And that's what allows you to be in a position where you are now.Â Muffet's doing the same thing this year that she's been doing the last 20 years, but when you have the kind of guard that she has right now, all that stuff that you've been doing for 20 years now you go to three straight Final Fours because you now have the absolute perfect person to run the stuff that you run and lead the team that you put together.Â So it's not like she just all of a sudden stumbled on being a great coach.
Q.Â Two questions.Â First of all, have you done anything special this week to either challenge or, your players being so familiar with the other team, change up your game plan?Â And, secondly, how much thought have you given to scheduling on down the line when so much of your conference goes away, and might even‑‑ two years from now might even want to play‑‑ consider playing an independent schedule like Louisiana Tech did 20, 25 years ago?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â This week we didn't do anything other than try to get ready for hopefully two games.Â Our practices were mostly about what we need to be really good at Sunday night and what changes we want to make for Sunday night, based on the other four games that we play or three games that we played against Notre Dame this year.
In terms of the future, I don't know what the future holds.Â I don't think anybody else does either.Â The conference that we're going into is for us a great opportunity.Â And the thought of us being out there and independent, women's basketball program, that's never entered my mind.Â That's not something I would want to do.Â I don't think in today's day and age you can function like that.Â I think being in a conference is ultimately the best thing for our program, and I don't see that changing.
Q.Â Geno, is there a difference between the way your team will approach experience‑‑ prepare for this experience than Cal?Â You guys six times in a row and they've never been here.Â What is the spectrum of that experience when you come in with a difference like that?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I was just saying this to Chris Dailey today, that I looked around and I said:Â I can't believe this is 14 Final Fours for us.Â Because I remember in 1991, our first.Â And it was here in New Orleans at Lakefront Arena and 8,000 people at the game.Â And I remember how we acted relative to how we act now.Â And we showed up and it was different than any other game preparation, different from anything else we had done.
And then at halftime we're down 10 and we're in the locker room and we're like, damn, the pain started already.Â And it's halftime.
I'm sure there's so much going on with Cal's kids right now that by the time the game comes around, because of the hoopla that exists here now, it's way more than it was in 1991, it will be‑‑ that will be the only thing that's normal is when the actual game begins.Â Because everything else leading up to that is something that they've never imagined or ever experienced.
But when the ball goes up Sunday, that will be the only thing that's familiar to them.Â And that's probably the way it should be.Â You should have as much fun as you can and when the game starts go back to what you've always done, play basketball.
But I hope the experience that we're trying to provide for our players is not that much different.Â We're not locked up in a hotel room watching film 24 hours a day.Â And we're not practicing three hours a day in different spots.Â And we're enjoying where we are.Â And we're enjoying what we're doing.Â And we'll be ready to play Sunday night, just like the other three teams will be.
Q.Â Coach, to sort of follow up on that, do these things ever become routine because you've done so many of them, or do you still get the buzz out of it?Â I know it can't quite be like Cal doing it for the first time.Â But can you still get that enjoyment out of it, emotionally that this is still a big deal to make a Final Four?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Yeah.Â Leading up to this is getting harder and harder for me every year, not‑‑ being at the Final Four is still fun.Â It's still great.Â It's easy.Â When you're here, you know your team deserves to be here.Â You know you're going to play well.Â You know you're playing a great team.
For me, it's gotten harder and harder to enjoy the process leading up to this.Â And Lindsay doesn't know it yet, but 10 years from now she's going to look back on this year and go, man, that's when it all turned for me.Â I used to love this game (laughter).
Q.Â Geno, where would you put your interest in playing Notre Dame, obviously not next year, but the year after that and in the future?Â Is that something that you and Muffet and both schools would work to have just because of its importance as an overall rivalry for the game?
A.Yeah, if you look at our schedule now, this year, I think as the preseason top 10 teams, I think we played‑‑ I want to say all of them at one point or another.Â And that's kind of been our philosophy during the regular season for a long time now.
So once we get this conference thing squared away and once we get our scheduling in order, I would venture to say that there's going to be a lot of interest in playing that game.Â I'm sure on our part and their part.Â I would think.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports