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NCAA WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR


April 8, 2013


Sara Hammond

Shoni Schimmel

Bria Smith

Antonita Smith

Sheronne Vails

Jeff Walz


NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

MODERATOR: From Louisville we have head coach Jeff Walz along with the five starters, our student‑athletes Sara Hammond, Sheronne Vails, Antonita Slaughter, Bria Smith, and Shoni Schimmel.

Q. Antonita will you just talk a little bit about the hot 3‑point shooting that you've had so far in this tournament and just at what point maybe you really started feeling it, and are you surprised that it sort of carried through this far?
ANTONITA SMITH: No, I'm not surprised, just all comes with practice and repetition. And I know my teammates have confidence in me, so that gives me confidence within myself when I shoot the ball.

Q. For any of the players, can you address Monique Reid, the courage she shows, the injuries she deals with, and how much she helps you guys knowing that she's always there to fight for you?
SARA HAMMOND: Mo's been here before. She's experienced the Final Four and what it takes to get to a national championship. And just her experience and her fight and wanting to get back there, it just shows that no matter how hurt you are, what adversity you face, that you can still push through.
And Mo has proven that to us as a fifth‑year senior. And she wants to go out on top. So she's played all year long on one leg, and just her fight and that adversity she's faced I think has really shown to us that anything's possible, no matter what you're going through. And, you know, we're just thankful to have her on our team.

Q. Shoni, just tomorrow night's the end either way of an unbelievable run you guys have had through this tournament, arguably the best to date he's ever done. What's it going to take for you guys to come home tomorrow night with a national championship?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: I think not being done with what we've come out here do, and that is win a national championship. We've already beat Baylor, already beat Tennessee, and we beat Cal, the 2 seed, so now we have another 1 seed.
And we're ready for anything. And for it to be the national championship game, why not go out with a bang.

Q. Bria, where is the team planning to watch the Louisville men's game tonight? And should they be successful, I'm sure you're aware of the history that you guys can make tomorrow. And what does that all mean to the team in the program?
BRIA SMITH: It's huge for the program. It's huge for both of our teams if we were able to pull off both winning the championship. But we're going to watch it at some‑‑ Crazy Lobster? Crazy Lobster. We watched their last game there, so we're just going to have a big watch party again.

Q. Along that line, any and all of the players, how much texting, tweeting, whatever, calls, between y'all and the men's team has there been?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: I mean, probably a lot. I don't have Twitter, but I hear from these guys all the time how much they get and how much tweets, how much Instagrams, likes and followers and everything.
Texting, personally it's been a lot, but it's just everybody saying congratulations and whatnot. So, I mean, I don't know, how many do you guys have?
BRIA SMITH: Too much.
SHONI SCHIMMEL: Not enough you mean? Keep them coming (laughter).

Q. I wanted to talk to you guys as Coach walked away just about maybe what kind of coach he is and kind of what he's like maybe away from kind of the public glare.
SARA HAMMOND: Coach is a great guy on and off the court. And off the court‑‑ well, on the court as well‑‑ he's always just making sure that we're having a good time. He cracks jokes with every one of us and makes sure we have smiles on our faces. And he does go above and beyond to make sure that we need everything necessary off the court and on the court. And he's there to make us not only better players but better people and prepare us for life.
So, I mean, he's just a great guy to be around. And I know he acts crazy sometimes on the sidelines, but that's what gets us going and gets us excited. And I think that's why we all came here to play for the University of Louisville, is because of what Coach Walz promised us and getting us to a national championship and hopefully preparing us maybe for professional basketball and preparing us for life.

Q. Just on the funny side about Coach Walz, Coach Auriemma said last night he thought Coach's shirt last night looked like a tablecloth. I was wondering if you would agree with that assessment. And, secondly, does he have‑‑ what do you guys think of Coach's wardrobe choices?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: It was definitely pink. It wasn't red last night.
SHERONNE VAILS: Yeah. It's okay. It looked like a picnic cloth, but it's all right.

Q. Coach, taking away your stock answer, what's it going to take besides scoring more points than them tomorrow night to beat UConn?
COACH WALZ: That's a great question. We're going to start working on that today and tonight, and we'll put a game plan in tomorrow. We're going to use today's practice just to get out there and shoot a little bit, go through our stuff.
At times we're a lot better with less. So the less preparation we have, the less we have to think about things. And sometimes the less you think as a basketball player, the more you just play on instinct.
So we're just going to put a game plan in starting tomorrow for our hour that we get.
But it's going to take the best game that we played to date. We're gonna have to play better than we played against Baylor, better than we played against Tennessee and Cal.
We're gonna have to play, I mean, 40 minutes of pretty much perfect basketball, which I think we can. It's like I've said from day one: I'm just glad it's not a best‑of‑seven series.
It's just like Baylor. If it's a best‑of‑seven series, I told our kids‑‑ I'm honest with them‑‑ if we had to play Baylor a best‑of‑seven, I don't think we're going to win that series.
But we don't have to. We've got to play one night, 40 minutes. And our goal is to come out here and play the best 40 minutes that we played this entire season.

Q. Coach, you guys obviously haven't had a lot of success against UConn. What would winning a championship against them do for the perception of your program both locally and nationally?
COACH WALZ: Well, it would be great. The opportunity to play for a national championship and win a national championship would be fantastic. But I think what we've done right now is put our program out there on a national stage. Our goal is to get to this point every year. And we're going to continue to strive for that.
And being our second national championship game in five years, I think says a lot about our program. To win one, that's what everybody dreams about. I've been fortunate enough now to play in three finals, one as the assistant to a head coach.
And like I was telling my staff, the crazy thing about it is in all three I played against a conference opponent. At Maryland we played Duke. Now it's UConn twice.
The one thing I love about the NCAA Tournament is you're normally paired up when you're playing against people you haven't played, so the X's and O's part really becomes a factor, because they haven't seen what you do, they don't know what you're going to try and do.
That's not going to be the case tomorrow night. He knows what our players can do. We know what their players can do. So now it's going to come down to just flat‑out execution. Because we're not going to be able to surprise them. We're not going to be able to junk it up. We're going to have to play basketball.
And that's where it's one player against another player, how many times can we make sure we try to get them uncomfortable and take contested shots.
It's going to be a challenge, but it's one we're excited to have. I'd rather be playing tomorrow night than not.

Q. Shoni, a lot has been made of your run to get here, but when the tournament began, did you guys expect that you would be playing for this title on Tuesday?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: I mean, definitely it's every girl's dream in the women's game of basketball is to go out there and play for a national championship. Our coaches have done a great job of preparing us and getting us to this point, and they've done a lot of it, but also our team has just come together as one and just gone out there and played our hearts out, and that's nothing you can ask more of.
And for us to be here‑‑ and we kind of had it in the back of our mind. I know I did. But for us to get here is‑‑ just says a lot about the University of Louisville.

Q. Bria, in previous games why do you think you haven't been able to beat UConn?
BRIA SMITH: Well, the first time that we played them this year we didn't really execute the game plan as good as we were supposed to. And I think that now we have more of a focus. It's way later into the season, and we know what's going to come with the UConn‑‑ with the UConn game plan and everything. So I think that we're going to be more ready for this game.

Q. Coach, I just wanted to‑‑ in what ways is your team better than the last time you guys played them and what do you remember about that game?
COACH WALZ: I don't remember a thing. I try not to remember anything about those games.
We're playing better basketball. I mean, our kids are confident, and there's really not much more to say, to be honest with you. We believe in what we're doing. They believe in what they're doing. No one thought we could beat Baylor. No one thought we'd come back a day after that and beat a Tennessee team. And I know people picked us to beat Cal, but I think it's because they just had to because we beat Baylor and Tennessee, so it's like, gosh, if we don't pick them and they win, we look bad.
I'm not sure everybody really believed that we'd win that game last night, and I got a pretty good feeling they aren't picking us for tomorrow night.
So we're just going to come out here and play, and that's what we've done, and we're going to have fun doing it.

Q. Jeff, when you walked out on the floor for the first day of practice, what were your realistic expectations for this team? Geno, he knows what's expected of him, but what did you expect from your team this year?
COACH WALZ: Our realistic expectations first day of practice were to be playing here. I thought we had a talented enough team and a deep enough team to get to a Final Four.
Now, I'm looking at that group that first day of practice, that's Asia Taylor, Shawnta' Dyer, Tia Gibbs, Monique, healthy, as healthy as she could be. And then all of a sudden Tia Gibbs was supposed to be back mid‑November. She doesn't come back. Asia Taylor was the same thing. She does not come back. Then Shawnta' Dyer goes down mid‑December with a torn ACL.
Mo actually had been playing well in the non‑conference. We just weren't playing her a lot of minutes. She played about 14 or 15 minutes, she wouldn't practice the next day, trying to just get her into playing shape when we started the conference. Started the conference well. And then she gets hurt in practice and re‑injures the knee, and then it's back to play a game, take two days off because the knee swells up, take care of that, get the swelling down, play a game again.
So once that all happened, it was, all right, let's see what we can do. Let's see if we can't get through the conference, get through the conference tournament and see if we can't put a run together.
And that's what's happened. So when we started the year, I thought we had a chance to be here. Now, January 5th or 7th, I'd be lying if I said I'm not a little surprised that we're playing tomorrow.
MODERATOR: At this time I'll excuse the student‑athletes to their individual breakout rooms.
We'll continue with questions for Coach Walz.

Q. Jeff, tell me a little bit about Antonita Slaughter. Her play has obviously been huge for you guys to get here, but hometown kid, talk about her development a little bit and what she's meant to you guys during this last couple weeks?
COACH WALZ: Antonita has made significant strides from her freshman year to now. I'm sure she'll tell you, if you have a chance to visit with her, there were many times her freshman year that I told her she'd stay on scholarship but she would be the water girl. I told her best thing that she could do in practice was fill up the water cups for us. Because she wouldn't try. She didn't give the effort that I knew she had to give to be great.
Because I'd watch her in high school, and the kid, she could flat‑out shoot the basketball. But she never looked to drive, she never looked to get in there and rebound and try and be physical. And I just kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her, and towards the end of her freshman year she started to play a little bit more. Then she ended up actually playing well for us in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore year, it was okay. She had a good year, not a great year. And then all of a sudden last summer I challenged her to get in the gym and shoot. I said: For us to be as good as I think we can, you've got to be a 40 percent 3‑point shooter. And she was pretty well close to that until that last month where she went 4‑of‑34 through a five‑game stretch. And up until February the 27th, that was the last game she had asolid game, our last home game, I would say she was the most consistent player we had. I knew what I was going to get every night. I was going to get about 12 to 14 points, about eight boards, two or three assists, and she'd play solid D.
Now, I never dreamed she'd be‑‑ I'm not sure what she's shooting in the NCAA Tournament from the 3‑point line, but it's got to be 50 percent plus. It's pretty incredible what she's done. And they aren't standing on the line. I mean, they're a good four or five feet behind it.
So I'm excited for her, excited for her progress. And just her entire family is down here supporting her. It's really neat to see.

Q. Coach, I was just wondering, your official response to Geno's criticism of your shirt. And, also, if you could just talk about your relationship, what it's like, with Geno.
COACH WALZ: Well, it's not ‑‑ it's not‑‑ what I was going to tell y'all, too, is this‑‑ this will most likely be the last game that I coach here. It's been a great six years. As a women's basketball coach, you go through times where you're always wondering what are you gonna do when you're finished. And I've been to three national championship games. And now that I've got the opportunity to be a waiter in his restaurant (laughter), I don't know what the hell else somebody wants in life. So my goal is to become the head waiter. Not just one that sits in the back. I want to be the best damn one he's got. So I'm going to talk to him after the game tomorrow night and see when I can start, see if we can talk a contract through, and hopefully we can get things taken care of. Because it would be an honor to work in his restaurant.
I love the guy. He's a great guy.

Q. Jeff, you said other day, I mean, crowing for the Big East and how this is sort of a fitting end for the conference as it is now and having you two play. I think six of the last seven years there's been a Big East team in the championship game. Just talk for a second what it means to have two Big East teams playing for the NCAA championship and its last year as the most dominant conference?
COACH WALZ: It's a special thing. The Big East Conference, it's my‑‑ obviously my sixth year of being in the conference. And every time you turn on a Final Four, there's Big East teams playing in it.
And for myself, obviously it's our second time in five years that we've faced them in the finals. I don't think anybody could argue that this is the best league in women's basketball. It's not just UConn and Notre Dame, Louisville has been in the Final Four the past five years twice. So it's not just one team that dominates it. You look at all of our programs, you get South Florida, DePaul, I mean, you just start‑‑ St. John's. You can just keep going on. If you don't come to play every night in our league, you're going to get beat. And that's what makes our league so special.
And the thing that I've really enjoyed about it is you've got every style of play within our league, which is why I think we do so well in the NCAA Tournament. You've got Harry at Villanova that's going to run the five out and back screen you and slip on you, slip screen you to death, and it's just exhausting to guard. But then when you get to the tournament, there's somebody like that you're going to face and you're prepared for that. And then you get the teams that like to run up and down the floor. You get your UConns executing half court as well as I've seen, but then they'll ‑‑ a pressure defense is relentless.
So the Big East has prepared all of our teams to have success in the NCAA Tournament, and I think it's a fitting end to have two teams playing for a championship.

Q. You do realize that if you take a job at Geno's restaurant you're going to have to wear a tie.
COACH WALZ: He said I don't. I can keep wearing my tablecloth. So I'm going to get that worked out. That's going to be part of the contract.

Q. Okay. He really seemed to like you and respect you. I mean, he talks about a lot of coaches, but when he talks about you, you can tell that he genuinely thinks you're a hell a coach. And I'm just wondering if you could tell me why‑‑ about the dynamic of your relationship and how that makes you feel.
COACH WALZ: Well, you know, he's always been good to me. The one thing that I will say is I'm not sure he knew who I was when I got into the league. He knew I worked at Maryland, but he never knew who I was.
And I can remember at a Big East meeting where we just had a pretty frank conversation. It was a good conversation. And I think at that point he was like, oh, okay, he's not all that bad.
And then as we've gone‑‑ I mean, I like to have fun. I think I'm pretty sarcastic at times and I like to give it back to him as well. So he'll give it to me, and I'll try and throw something back at him. And it's all in good fun.
But when it comes to competing on the basketball floor, I've always respected what he's done. I respect how he does things. Even when we had Angel. We had some great games our first year, we lose I think by four or five in the conference finals to them.
And then obviously the following year we're playing in the finals, it's a 12‑point game at half and they score a backdoor layup to end the half, and he knew it was a ball game. The final score was 20‑ 22 or 23. But even after the game he's like, hey, I knew it was going to be a harder game than what everybody else thought.
But I've always respected him because he's just honest and blunt. Like I like say, he says what the rest of us think, and I respect him for that.

Q. Coach, Breanna Stewart has been incredible in the tournament as of late. Could you talk a little bit about her performance and what it's going to take to stop her tomorrow night?
COACH WALZ: I'm hoping she misses the bus. She's playing like I think we all thought she would the entire year. But for some freshmen sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get into your groove. I watched her play in summer, watched her play U.S.A. Basketball, and what you've seen in the tournament is what she's done her entire career.
So, to me, this is really not all that surprising. And, to be honest with you, I don't think it's surprising to Geno either. There's a reason he recruited her and she was National Player of the Year. She's a big‑time player.
I had the opportunity to sit next to Jim Boeheim at the Olympics, and we're just talking during the gold medal game. And he was like, wow, you know, there's this kid that plays open gym with our women at time up there at Syracuse, she's going to UConn, she's one of the best players I've ever seen. I'm like, yeah, I know (laughter).
So it's not a surprise at what she's doing. And she sure makes it look easy.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what Geno has meant to the women's game? And, also, can you kind of compare and contrast you guys's styles of coaching?
COACH WALZ: Well, I think what he's meant to our game is a lot of coaches lose games. I mean, I think I'm 0‑and‑64, something like that, against him at this point in time.
Like I said, what impresses me so much about what he's done is he takes really good players and gets them all to play hard, and then he gets them to buy into his system and they continue to go.
Our first year we played them at our place, and they actually were traveling to Marquette or something so they stayed over and they practiced at our practice facility. And I'd ask him, Hey, you care if I come watch? He's like, Sure. Actually my whole team came to watch. And he sat there and talked to me for the first hour of practice. But what impressed me so much is you had Renee Montgomery, I think it was Maya's freshman year, Tina Charles, those kids were out there running practice. He didn't have to tell them to go hard. The upperclassmen were getting on the freshman, were getting on the sophomores. If you weren't going hard, he didn't have to say anything because their teammates are saying it.
And that's when you know you've got yourself a great program and leaders. Because as a coach, when you just have to coach and you're not trying to encourage your kids, Go hard, go hard, go hard, you know it's going to be a good thing.
And that's what he's got. He just continues to get leaders after leaders, and he develops them of course.

Q. Jeff, all dynasties have to end sometime, UCLA, whichever. Can you foresee anything in the coming years that would knock Connecticut off its perch? Not that they win every year, but that changed the dynamic, short of Geno leaving?
COACH WALZ: No. Right now, no. I mean, Breanna Stewart is a freshman, so we're dealing with her for three more years. And then again, what I like about them is they don't‑‑ he's not one to stockpile kids. He doesn't put in‑‑ get 15‑‑ if you look at his roster, it's not 15 deep with 15 McDonald's All‑Americans. He's going to get three or four each year, and then he builds players that go around his system.
I've always been impressed with him. You get players that‑‑ honestly, when I look at some of them, like some of the ones he's recruited in the past, they're great players for what he's trying to do. And then you put a Maya Moore in the mix, then you put a Breanna Stewart in the mix, like you have to guard everybody on his team. That's what makes them so good.
And I don't see how that's going to change unless he decides to retire, which I think he should (laughter). I'm all for it.

Q. Jeff, when you played them the first time, Stewart didn't play. And just does that sort of throw out that game? And you say you don't remember it or don't want to remember it, but does that kind of change the plan knowing that she wasn't even there and now she's on this run that few freshmen have ever done?
COACH WALZ: We're going to have to‑‑ we've seen her play enough obviously as the year has gone on and we know what she can do, but she does throw a little wrinkle into the plan of who guards her. Because if you focus too much on her, then who's going to guard Dolson, who's going to score in the low block. And then I've got Lewis I have to worry about. I mean, and then Hartley and then Tuck and‑‑ I mean, it goes on.
So we're going to have to try to figure out something to try to stop them from getting so many easy baskets. I'm not sure what that is quite yet. I've got a whole night to try to figure it out.

Q. Jeff, you mentioned Hartley and Lewis. Sometimes I think the expectations on those kids are so high that when they don't‑‑ they're not sky high it's like they're not playing well. Can you maybe talk about it, especially Hartley? It seems like she has played pretty well during this NCAA Tournament.
COACH WALZ: I think Bria has played extremely well, to be honest with you. I laugh because I watched Geno's press conference the other day and I listened to his kids talk at the press conference and they talk about how it's been an up‑and‑down year; they're 34‑4. I'm like, I'd love to have a up‑and‑down year and be 34‑4. Or they might be 35‑4 now. I'm not sure if last night's‑‑ 34‑4t.
That's just the expectations that are put on them every single year. And it's a good thing, but at the same time I think everybody needs to take a step back and say, hey, if 34‑4 is an up‑and‑down year, I'd hate to see what a bad year‑‑ or actually what a good year is.
But she's been there. She's been solid for him the entire‑‑ her entire career. I like how she fights, I like her demeanor on the floor, and I like how she takes a lot of responsibility for what's going on in their program.

Q. You mentioned earlier trying to keep things simple. I know you said before in Oklahoma City before the Baylor game you were just gonna go out and shoot. You wanted your kids to just sort of focus on putting the ball in the basket. Can you sort of expand on that, that maybe sometimes it is better to sort of keep their minds a little clear before big games like this?
COACH WALZ: Yeah. It's like when we played Baylor. We weren't going to shut them down. And we're not going to shut UConn down. I mean, it's about impossible. So there's no way that we're going to‑‑ if we have a chance to win, it's not going to be a 60‑55 game. It's got to be 84‑83. We might have to try and get up into the 90s if we can.
And the only way we're going to do that is by shooting the basketball. We're going to shoot 3s. He knows that. It's not going to be a secret. But they're going to be out pressuring us too. I've got a feeling they'll probably find where Antonita is.
But we're going to have to figure out a way to score points. I know they're going to score. But it's a matter of can we score.
And that was the difference in the Baylor game. Everybody talks about how we guarded Brittney Griner and all that. Again, they scored 81 points, which is their average. We just figured out a way to score 82.
So tomorrow night we're gonna have to figure out a way to put points on the board.

Q. Jeff, obviously what's going on in the school right now is unbelievable with the men's team playing tonight and you guys playing tomorrow night and a chance for history of only the second program to have both titles. Have you talked to Rick today at all? If they win, is he planning to show up tomorrow night? Is there any sort of plan? I know you guys are watching the game tonight at the same place you watched it the other night, I think.
COACH WALZ: We're going to be watching at the Sheraton tonight in the lobby. So that's where we're going to watch the game tonight.
I've texted with Rick back and forth, just wished him luck. And, again, he congratulated us. And he's focused right now on trying to make sure his kids are prepared to play a basketball game.
He told me if he can make it down for tomorrow, he's coming, which I can only imagine what's on his plate after tonight's game. It wouldn't surprise me if he found a way to come down, but if not, I know he'll be watching. He's done it through the entire tournament.
It's something special, not just with our basketball programs, but our football team wins the Sugar Bowl in a game no one expected them to win either. So our whole philosophy is, hey, we're just going to come out here and play, and we're going to play hard. We're going to have a game plan.
But there's no pressure on us to win this game. The pressure is all on them because they're going to be a heavy favorite to win. And we're just going to come out and try and get it to where if we can get it into the second half, get it down maybe the under eight timeout where there's just a little pressure on them, then we'll see if we can't make a few shots.
But like I tell our kids every game, you gotta make it a game at half or you don't have a chance in the second half. So that's really our goal.
MODERATOR: Any further questions for coach?

Q. Sorry if anybody was dumb enough to ask this, but I was just wondering, could you talk about the similarities and differences between Rick Pitino and Geno Auriemma.
COACH WALZ: They both win a lot. They're both great.
Rick's been great to me. I mean, I can call him up. I text him. It's not like I have to wait five or six hours to get a response or a phone call back. And Geno's the same way.
So as colleagues, they're both great to me. As coaches, I mean, they're both fantastic coaches who have had a ton of success.
And then their personalities. I mean, you have to be confident in this business if you're going to be successful. And I think‑‑ I laugh because I really like both of them.
I think there's a big difference‑‑ and I tell my players all the time‑‑ there's a big difference between being confident and arrogant. And if you're not confident, you're not going to be successful in anything you do in life. But at the same time, you don't want to be arrogant.
And we really work on that. We really talk to our players. And we'll show them examples of stuff that goes on in the media of, hey, this to me is a confident person. This is a confident response. This is an arrogant response. So our players get an understanding of what they're portrayed as. People can hear somebody say something and go, wow, that's an arrogant answer.
Because it's important to me. It's important to all of us. I'm a big believer in first impressions. You only get one of them, so let's make it the best.
MODERATOR: We have time for a couple more questions, if there are any.
COACH WALZ: Thank you, everybody.
MODERATOR: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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