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March 31, 2014
JEFF WALZ:Â First off, we're just thrilled to still be having the opportunity to play.Â You know, to be playing in a regional championship with eight teams left, I think it speaks volumes about this group of young women that we have here that represent our University.Â The amount of effort, work and dedication that they've put into this program has been very much appreciated not only by me but by all of our fans.Â They've been a great group to coach, and hopefully we can continue this, but we do know we have a tall task at hand tomorrow night against a very talented Maryland team that made Tennessee look bad.
I don't think it's anything that Tennessee did not do in yesterday's game, I think it was everything that Maryland did.Â I was so impressed with how well they rebound the basketball, how they push the ball in transition, did everything they needed to do to set the tempo of the game and did not let up.
So we know that tomorrow night should be a lot of fun, should be a great environment here.Â Hopefully we can get 13,000 or 14,000 to come out and see a great women's basketball game.Â That's what it's all about, two great teams playing for the opportunity to play in a Final Four.
I know we're going to be prepared.Â We're going to play hard, and we're excited.Â Thank you.
Q.Â Shoni, what do you remember about the last time Maryland and Louisville played, and do you take anything from that game that you can apply to tomorrow night?
SHONI SCHIMMEL:Â You know, I remember playing them my sophomore year, and we didn't rebound there at the end, and we were up by four at one point, and we ended up losing.Â You remember that because it's the last time you guys played.Â You don't usually play each other until it's tournament time.Â You take that and you remember it and you take it like‑‑ you remember it but at the same time you've got to move forward with it and you've got to go out on the court and just continue to keep getting better.Â Now we have the opportunity to play against each other again.Â It's going to be a great game.Â It's going to be exciting.
Q.Â Asia and maybe Bria, what do you think about matching up with Alyssa and what kind of challenges will she present for either of you or for anybody on the team?
ASIA TAYLOR:Â Well, she's a great player, and we know that.Â Just from watching film on her, we're going to get all her tendencies down and what she likes to do.Â I don't think you can ever hold a great player scoreless, but you can do everything in your power to make every bucket that they do score harder than the previous game.Â So we're just going to try to take away what she likes to do and play good scouting report defense and we'll be fine.
BRIA SMITH:Â Yeah, definitely going off what Asia says, we're just going to find out her tendencies and pretty much try to take those things away from her.Â I think that it's going to be very difficult because she's such a great scorer, and she's a hard worker.Â But we're up for the challenge.
Q.Â For you two and Sara, not only does she handle the ball well, she can pass out if you do collapse on her.Â How dangerous does that make her and how aware do you have to be of the other guards and bigs when she's not getting the ball out of her hands?
SARA HAMMOND:Â Well, I think that's what makes their team so good.Â I think that's why they're doing so good right now is they're having other players step up, and obviously when you have your all‑American in Alyssa Thomas playing at the top of her game and you have your other teammates around you playing their best basketball, they've proven they deserve to be where they're at right now in the Elite 8.Â So it is going to be challenging, but I think our coaches are doing a tremendous job in helping us in film and knowing what their tendencies are, what their strengths are.Â But people like Mincy and Brown who are stepping up in the guard positions, like you said, when she kicks it out, that's another threat that we have to be aware of.Â I think we just have to contain her, pick her up early in transition and not allow her to see the floor and let her do what she normally does.Â It is going to be challenge, but I think our team is up to it and our coaches are going to definitely have us prepared.
ASIA TAYLOR:Â Pretty much just the same thing.Â We just want to play good scouting report defense.Â We trust our coaches are going to have us ready, prepared, and we just have to follow that game plan.
Q.Â Shoni, just before we came to the press conference we got word that you were a USBWA All‑American.Â What's that mean to you, that you kind of officially got that, that you're considered among the top 10 players in the country and got that prestigious honor?
SHONI SCHIMMEL:Â It's a great honor.Â I've put a lot of hard work in, especially this last year, so for it to all pay off in the end, it's a great feeling.Â Especially where we are right now, it's kind of like, oh, yeah, that's cool, but at the same time we still have an Elite 8 game to go play.Â So it's exciting, and it's a great honor.Â But I'm ready to play this next game.
Q.Â Shoni and anyone else, a year ago you played for a trip for Final Four on someone else's court.Â Now the idea of being at home where you are, I think, 18‑1 this season, what's that comfort level like and what kind of a confidence does it bring?
SHONI SCHIMMEL:Â I think it's going to help us a lot, just because we're at home and the fans are going to be behind us.Â We have a great fan base, and so for them to support us throughout every game this season and so forth, like it's going to be great for us.Â We're looking forward to playing.Â It's not just our fans getting excited.Â We're excited to play.Â We're playing in an Elite 8 game, and we're looking forward to it, and we're just ready to play already.
We still have focus and we still have to take care of business, and that's going to be on our part.Â Our coaches are going to do a great job of preparing us, and we have to go out there and stay true to the game plan.
ANTONITA SLAUGHTER:Â Just going off what Shoni says, our coaches are going to have us prepared, just following the scouting report, playing scouting report defense, hopefully taking care of business at home, hopefully in front of 20,000‑‑
JEFF WALZ:Â We'd be okay with that.
ANTONITA SLAUGHTER:Â Just giving back to our fans.
Q.Â Sara, tomorrow is sort of a second senior night for a lot of these players, and especially Tia and Nita will be playing their last game in Louisville, Louisville kids.Â What does it mean to see Louisville players at Louisville and being an in‑state player, as well, kind of seeing what they've meant to the city and the program?
SARA HAMMOND:Â Yeah, just being an in‑state player, it means a lot to us.Â It's personal because our family is here, and they get to watch us every chance they get here in the Yum! Center.Â I know for Nita and Tia, they've meant a lot to this program and to this city of Louisville just because like you said they're from here and they're representing their families, their communities.Â I'm excited that they get to play one last game here in the Yum! Center.Â I'm sure they were disappointed like we all were in the result we got for senior night, and I'm just grateful and thankful that they have another opportunity to play here in front of our fans, in front of their family again, and hopefully we get a win for them.Â Not only Nita and Tia, but Shoni and Asia, all four seniors, we want them to go out with a win.
Q.Â Bria, has coach discussed with you at all his history at Maryland and what kind of background, coming up and winning a national championship at Maryland, has that been discussed at practice and how do you approach getting a chance to play his former team?
BRIA SMITH:Â That hasn't really been discussed.Â I feel like the motivation basically is just‑‑ it's an Elite 8 game, and we just want to get out there and play our hardest because our goal is to get to the Final Four.
Q.Â Coach, you've played opening round NCAA games in this arena before, but this is your first go‑around to host a Sweet 16 and an Elite 8.Â How much different is it for your team when you're basically at home just with a different floor in your arena?
JEFF WALZ:Â Well, you pretty much stay with the same routine.Â Times change.Â You don't get the exact shoot‑around time that you normally always have.Â But besides that, everything is pretty much the same.Â Our players are staying in their dorm rooms.Â We aren't staying in a hotel.Â It's not what we do.Â I mean, you get the opportunity to play a game at home in the NCAA Tournament, the reason you do that is so you have the comforts of home, so why would I want to stick them in a hotel?
And I've got a group of players that I feel are mature enough to handle the distractions that might come with that.Â It's pretty much everything same as we've always done, just some time changes.
Q.Â Brenda said she knew right away you'd be a star at your next stop.Â Can you talk about what you learned from her maybe, and is there an advantage or disadvantage of knowing a tendency of a coach you worked with for so many years?
JEFF WALZ:Â You know, it's been seven years, so a lot has changed with both of our programs, the personnel, you know, things that we do.Â It's really, for us, a year to year.Â What our personnel presents is how we'll try to play.Â We don't play the same way as we did in '09 when we had Angel McCoughtry and Candace Bingham.Â Angel pretty much just stole it when she wanted to half the time.Â I don't have that player out there right now, so we have to play a little more player‑specific defense and know the tendencies of the opponents.
We have more players right now than can score for us.Â Our bench is deeper than what it has been in the past, so we try to take whatever we have that's to our advantage and make sure we use it.
The one thing I say is I'm not stubborn in how I coach.Â I don't have an ego.Â If we need to throw it in the post 50 times, we'll throw it in the post.Â If we need to shoot 30 threes like we did yesterday, we'll shoot 30 threes.Â I'm not claiming to be smart, but I'm not dumb.Â I'm not going to sit there and say this is what we have to do if it's not working.
So we are willing to change up.Â I had a great six years, a year at Minnesota, which was an outstanding experience, was fortunate enough to have Brenda hire me after I spent six years with Paul Sanderford, I go back to Paul, and Paul is one where I was fortunate enough to just learn a ton of basketball from.Â The man should be in the women's basketball Hall of Fame, and unfortunately for some reason he's not.Â He only took three teams at western Kentucky to Final Fours.Â So hopefully somebody in women's basketball might figure that out.
And I learned a lot of basketball from that man.Â Seeing how he handled himself during games, not worried about the first 10 minutes of the game of running something if you're going to score, more so how are they defending it.Â So in a time‑out you make an adjustment.
And then Brenda gave me the opportunity to come join her at Minnesota, and it was a great experience.Â Brenda is a coach, and I've said it all along, we had the opportunity to work together for six years, one at Minnesota, five at Maryland, and she has no ego when it comes to the game.Â She allowed me to coach.Â She gave me the freedom to do some basketball things that I learned from Paul.Â I learned a ton about recruiting from her.Â She was relentless when it came to recruiting.
She was doing it before most head coaches were.Â She'd miss four or five days of practice and go out on the road recruiting, knowing, hey, we have to get better players if we're going to want to compete with Dukes when we first got there, and then she was confident enough to say, all right, hey, my staff that's back here, you guys take care of practice.Â We obviously discussed with her what we were doing.Â Erica Floyd at the time, Brenda's sister Marsha, then Marsha moved on and Joanna Bernabei joined our staff.Â She was confident enough to hire people that were good at what they did and allowed us to do it, and that's not always the case.Â There's some that are like, hey, I want the reins of all of it, and I think those are the ones that you see that aren't as successful as Brenda has been.
She does a great job with her players.Â There's no doubt there's a lot of respect there.Â They play hard for her.Â She motivates them.Â I was fortunate to get into a situation where she was confident in herself, and at the same time I knew I was an assistant.Â I wasn't trying to take over.Â That's not what I wanted to do.
But because she allowed me to do so much, it helped me get this job, because that's one thing when I asked Tom Jurich why did you hire me, he's like, hey, I was able to see what you were doing during games even as an assistant, and not everybody allows you to do that, and Brenda was comfortable enough in her own skin to say, hey, we want to win, and she allowed me to do some of those things, and that's why I've been‑‑ I've had the opportunity to be here, and I try to do the same thing with my staff.Â We've had three of my assistants now move on to be head coaches in the past seven years.Â The past two years we've had one turn over, and we don't have assistants going on to take other assistant jobs.Â They're going on to take head coaching jobs, which I think speaks volumes for our program and for how I try to treat my assistants, because I want them to have as much responsibility and as much into this as I do.
Q.Â You saw Alyssa Thomas score 33 in such a big game yesterday.Â You see how she's been able to perform.Â She had 32 against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, these big games of her career.Â It's another big stage for her.Â What's the plan to make sure she doesn't go 30?
JEFF WALZ:Â I'm hoping she misses the bus, which would be great.Â So we're going to change the arrows down there where their bus is supposed to be before they come to the arena, first off.
She's not a kid that you're going to shut down.Â It's just not going to happen.Â What you have to do is just try to make it difficult for her to score.Â You can't give her easy looks.Â She doesn't miss the easy shots, and she makes a lot of the tough ones.
So for us we have to make sure we're making it as difficult as we can for her to score the basketball, and then we have to do a good job on everybody else.Â I think at times you get caught up on the star player, and all of a sudden you're giving wide‑open shots to other ones that start going in, and now all of a sudden you've got five or six players that you're really out there trying to defend, and now you really can't focus that attention on her, and she goes for 30, which is what I thought she did last night.
Laurin Mincy stepped in, came in off the bench and hit two big shots for them.Â Lexie Brown was playing very well.Â And now Alyssa Thomas is one‑on‑one, and you can't stop that kid one‑on‑one; it's about impossible.
What she did last night, I've seen her do it before on film, and now that I've had the opportunity to watch some film, she's pretty impressive.
Q.Â You mentioned not being able to stop Alyssa Thomas.Â The last time you played you limited her to six points.Â Is there anything you can take away from that game that you can apply defensively to her this time?
JEFF WALZ:Â Well, that was when she was a sophomore.Â She's had two years to really work on her game, and she's done that.Â You know, she's not the same player she was as a sophomore in college.Â If she was, then I'd feel good that we could hold her to about 10, but unfortunately she's really worked on all aspects of her game.
I have gone back and looked at that film, trying to see what we did to her, how we frustrated her, but unfortunately I don't think it's going to be as easy tomorrow night.
Q.Â When you look at how Jude's game has matured, what she means to you when she comes on the floor, and just kind of gets you guys settled, makes the right decisions, and then watching Shoni not just always go to the three, the mid‑range game, the ability to cut down the turnovers, that kind of thing, how have you watched their games improve?Â Was that all part of the game plan or just take them will care of business?
JEFF WALZ:Â You know, it's all about film work, it's all about sitting down with players and trying to develop them as they get older and mature.Â For Shoni, it's all about time and score, and that's one thing that I think she has really grown into, the knowledge of that.Â When you go back to her freshman year, she wanted to win so bad, which all freshmen do.Â They all want to try to win basketball games, and don't always do it in the best way.Â You're down eight and they're coming down the floor firing up shots, and it's like, there's no such thing as an eight‑point shot.
Now we get down eight, ten, it's, hey, let's relax, people.Â Let's get the ball inside out, let's get a good shot and then let's come up with a stop.Â Those are the things that she's really grown into.
Her passing, which I think you saw in yesterday's game.Â Starting off the game there were some simple chest passes, bounce passes, and then we get a little bit of lead and then she throws the behind‑the‑back pass to Jude, she lays it in, and the whole place goes crazy.Â Those are big plays for us, too, but I really have a hard time thinking if it would have been like a two‑ or four‑point game that she tries to throw that pass because she had Antonita Slaughter slicing down on the right, I think she just drops the pass to Antonita for a lay‑up.Â Knowing time and score is really important for Shoni.
Jude is just playing with a lot of confidence.Â Jude has the ability, the basketball IQ, that is probably as high as any player that I've coached.Â She understands the game.Â She's always asking questions.Â She's the type of kid that can go out there, I can put her on somebody, she'll get beat once, but she's not going to get beat twice with the same move.Â And that takes some talent and some still because you've got to be able to adjust in the middle of a game.
I thought in yesterday's game when she went out there and went on Ballard, she actually did a great job.Â Did she score, yes, but she also disrupted a lot of things that she was trying to do, which made it harder for her to score.
So Jude is very, very important to this basketball team.Â She also has the ability to knock down some open shots, and when she does that, it just spreads everything out.
She had a great drive and dish to Antonita in the first half that kind of started our run.Â We're expecting the same type of play out of her tomorrow night.
Q.Â Do you expect to put Taylor or Smith on Thomas?
JEFF WALZ:Â All five.Â We're going to put all five on her and leave the other ones wide open and see if they're in such awe that they just miss shots.Â You know, we're actually still debating on what we're going to do, but come 7:00 tomorrow we will have a plan.Â You know, will it work, I'm not sure yet, but that's one thing that I feel good about is we will come with a game plan.Â Our kids will execute that game plan, and then if it's not working, like I said, I'm not stubborn enough to stay in it; we'll switch.Â We might have to go through three or four game plans until we figure out what can slow her up.Â But our ultimate goal is to try to get that done before it's too late.
Q.Â With this being your second trip to the Elite 8 after last year's Final Four and the team a few years back that went to the Final Four, do you think it's safe to say that Louisville women's basketball is firmly in the conversation when it comes to the elite teams in the country?
JEFF WALZ:Â I would hope so.Â I mean, we've had the opportunity, besides UConn and Notre Dame, we're the only team that's played for two national championships in the past five years.Â So I think that puts us with a pretty good group of teams right there.
That's not Baylor, that's not Tennessee.Â You're looking at Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame, which I still go back, and I'm very proud to be in the AAC right now, but you look at the teams that used to be in the Big East, boy, I still argue that the Big East was the best women's basketball conference for years.
You've got three of us right now, the old Big East teams again playing in Elite 8 games with a chance to go to a Final Four.Â We've had that experience of playing some great basketball teams, so we know tomorrow is going to be a battle.Â But it's one that our kids have been through before.
Q.Â Can you kind of summarize thinking back on the careers of the two Louisville players that are on the team and who will be playing their last game in Louisville tomorrow night, Tia and Nita, and what has it kind of meant that you've had those two local players and the accomplishments they've had?
JEFF WALZ:Â It's been great.Â You know, it's something we really don't sit here right now and look back on and try to bring some tears and all that good stuff.Â I mean, we have a game to play tomorrow.Â That's really all we're focused on.Â Having even thought about the fact that it's their last home game for sure because our goal is to get to Nashville.Â That's been our goal from day one when the season started.
And now we've got the opportunity to play a great Maryland team on our home court with the chance to do that.Â You know, that's our focus.Â That's our complete focus.Â Haven't even thought about anything else.Â All of our seniors have meant an unbelievable amount to our program.Â Tia has been here about as long as I have, going on year six as a player.Â She got her clock extended because of all the injuries that she's had.Â It's remarkable that she's been able to make it through this year.Â I mean, I don't think people have any idea what she's gone through, just her body, the aches, the bruises, the pain, but she's figured out a way to do it.
Antonita with the scare that we had in December, just so fortunate and very blessed that she's even able to come back and play.
So we've had‑‑ these kids have dealt with a lot and been through a lot.Â It's a great group of young women, and we're going to miss all the seniors for sure, and I know these two have meant a lot to this program and this city because they are from Louisville.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports