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April 2, 2014

Tara VanDerveer


RICK NIXON:  Good afternoon, and welcome to today's Women's Final Four head coaches media teleconference.  For the next several minutes you'll have the opportunity to visit with the head coach of the Stanford Cardinal, Tara VanDerveer.  Stanford is playing in its 12th Women's Final Four and pursuing a third championship.  At this time I'll ask Tara to provide an opening statement, and then we'll give you directions on how to get into cue.
COACH VANDERVEER:  Good afternoon.  We're very excited to be invited to the Final Four and playing in Nashville.  Our team had, I think, one of our best weekends beating Penn State, and NorthCarolina we're playing very well.  Everyone's healthy and ready to go.

Q.  Last night you kind of mentioned a bit about this seemingly inevitability that everyone seems to be expecting UCONN and Notre Dame in the final.  But are you looking forward to the chance of the rematch of the game?  It was your third game back in November, when you went to stores and had a chance to do what so many people thought was unexpected and advance yourself instead of UCONN?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Well, first of all, we're very excited to be going to the Final Four, and you know that you can play great competition, and Connecticut has a great team.  I'm really glad that we did play them early in the season, and I feel like our team is playing with a lot of confidence.  We're looking forward to the rematch.  You know, just I think people, players in the tournament just kind of resent a little bit of the inevitability.  Like why have the tournament if it's inevitable?  So we're just‑‑ we definitely want to be party crashers.

Q.  What do you think the mindset of your seniors will be going into this tournament?  Do you think it's different for them?  Obviously, Mikaela's been on the roster for a couple of these, and Chiney for a couple.  Is it different for them when they come in for the last time?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think it is.  I think that seniors definitely feel a different sense of urgency.  You know, I think you saw that last night with how much it meant to Mikaela and how well she played.  Obviously, Chiney's been playing just incredibly well all season long.  But between Sara James and Chiney and Mikaela, I think that we have great leadership with our seniors.  They're going into it, I think, with like really two good things in their mind.  First of all, they've been there before, so they know what to expect.  And we didn't go last year I think people are very hungry.

Q.  I was wondering, I'm curious as to what your philosophy is about getting your players to give you optimal performance during a game and to fight for every loose ball and do what you need them to do to battle through games?  What is the secret in convincing your team to give you what you need?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Well, I don't feel like it's them giving me anything.  I feel that we kind of try to set up practices and conditioning to make the games in some ways easier and fun.  So during the game, because they have trained hard and practiced hard and been drilled in situations, the games are almost like taking a final that you're really ready for.  You're excited to do well.  So they're not doing it for me, they're proving things for themselves.

Q.  We suspect here in Connecticut that Chiney will be moving east in a couple of weeks when the WNBA draft commences.  Just a quick evaluation of her professional readiness?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think that the pro fans are in for a really special treat.  She's an outstanding‑‑ you know, Connecticut has obviously with the teams that are in Connecticut, they have a great appreciation for quality basketball, and they know the real thing when they see it, and Chiney is the real deal.

Q.  Can you talk about how much Chiney has grown through the years and in particular this season how much she's come along?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Well, I think that really the biggest change kind of happened last year when without Nneka, Chiney became our go‑to player.  And I think Chiney is just an exceptional young lady.  She plays on a team that without Chiney we're maybe, I'm going to say, an average team; with Chiney, we're in the Final Four.  She is a builder, an encourager, a leader.  You know, sometimes you might have a great player who almost looks down on their teammates or in some ways she is by far the best player on our team.  And she is so humble.  Her leadership, just her demeanor is something that's really a joy to be around and a joy to coach.

Q.  All teams celebrate differently.  Three of the four teams that won in the regionals cut down the nets, and UCONN didn't.  I just wonder what went into your reasoning to cut it down?  You just wanted the kids to celebrate that moment?
COACH VANDERVEER:  I think it's really special going to the Final Four.  You know, in a tournament whether it's a regional tournament or even your conference tournament, it's a really special thing.  I do think we were celebrating.  Different teams choose how they're going to do it.  We definitely were net cutters, and we were excited about it last night.

Q.  The game that you played against UCONN was back in November, and so much about both teams has obviously changed.  That was a home game for them, but the 19‑point loss for you.  So when you're looking at the tape or even evaluating and thinking about this upcoming match‑up, where can you find those 19 points?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Like you said, it was so early.  At that point we didn't have‑‑ Bonnie was just back.  We didn't have our quote "three spot" the way we do now.  We played Kailee who was totally playing out of position there.  Lili wasn't a starter at that point.  So I think the biggest thing is our freshmen have really developed a lot since then.
We didn't really know who was going to be in our rotation.  We were looking at a lot of players at that point and I feel like I understand our personnel a lot better.  It's a tough way to start.  Our team knew that, and I think that coming back from‑‑ it was a great way to start for us to kind of be able to benefit from playing again.  Connecticut, they were clearly better than we were then.  Our goal from then on was to put ourselves in position where we would improve a lot, and I think that we have.  We've lost some games and we've improved because of our losses, including that loss.

Q.  Just one follow‑up just looking at the box score and seeing Bria Hartley's efficiency, 9 of 13 for that game.  Lot of rebounds for a guard, a lot of assists.  I didn't see the game, but from the box score you could tell that she had an incredibly efficient game.  What was it that you remember from her play that allowed her to have the kind of game she did against you?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Well, our transition defense was horrible, and that is something that I think when you play Connecticut.  And Bria Hartley is an open‑court player, and she's an outstanding player.  She got the ball in transition, and I was going to the basket like hot knife through butter.  I mean, she really took it right at us.  That is something that in order to have any chance, we have to do a better job with our transition defense.

Q.  Just wanted to ask, yesterday there was a lot of buzz with Tyler Summitt being named head coach of Louisiana Tech at 23.  I know you became a head coach at a very young age also.  So what was it like for you coaching at such a young age?  I believe you were 25, correct?
COACH VANDERVEER:  Right.  Honestly, I think times were very different then.  There were a lot of people kind of my generation whether it was Theresa Grentz, Marianne Stanley, Rene Portland, women's basketball was in its infancy.  So who do you turn to for coaches and you're not going to pay anything?
So at that point I really had minimal experience, but I was an assistant coach for two years.  I had been at Indiana.  I had really, I think, been working hard to become a coach.  But I can't even look back at it.  I can't even believe I was a head coach when I was that young.  It's just so many kind of things that I guess you just don't know when you're that young.  Kind of the opportunity to get experience of working in a great program is what young people have now for the most part.  It's very different.

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