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April 5, 2014

Lexie Brown

Brenda Frese

Katie Rutan

Alyssa Thomas


THE MODERATOR:  Joining us from Maryland, head coach Brenda Frese and student‑athletes Alyssa Thomas, Lexie Brown, and Katie Rutan.  Opening with a brief statement from Coach Frese then questions for student‑athletes.
COACH FRESE:  Obviously it feels really, really good to be back here in the Final Four.  This is something that everyone aspires to achieve, and personally it's been such a phenomenal year when you talk about our son Tyler receiving his last dose of chemotherapy and then being able to reach the Final Four with our team.  So it's a special year for all of us.
I love the fact that we're the underdog.  The team really flying under the radar.  I feel like it's been a solid year for us.  We missed a few chances to be able to get some big wins, and I think that's kind of when people forgot about us as a team.
But it's okay, obviously, for us.  I felt like it was time for us to be able to grow and develop as a team.  When you talk about bringing 14 players, three freshmen into a pretty large roster with five seniors, but now we get to share some of our stories in terms of who we are.
When the bracket came out, I thought we had a chance.  I didn't really feel like there was anybody that we were overmatched against.  But that being said, to be able to beat Texas, the No. 1 seed in Tennessee and Louisville, in front of 15,000 fans on their home court, is something for us to be really, really proud about.
To some extent, I feel like Maryland and Stanford are the extras at the Miss U.S.A. pageant.  Everybody's rooting for the other two.  Our job is to be able to crash the party.
I have all the respect, obviously, for Muffet McGraw and her staff and Notre Dame.  About two or three years ago Muffet and I were out on the recruiting trail and she asked me to sit down and we had dinner together at the Cracker Barrel.  She also had my mentor.  Bill Finley from Ohio State is somebody who worked for her.  So some great ties and relationships being together.
Notre Dame has the best 1‑2 punch in the country when you talk about Loyd and McBride.  They've been devastating all season.  No one's been able to stop them, including us.  Loyd and McBride had really big games against us.  McBride hit some really big shots in crunch time, very similar reminder in terms of what Kristi Toliver used to be able to do for us.
We're going to try to do what nobody else has been able to do this year.  We want to try to slow Notre Dame's attack down.  Lastly, it feels great to be here with our team and it feels amazing to be able to bring a team to the Final Four.  I like if we wouldn't have been able to do that, I think personally I would have felt regrets as a coach not being able to get her here.  She's a phenomenal person, even a better family when you talk about her parents, and she deserves every single moment of this.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions for the student‑athletes.  Address your questions to specific athletes.

Q.  Alyssa, so you heard what your coach said about sort of feeling like extras.  Is that actually motivation for you knowing that the way that the season is set up, that so many people are imagining the possibility of two undefeated teams playing in the National Championship?
ALYSSA THOMAS:  It is.  I mean, that's what everybody expects, is for them to be undefeated and to meet up with each other.
But I mean, we're here to crash the party.  And I know Stanford is too.  I talked to Chiney, and we're here to crash the party.

Q.  Alyssa, what do you remember about the first meeting with Notre Dame?  I know it was way back at the end of January, but what do you remember about that game?
ALYSSA THOMAS:  We did not come out to a good start.  Spotted them 22 points.  Once we settled down, we were able to get back into the game.  But they had already gotten hot.  So it was hard to slow their big 2 down.

Q.  Alyssa, what does it mean that you're finally here now and you've been before for WBCS stuff, but what's it like playing in the game tomorrow?
ALYSSA THOMAS:  I think the biggest thing is to experience this for my teammates.  I've been saying it for the longest time.  I just want them to be here with me.  I'm really excited that finally get to be on the playing side of the Final Four.

Q.  Katie, as a senior, now that you're finally here in Nashville, is it still surreal for you, or are you letting it settle in now that you're going to be playing the Final Four tomorrow?
KATIE RUTAN:  The opening days are really surreal, after the win.  But you can't think like that now.  It's time to get down to business.  And so the happiness is over and it's time to lock in.

Q.  Lexie, I just wanted to ask you, your confidence level.  I know that freshmen season and all that, compared to the first time that you played these guys and the challenge of their guards.
LEXIE BROWN:  Our confidence, and my personal confidence, is sky high right now.  We've come off two great wins as a team.  I just think all together as a team, we're stronger, we're mentally stronger, we're physically stronger, and we have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow's game.

Q.  Alyssa, they said that no team‑‑ no player in the country means more to their team than you do.  Is that a lot of pressure for you?  Or talk a little bit about that.
ALYSSA THOMAS:  Not at all.  I think I'm just a player on the team.  We have plenty of people that can score on our team.  I think we've proved it throughout this tournament that it's not just all about me.
We have a ton of other players.  Lexie can score for us.  Shatori.  We're a well‑rounded team.

Q.  Alyssa, how is this team better today than it was after the ACC tournament?
ALYSSA THOMAS:  Well, we had the two weeks to refocus ourselves and get ourselves back on track.  And we're peaking at the right time.  We're playing our best basketball when it matters, and this is what people are going to remember.
THE MODERATOR:  Any more questions for the student‑athletes?  One more here.

Q.  Lexie, what's been the biggest challenge being a freshman point guard and acclimating yourself to a team and heading to the Final Four?
LEXIE BROWN:  I would definitely have to say the mental part of the game.  As a point guard, you have to keep your poise the entire game.  And at the beginning that was very tough for me to do.  But as the season progressed, I met a lot with Coach B, and my teammates have really helped me with that.  And I think when you have your poise, really nothing can go wrong in the game because you're there mentally.
THE MODERATOR:  Any more questions?  Okay.  We'll dismiss the student‑athletes back to the locker room.  I do want to take the time to introduce the Maryland SID Rose De Paula, if there's anything more you need from Maryland.  And we'll begin with questions for Head Coach Brenda Frese.  Start right back here.

Q.  Brenda, when you go to a Final Four and you win a National Championship, does any part of your delude yourself into thinking it's not as hard as you thought and you don't come back and you realize it's much harder to get back here than you thought it would be?
COACH FRESE:  No question.  You know, I mean, when you think about it, I was so young your first time going through it.  And you march through in six games and win the title.
And then you realize, you know, after the fact in terms of just how much more difficult it is, being able to be lined up at the right time, have the right bracket, have the right possessions go your way, being completely healthy throughout the run.

Q.  Brenda, who picked up the check between you and Muffet at the Cracker Barrel?
COACH FRESE:  Funny you asked, because I was trying to remember that when I had the memory.  We might have each picked up our own.  But it was one of those moments that, when I walked into the Cracker Barrel, she was in front of me, asked if I wanted to dine with her, at her request first.  So I just remember at that time just appreciating that's what it's about in women's basketball and as coaches in terms of our bond with each other in the profession.  It was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and it was a break in between the AAU games, so we both decided to go get something to eat at the Cracker Barrel.

Q.  Coach, you know, you talk about their big 2.  When they have a shooter like Michaela Mabrey, how do you defend those two and still keep Mabrey from hurting you badly on the perimeter like that?
COACH FRESE:  You know, it's difficult.  Mabrey, you know, was phenomenal the first time that we played.  So now you have to keep in check.  I really feel like all their guards, all their guards are extremely talented.
So there's not many teams like Notre Dame that can score the first time they look at the basket.  Oftentimes, in women's basketball, you need to get a couple more chances, maybe an offensive rebound putback, but Notre Dame is so efficient in terms of their first look, it normally goes in.

Q.  That game against Notre Dame was sandwiched in between two road losses, Virginia, NC State.  I wonder if you can speak to the evolution of the team particularly on the road and how you've been able to handle hostile environments a lot better.
COACH FRESE:  It was a difficult stretch for us when you talk about the conference play and two road games and then undefeated Notre Dame coming in and really finding ourselves as a unit, when you talk about your second, third and fourth leading scorers being freshmen and really kind of introducing them to those elements, road games, and then an undefeated team coming in.
So we were really green.  We were really raw.  We were going through experiences.  So I think it was critical for us as a coaching staff not to get too low in that moment to have kind of perspective that we were going to grow from those experiences, which now, to be able to go into Louisville, again probably ranks up as my all‑time top two favorite games to coach in.
We wouldn't have been able to win that game in January as a team.  And you can see how far the physical and mental toughness has really come.

Q.  You said you're really happy to play that underdog role.  But after Natalie Achonwa got hurt, was out for the season, Notre Dame says, we're the underdog.  Almost like hot potato.  Why does everybody‑‑
COACH FRESE:  Yeah, yeah, Notre Dame can't play that card.  They've been to four straight Final Fours.  You're not an underdog.  You still have a roster that‑‑ it's unfortunate, we all go through injuries.  We did especially last year.  It's a terrible part of the game.
But when you have the best 1‑2 punch in the country, two of the best All‑Americans, the top 10, the depth in the roster, the All‑Americans that they have, they by far still had the experience.  Everyone's still picking them, so there's no way they can be the underdog.  They can try.

Q.  Brenda, two questions.  First one is, when you played them the first time, I think Achonwa was in foul trouble, so she didn't play as much.  Did that help you prepare, not knowing what they were going to do without her, that you sort of saw that, at least on film a little bit?  The second one is, can you compare, if there's any comparison, this year's run to the one in 2006?
COACH FRESE:  Yeah.  Yes and no in terms of, yes, it allows you to kind of see what they went to, Notre Dame, when Natalie was in foul trouble.  But we still didn't win that game.  So we have to be better in terms of who we are as a team, because she didn't play a lot in that game.
So it does make it extremely difficult in terms of getting the preparation.  The comparison between the two teams, you know, I think one of the big ones is we're being led by freshman point guard when you talk about between Lexie and Katie.
But the teams were definitely different.  They were built differently when you talk about the'06 team having five players averaging double figures.  This team had AT, Lexie and Shatori at times.  And on any given night, nobody knows who consistently or where we're going to get our scoring from.
This team is by far probably a better defensive team than'06.  But both teams are probably consistently really dominant rebounding teams.
THE MODERATOR:  Question down here.

Q.  You just mentioned rebounding physically.  Wondering, especially with Natalie out for them, is that an area that you'd like to try to take advantage of on the boards?
COACH FRESE:  Yeah, we‑‑ absolutely.  That's something that we've been really, really strong at.  But I really think our defense is going to be more critical than our rebounding because like I said earlier, Notre Dame doesn't need second‑chance opportunities.  When they get clean looks at the basket, they're able to put it down.  So then rebounding really doesn't matter.
It really comes down to us defensively being‑‑ having to make them have to take difficult shots.
THE MODERATOR:  Any other questions?

Q.  You talked a lot about the development of your team over the course of the season, some of the young players.  I'm wondering if you can address specifically how Lexie's progress has gotten you to where you are now as a team.
COACH FRESE:  Well, first, I can remember the conversation I had with her in the summertime.  She was having a hard time adjusting, and when we started the fall semester really talking about where things were going to need to go in terms of to be ready to lead this team to a Final Four.
And so for Lexie, and you talk about our other two freshmen, there's so much thrown at you your freshman year, and then for Lexie to be the starting point guard on a team that has three senior starters, five seniors on the team, that takes time for a freshman to get comfortable.  And Lexie's somebody that has to be comfortable to be confident.
So it took a while obviously for her to get that comfort for us, to grow with the team and really understand one another.  But Lexie's playing some of her best basketball right now and couldn't have come at a better time.
THE MODERATOR:  Question back here.

Q.  Brenda, good to see you.  Sorry if people already answered this question, but have you talked to the girls about what the experience is like back in 2006 to sort of prepare them, and do they sort of get it?
COACH FRESE:  You know, I have.  Anytime I can lend experience on situations to protect our team, I'm going to.  And so, yes, throughout this entire tournament, you know, I've been able to be able to do that.
What's the second part of your question?

Q.  That was it.  Just if you shared any experience with them and do they get it.
COACH FRESE:  They really do get it in the fact that when you have five seniors on a roster, you know, they get it and then they're able to pass it down to your younger players.

Q.  Is there any one thing that you tell them that they just can't imagine until they get here?  Is it all the media?  Is it the fans?  Is it the different location?  Is there one thing?
COACH FRESE:  The big thing is the distractions and being able to lock in.  Because everyone wants a piece of you.  Everyone wants tickets.  And there's a lot of media requests.
So just really trying to find that balance and being able to eliminate those distractions.
Q. First meeting with Notre Dame, the middle of the game when you overcame the 22‑point deficit, what did you do well during that stretch?
COACH FRESE:  We defended.  We went to our press.  We were able to get stops that led to our transition.
THE MODERATOR:  Any further questions?  We'll take one right here.

Q.  Brenda, philosophically, how do you look at matching up with a team that you played before as opposed to a team that hasn't seen you?  I imagine there are advantages and disadvantages, but both teams obviously know each other.  You have film on each other.  How do you look at that philosophy?
COACH FRESE:  I love it.  One, I liken it to'06 when we got to play in North Carolina and Duke and opponents we played over and over.  I think it gives your team a great comfort level so you don't spend the first 10 or 15 minutes feeling out a team you've never played.
But I'm sure both teams feel that way.  So now you have to kind of figure out what's going to be the difference in a game that could come down to possessions, you know, it's critical in terms of your play calls, your defenses, your strategy.  How can you kind of separate yourself within some possessions.
THE MODERATOR:  Any more questions for Coach Frese?
Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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