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NCAA WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR


April 5, 2014


Chiney Ogwumike

Mikaela Ruef

Lili Thompson

Tara VanDerveer


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

THE MODERATOR:¬† Joining us on the dais from Stanford student‑athletes Chiney Ogwumike, Mikaela Ruef, and Lili Thompson and head coach Tara Van Derveer.¬† We'll take an opening statement from Coach Van Derveer and then questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH VAN DERVEER:  We're excited to be here.  We've worked hard.  I think our team has really improved throughout the season, and we're looking forward to playing UConn tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR:¬† Questions for the student‑athletes.¬† Start with Michel.

Q.  Chiney, what has to be different against Connecticut this time than in November?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  I think since November we're a different team.  We know our offense better.  We know each other better.  So, honestly, I'm just looking at it like we just have to play Stanford basketball, the basketball we've been playing throughout the NCAA Tournament and just being confident.  Just going in there and just playing a game.
You're just playing the next opponent.  Don't think of anything bigger.  It's a basketball game.  Just take it smart.  Know our game plan and just be confident and play together.  That's all I'm thinking about right now.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right over here, the aisle.

Q.  Mikaela, I would assume that your team is probably pretty loose at this point.  And is that exemplified by the fact that you folks did a line dance at the end of practice today?
MIKAELA RUEF:  Yeah.  Our team, we're loose coming into the Final Four.  I think that's the best way for us to play.  We came out a little tight against North Carolina, and that didn't go so well at first.
But once we loosened up and started having fun, we started to play better.  So that's what we're trying to do on this trip.
THE MODERATOR:¬† Questions for the student‑athletes.¬† We'll come up here first.

Q.  Chiney, if you would just talk about the way teams have tried to defend you this year.  You've been able to back them down when they played behind you, you've been able to field them when they come in front.  I'm sure you'll see double team zones.  What do you expect UConn to play and talk about the defenses that you've faced?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  Coach Tara did a good job of reminding me every game that I'm probably going to have two or three people on me, so I should just trust my teammates, which I always do.  And I've seen a lot of defenses.  We've seen zones that try to take away the paint and then we can double team.
It's not necessarily what they do.¬† It's just making sure I make‑‑ lead the defense and make the right play.¬† If they double team me, that means someone on the outside is open and we just have to find a shooter and get a good shot on the play.¬† So we're just trying to take it as it comes.
And it's a 40‑minute game.¬† If I can get down the court early, I'll be one‑on‑one for a while and take advantage of that.¬† Other little things like that are what I try to stick to.
THE MODERATOR:  Question down on the front.

Q.  Any of the three athletes, can you talk about this chance of getting UConn again?  They're undefeated and for them to talk of you all being extras, the JV team.  But when you think about this chance and how different you are as a team, what's the confidence level like right now for you all?
THE MODERATOR:  Chiney you want to take that?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  Surely.  I think we're just trying to focus on this game.  We've done it all season long, one game at a time.  We're not intimidated.  We're excited.
We just want to play our game.  I think no matter the outcome, if we play Stanford basketball, we'll be happy.  But, granted, we'll be happier if we win, obviously, and that's what we're working towards.
So I think we just‑‑ we're different.¬† We're improved, and we're confident and we're going to play together and play tough.¬† That's why I think we're loose right now because we know what we can do and we're confident in each other's abilities.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right here.

Q.  Chiney, having played UConn a number of times during your career, specifically what is different about them as an opponent versus other opponents?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:¬† Do you mean by this year or what's different about‑‑ in general?¬† They're very well‑coached.¬† They play together.¬† They're very unselfish.¬† Usually the person with the open‑‑ the open person gets the shot.¬† That's the way Coach Tara teaches us.¬† The open person gets the shot.
They're very dangerous because they're a very talented team.  So I think this year in particular they've really weathered the storm.  I know they've had a short bench, and it's very impressive to have their run.  But at the end of the day, whoever sides out there for us, whoever sides out for them, we're not going to hold anything back.

Q.  Chiney, this is kind of an offshoot of that question, but do you see any weaknesses in UConn?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  Maybe Coach does.  I think that will be a better question for Coach.  I just listen to what her game plan is and we try to go and execute it.  They're a very great team, and we just try to do what we're supposed to do out there based on Coach's game plan.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right here.

Q.  Lili, your development has been one of the big reasons that this team got this far this year.  What was that like for you the first, second games of the season when you played at UConn?  I don't even know how much you played them that game.  But could you describe a little bit about what your emotions were playing such a lauded team so early in your career?
LILI THOMPSON:  It was the second game.  And I think for all the freshmen, we're just coming into the team and haven't played in front of a crowd that large.  And so of course there were some jitters and nerves and just overall not having the experience.
But in the 30 games or so since then, we've all improved as a team and settled into what we do.  So it's a completely different atmosphere.
THE MODERATOR:  Question over here on the right.

Q.  For both Lili and Mikaela, for both of you guys.  How important is it to not be intimidated by UConn?  They get so much hype, and you guys have had success against them as a program.  How important is it to go in believing you can beat a team like UConn?
MIKAELA RUEF:  I think obviously the most important thing is to believe that you can win.  We wouldn't be here if we didn't believe we could win.  We would have just stayed home.  We're confident going into the game.  You have to be confident, otherwise you don't have a chance.
LILI THOMPSON:  I feel the same way.  I think that it's the same with any opponent.  You get a game plan and you get your confidence going and you go play the game.  The opponent matters for the Xs and Os, but not for your confidence level.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right here.

Q.¬† Mikaela, I'm going to sneak in two here real quick.¬† Talk about your 3‑point shooting the other night against North Carolina and where that came from.¬† Is that now a part of your arsenal?¬† And then secondly, if you could talk about Chiney in terms of the way she steals opponents down on the block and how well she receives those passes coming in.
MIKAELA RUEF:¬† I have to say that my 3‑point shooting, it was thanks a lot in part to Chiney because my person was guarding her as I had the ball.¬† So I figured why not shoot it.¬† And it went in.¬† When it goes in, I feel like I could shoot it again and Coach won't be so mad.
At this point in the season, any game could be our last.  So why not have it in my arsenal now?
And then with Chiney catching my passes inside, or any of our passes inside, you can literally just throw it in her vicinity and she'll jump up and catch it.  If she can't catch it, she'll try her hardest to catch it.
And then on top of that, after she catches the ball, she goes out of her way to try and go up right away so she can give you an assist, which I think is something special in a person, that she's trying to help you out with your stats.  You're like just score, it's fine.  She's like, no, you made a great pass; I want you to get something good for it.
THE MODERATOR:  Question in the back.

Q.¬† First for Mikaela and Lili and Chiney can chime in.¬† Coming up short within the Pac‑12 Tournament for the first time in eight years, how much did that motivate you guys even more?¬† Or was it already built in once this tournament started.¬† How did Pac‑12 semifinals kind of lead you towards this run to Nashville?
MIKAELA RUEF:  I think the number one thing it did was it kind of just woke us up.  Like we were kind of playing in a daze a little bit, and we were getting by in games, but we weren't playing the way we should be playing.  And I think losing there really like gave us a sense that our next loss is our last game of the season.  And I think it really put a sense of urgency into everyone on the team to improve on what we could improve on in the two weeks we had from the loss to the beginning of the NCAA Tournament.
And I think our team took great advantage of the time that we had and we really did improve in what we could.
THE MODERATOR:¬† One last question down here for the student‑athletes.

Q.  Chiney, looking at some of the recent teams, not just you guys, but overall Stanford has done well.  When you think of Andrew Luck, people like that, is it a cliche or is there something cute, kind of likable, nerdy, articulate thing?  Is that a forced reference or do you think there's something there?  Also being all these teams lately kicking butt on the court, too?
CHINEY OGWUMIKE:  I love that aspect.  I think that Stanford overall grooms you to be ready for life after.  And I think I'm experiencing that right now.  And when people ask us what's the great thing about Stanford, it's the people, people like Coach Tara, people like Bernard Muir, the AD, people like President Hennessey.  We just have great support staff that really give you the confidence to be who you are and discover who you are.  And you feel more confident as a person so when you're confident as a person, you can go out there and you know football or basketball comes easy.
I think just being able to go to Stanford University has been a huge blessing for all of us.  We all have different stories, but at the end of the day, we all love each other, as people come first.  So we're willing to do anything on the court.  That's like the easy part.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Thank you, ladies.  You can go back to your locker room.  They'll be available until 4:30.
COACH VAN DERVEER:  Good job, Lili.  That was your best press conference.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll start taking questions for Coach.  In the back there.

Q.  Same question I asked Chiney.  What weaknesses, if any, do you see in UConn?
COACH VAN DERVEER:¬† Well, they aren't as deep as they were when we first played them.¬† They've had‑‑ they lost a player.¬† They hurt us actually when we played.
I think that they have four All‑Americans on their front line and they have an excellent point guard.¬† So I wouldn't say that there's any glaring weaknesses.¬† Have a Hall of Fame coach who does a great job for his team.
And I think obviously they're a confident team.  They're defending national champions, and we'll have to play very well to win the game.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right here.

Q.  Tara, I know that a lot of times you love to game plan in X and O's, and that's your thing.  With this particular team that you just mentioned, without any glaring weaknesses, has it been more of a nightmare to try to figure something out, or has there been any pleasure in it?
COACH VAN DERVEER:  You know, I like the challenge of kind of thinking about what we want to do and being here and having the opportunity to play Connecticut and actually having played so many great teams to get here throughout the whole season.  Really, it's so exciting to think, well, these are the shots we're trying to get, these are the shots we have to limit that they get.  And then to come out and see, can we do it.
And we will have to really execute a game plan for 40 minutes to be successful, because they are that good.
THE MODERATOR:  Question from Richard.

Q.  Tara, along the same lines of game planning.  Breanna Stewart is such a unique player with her size and length and ability to score inside and outside.  When you look at her on film, how do you try to attack her effectively?
COACH VAN DERVEER:  I think that she does have what you said.  But it's who all she plays with.  By herself out there, she would be another 6'4" kid with some versatility.  But we played against some of that.  But she plays with Dolson who allows her to play 4.  She plays with Lewis who forces you to spread the floor.  Or she plays with Jefferson who gets steals and creates for her.
So she's a very talented player.¬† But the story of Connecticut is not just one player.¬† That was evidenced by four All‑Americans.¬† They have the most talented team in the country.¬† When you're playing with other really talented players as LeBron James wanted to, as Michael Jordan did, when you're around other players, in some ways there's less pressure on you and there's this synergy, and it makes life easier.
So she's very, very good.¬† And she brings a great dimension to their team.¬† But they are clearly not a one‑person team.¬† That's why they repeatedly win.

Q.¬† Tara, you and Coach Auriemma both have been around the women's game for a long time.¬† You're both very blunt spoken in some ways.¬† You have gone up against him numerous times in recruiting battles, I suppose.¬† How would you describe your relationship with him?¬† Has it always been‑‑ I mean, just personally, has it been rocky at times, or as just mutual respect?¬† Have you really butted heads with him?
COACH VAN DERVEER:¬† Not that I can remember at all.¬† I totally respect the job that he‑‑ he went to Connecticut the same year I went to Stanford.¬† And so we have been at the Final Four.¬† Sometimes we didn't play each other going to the Final Four.¬† But Geno's done just a great job.¬† We've kind of walked the same path with coaching the Olympic team.
He's just done a fabulous team with his teams.¬† I respect the job.¬† I learn from him.¬† I think he's very funny.¬† And I won't say‑‑ I'm on the West Coast, he's on the East Coast, but I feel very confident.¬† I have him in my cell phone, his number, and I can call him at any time or text with him.
I consider him a friend.¬† We don't really recruit that much against each other just because of the different‑‑ maybe the different kids that we're looking at, but everything that I know about it has been always professional.

Q.  Have you discussed Chiney's evolution as a player?  Is this the first year she's had an reliable mid range jumper, coming in earlier?
COACH VAN DERVEER:¬† Chiney as a player, it's fun to actually think about her journey.¬† And I might get in trouble for this little story, but I am the oldest of four girls and one boy.¬† But Chiney‑‑ and Neka is oldest, and basically I bonded Neka and recruited Neka.¬† Then Chiney came to Stanford, and I was closer to Neka.¬† And my assistant coach Amy Tucker was close to Chiney.¬† And Amy would say, Chiney is pretty good, too.
But Amy at first said to Chiney, wow, how hard of a life would that be to follow Neka?  And obviously Chiney has done pretty well.  But Chiney, when she started at Stanford, she was to rebound and play defense and keep Neka out of foul trouble and rebound Neka's shots.
When Neka graduated, basically we ran plays for Chiney that went into Cheney.¬† It was Chiney.¬† She was working on her outside shot all that time.¬† She has a 3‑point shot.¬† She might bust that out here.¬† But she really has a great perimeter shot.¬† We need her to play closer to the basket, but if we need to move her out, we'll see that.
I think she's had it, really since her sophomore year.  She was working on it.  She works in the off season.  She had it last year but we wouldn't let her take it.  Now it's more if we play against some better rebounders, then she can move outside a little bit more.
THE MODERATOR:  Question on the right.

Q.  Coach, can you talk about the evolution of the other players on the team around Chiney this year and how far they've come from way back at the beginning of the season to get you to this point?
COACH VAN DERVEER:  I think this might be the most improved team, one of the most improved teams I've ever coached, in that when we went to Italy early, we had five freshmen.  And a lot of it was kind of kind of looking at people, putting people in the mix.  We start a whole different lineup than we did in November.
We're playing different people.¬† Lili has pretty much‑‑ she owns the 2‑guard spot.¬† Amber owns the 1‑guard spot.¬† Our 3 is in flux a lot.¬† We start with Sara James, but we play Bonnie, we play Taylor.¬† We could actually play Chiney at our 3.
Mikaela Ruef has improved tremendously.  For the players that have followed us as she was a freshman, she would go into the game and turn the ball over so many times and so fast, it would be like we could only play her one minute.
She has been one of the most improved players that we've ever had at Stanford.  And she came back to Stanford this year without a scholarship, and she has made just incredible strides this year, her shooting, her passing, her defense.  And I mean, just even her ability to sit up here and do such a great job at the press conference, she's improved in that too.
THE MODERATOR:  Couple of questions down here.

Q.  Could you talk about Chiney in her ability to defend the post.  Is she one of the best maybe that you've seen at that?  And what defense do you think UConn will play against her based on that first meeting?
COACH VAN DERVEER:  Well, we've had some great, great post player's.  Jayne Appel, fabulous low block player.  And Neka.  I don't know that comparing would be good.
But Chiney can score one‑on‑one pretty much against anybody.¬† If they're really big, then she'll bring them away and hit her high post shot.
I think she'll do what she said.¬† She'll read the defense and just kind of get what the defense‑‑ take what the defense gives her.

Q.¬† Seems like every Final Four team, especially on the women's side, always has a big star, and you're no exception.¬† But I'm wondering, the relative value of the supporting cast, when you get to this level as opposed to the regular season, maybe, does it change in how‑‑ how do they compare in the Final Four to the regular season, maybe?
COACH VAN DERVEER:¬† You know, like you said, to get here, you've gotta have probably a great leader.¬† We do with Chiney.¬† But we cannot be Chiney and the Chiney‑ettes.¬† We know that we have to have a great play from all of our four other people that are out there on the court with her.
What I'm excited about is the fact that we have five people in double figures through the NCAA Tournament.  Amber has really stepped up her game and is really doing a great job at the point.  Lili, Mikaela Ruef.  Bonnie Samuelson.  We can probably play seven or eight people, bring in Karlie Samuelson, Erica McCall, and Taylor Greenfield.

Q.  When players read that most people are picking UConn or that UConn is locked to win, is that just outside noise, or can you and your coaching staff actually use that as motivation?  How does that sort of work really inside the locker room?
COACH VAN DERVEER:¬† You know, I think that there's‑‑ Connecticut and Notre Dame have earned the right to be No. 1 seeds.¬† I think the media has kind of put them in the championship game to make it some Cinderella ball, wouldn't it be great to see these two undefeated teams?
But myself and Brenda Frese, us and Maryland, we're here.  If we're going to be someone's hors d'oeuvres, we're not going to get swallowed easily.  We are going to work really hard to play the best game that we can.  We definitely talk about it.
And for us, you might think sometimes it's good because there's a lot of times where we are clearly the top dog, and we're supposed to win.
We didn't win the Pac‑12 tournament.¬† And I remind our team that.¬† I said, you know, No. 1 seed didn't do us any good there.¬† So I'm definitely kind of a little bit of a smack talker in the locker room with our team.¬† And I just kind of‑‑ I think if our team has had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, then I've carried it, too.
THE MODERATOR:  Question right there.

Q.¬† When you beat Connecticut in the semifinals in 2008, I think you shot about 100 percent from the free‑throw line.¬† That was a big upset.¬† Would this be an infinitely bigger upset given how overpowering they've been all season?
COACH VAN DERVEER:  You know, they had a great team in 2008.  Think of the players that were on that team.  Tina Charles.  Maya Moore.  Charde Houston.  Just to name a couple that are pros.  I think that that kind of game, I remind our team of that game.
They have a very talented team this year.¬† But we just have to play well.¬† So we're not‑‑ I don't think we're‑‑ we're not caught up in‑‑ our kids haven't paid attention to what UConn's done since we played them.
We're out there.  They don't watch them on television.  They're not shaking in their boots.  They're excited.  And I want them to be excited.
THE MODERATOR:  Any more questions for Coach Van Derveer?  Okay.  Thank you very much.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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