March 30, 2002
COACH SHERRI COALE: We're obviously thrilled to be competing in the National Championship Game. It's been an amazing season for us. An amazing four years for these kids who are spending their last season with us. And great effort against Duke. A better defensive effort, after I watched the film than I thought it was at the time. I thought at the time it was pretty good, but I went back and watched the film in it's entirety last night. And I thought we really forced themselves into some things they didn't want to do offensively, affected the quality of their shots. Defense and rebounding is what allows you to compete in this game Sunday night. Everyone talks about our offense, and which was pretty good for a stretch in the second half, and in particular last night. You don't get to this point unless you can guard people and rebound. I'm pleased with our team's performance in both of those categories.
Q. Could you address the fact that this game is going to have maybe -- probably the two best guard tandems in the country. And how much fun it's going to be for 29,000 fans for the fans to watch the guards go head to head?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I think it will be fun for both involved, both Connecticut and ourselves playing an up tempo brand of basketball, Bird and Taurasi pose some difficult problems for us, as they do for everybody else in the country, that's like an under statement of the century, isn't it? I think Caufield and Dales and Rosalind Ross and Dionnah Jackson, you take our entire back court and put them together, might pose some problems, as well. Swin or Tamika or Asjha is going to have to run around the perimeter all night. I've got to think that that's to our advantage. You flip that around and one of my guards has to try to guard them at the post, too. So it might be who does whatever they're most uncomfortable with best that wins this battle. But it ought to be a very exciting game. I know everybody was so anticipating our matchup in Hartford back in December, but it wasn't a game that reflected the way either one of us likes to play, there were a lot of free throws, a lot of fouls, and I think if this game is allowed to have some flow and tempo, it could be a great, great women's basketball game.
Q. I want to say I'm glad that you are going to show tomorrow night.
COACH SHERRI COALE: We decided to.
Q. With not much preparation time, you played them earlier, do you throw out the first game you played earlier that year, and try to draw on something else, or what's the mindset?
COACH SHERRI COALE: We always, if we have played someone previously, we always go back to that game tape as our greatest tool of measurement, because we like to see how they defended certain things that we did, and what we did that seemed to effect them on the offensive end. We'll watch, obviously, their most recent games, their games in the tournament, and that will play into our preparation, as well. But that game back in December is very much a preparatory tool.
And the thing about Connecticut is, you know, Geno doesn't have any vets, it's not like there's -- if you can unlock the code, then you can stop him. He'll tell you what he's going to do, we're going to throw a right and set a screen and she's going to come off of it and guard it. We know what he's going to do, so what. Can we do something about it when they decide to do it? I'm very familiar with the way they play. Our players are familiar with the way they play. Of course my having worked with Geno this summer and having a relationship with him, Stacey having played there, all those things increase the familiarity. The most important thing about our meeting in December, however, is the fact that we've been on the floor with them and we've been in the game with them. Not just on the floor, but in the game. And I think that's significant. And you have to take the floor on Sunday night and make sure the mystique doesn't beat you, make the players beat you.
Q. A lot has been said about the UConn seniors, what about the Oklahoma seniors?
COACH SHERRI COALE: Yeah, they're pretty special, thanks for asking. Stacey is the grandma of the bunch, she's been with us five years, because of her red shirt season her freshman year. Neish obviously finishing her four-year career, and it has been amazing. Shannon Selman finishing her four-year career is a very important role player, and the a decision of Jamie Talbert and Rosalind Ross coming in from junior college, and then of course Jen Cunningham has been with us four years, and hasn't had a healthy year yet, bless her heart.
And the fact that we made it to this game and have a shot, with Jen Cunningham, our 6' 3" center, not having competed a single game, is a pretty great testment of the will of the seniors, the collective will. Jen could have said I'm hurt, I don't have a role here anymore, I'm going to go to the tanning bed or whatever, and she didn't. She's involved in practice, and she keeps stats on the bench, and she's in the middle of every drill making a difference. Although she can't physically, she's making a difference intangibly. And Shannon Selman could have said I've been here four years, and sometimes I play two minutes, ask sometimes I don't play at all, and sometimes I play ten minutes, and this is too hard, I'm not going to do this, but she didn't.
She chose to say I'm an integral part of this thing, and if I'm not here, it's not what it's supposed to do, so I'm going to embrace my role, and without those things happening from those other kids, we don't have the kind of year that we're having. So that senior class, from the wow stuff that Stacey Dales does, and the constant every night I'm showing up and bringing my lunch pail and Talbert being the sleeper in the paint. And Shannon and Jen playing as significant a role as the guys on the front page of the paper.
Q. I know you said that six years since you've been here it seems like a long time, the process seems long to you, but it is a relatively short time from being a high school coach to a National Championship game on the stage. Can you talk about that and what it's been like for you?
COACH SHERRI COALE: You know, when you're in the middle of it, I don't think that I see it the same way that any of you guys do, because I've been in the middle of it. And you wake up and do what you need to do that day. I have a crazy life. I've got a lot of responsibilities, a crazy good life, a lot of responsibilities. And when I finally get home from the gym, I don't have time to sit on the back porch and think about the progress we made today, I've got to get one kid to soccer and the other baseball practice, and get a five-year old in the bath. You know what it's like.
There hasn't been a lot of time for reflection, but I tell you, this Final Four weekend I've been trying to soak in every second of it. I don't want to go to sleep. Why would I sleep on this weekend when I can soak in a little more of what's going on? I went for a run yesterday afternoon, I ran about 8 miles, because I ran by the Alomodome about ten times. And I kept thinking we are playing in there, are you kidding me? I'm trying to enjoy every bit of it, but I don't know that it's all really real to me yet. Hopefully it hits sometime soon, and I have a great vacation.
Q. Last night you used one substitute only and that was Dionnah Jackson, but she played after the game. Is she becoming almost like an equal in the back court to the other -- to your starters, and if so, why?
COACH SHERRI COALE: Well, we actually used two, Shannon Selman played in both halves and we cleared our bench in the second. But, Dionnah is very much -- I kid her all the time. She's a freshman and I don't ever treat her like a freshman, I don't think of her as a freshman, and I tell her you better be ready to go when I put you in, because I never take you out. She's too good. I probably took her out more last night than I ordinarily do because she makes so many good things happen. She's a great defender. She has an uncanny ability to get to the rim. She's one of the fastest learning kids I've ever had in my program. She is absolutely a sponge. You tell her something one time and it's done, you won't have to correct that anymore.
Early in the year she was trying to feed the post from above the free throw line extended, which is a no-no for us. She turned it over about three times in a game, and next day at practice I showed her the film clips, we went out to practice, I showed her exactly what we wanted to do, and we've not spoken about it since. And she's not turned it over one time by failing to do that since. That's unbelievable for anybody, much less than a college freshman. She's special. Somebody asked me who is the heir apparent to Stacey Dales, she might be wearing No. 35.
Q. I wonder if you could talk about the resilience your program has shown. For example, Stacey hurting her knee when she played in San Antonio three or four years ago; what Cunningham has been able to do to hang; just what your program has been able to do to get to this point?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I think we have overcome a lot of things. Sometimes when you're successful those things get swept under the carpet and people don't talk to them. That's okay. I don't think you have to come in and carrying a shield and say we have three torn ACLs. Stacey being able to come back from her injury was a big deal for her at the time. None of these other guys were here yet. But that was a big deal for her, improving her toughness.
And I think as much as anything instilling an even deeper appreciation for the fact that you get to play. And if there is a key to any of that, of our overcoming obstacles and difficulties and being resilient it is the fact that our guys daily remind each over, you've got Antoinette Wadsworth sitting in street clothes, and Jen Cunningham who has had four torn ACLs, they remind everybody how blessed they are to have two good legs or one in Ros's case, and to be able to go out and function and play this game. I know Stacey has a picture of Jen in her locker, and they're great friends, they came from Canada together and played club ball. She put a picture of Jen up in her locker, so I think that's sort of a secret to that resilience.
Q. You mentioned your familiarity with UConn x's and o's. Was there anything this summer with the national team that you picked up from Geno aside from x's and o's, like coaching philosophy or style with players and team that has helped you?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I don't know if it helped me (laughter), but I did learn some things. No, the thing that I discovered about Geno that -- I knew going in, and we've spent enough time together that I know about his ability to manipulate the game, and I know about his knowledge of the game and his ability to push buttons of players. And you know, I don't know that you watch anybody and you go, okay, that's the way to motivate a kid, that's the way to get the best out of a kid, that is very much a nuance that comes from your personality and their personality and having people skills and knowing how to deal with certain situations. But the thing I picked up from Geno is that he has a phenomenal feel for the game.
Now, I'm not going to learn how to have that same kind of feel by watching him have it. But what I mean by that is he has a feel for when somebody is in a flow and has a great ability to disrupt that and to never let the opponent feel comfortable. It's really uncanny. He just has a great -- I don't know any other way to explain it than by saying he has a great feel for the game. He feels his own team and he feels his opponent. And he is able to fuel his own team and thwart the opponent. I think it's an instinct and I think it's a gift.
Q. I know this angle has been beaten to death, would you talk a little bit about Geno and why you guys hit it off when you first met and take us through that, and when he was recruiting Stacey and all that?
COACH SHERRI COALE: If he is not nice to me, because I've been so nice talking about him all morning. I've been so nice, so you guys have to promise me that when he comes in here, if he is not nice, then you don't print my nice stuff. Then I get do-overs, you can call me at the hotel. Geno, I met him when he was recruiting Stacey. I went to a AAU game in Dallas, which is kind of bizarre, but I went down and watched her play, and I was sitting up on the top level watching her warm up, get ready and there's strong people that went to the doorway, and it's Geno. He's coming off his perfect season, and TV cameras, and there's Geno Auriemma, and he won a National Championship, Stacey please catch the ball, please.
When school began he called me and his first phone call was very impressive. He just was extremely professional and very genuine, and didn't blow a lot of smoke, and didn't tell me she was the greatest player in the history of the world. But he was genuine, and wanted to come out and watch us practice. And flew to Oklahoma. And anybody who knows weather in Oklahoma, you know, it might be 70 one day, and 25 the next, you never know. And then the next day it's back to 60.
He flies into Oklahoma, and why in the world you'd fly in the early fall and wear loafers and no socks. He has on loafers and no socks. It is a blizzard, it's sleeting sideways, and he comes in he's got the lapels of his suit coat up around his ears. I said where's your socks, you don't wear socks, you're kidding, you're from Connecticut, it's snowing. He comes to watch us. It's Norman High School, we've got one gym and our men are in the gym -- this story is going to take such a long time.
Our men are in the gym and it's our week to go to north base, which is an airplane hangar that has a tile floor, and that's where we're going to practice. We've got 50 or 60 kids, because it's sophomore through seniors, it's a 6A high school. We've got a bunch of guys that are pretty good, and a bunch of guys who decided playing on the basketball team would be fun. So I've got 60 kids running these full court drills. And it's a zoo. And I'm out there running this fast break drill and thinking Geno Auriemma is sitting over here, and I've got this girl that can't bounce the ball. And we worked them and it's time for school to be over.
We keep the upperclassmen, and we do some other conditioning stuff, and when it was all over he came over and said this is unbelievable. I'm thinking, oh, no, he's going to rip me a -- and what in the world -- And he's says I've never seen anything like this. Do your players realize how good you are? Do they have any idea how lucky they are to be playing for you? I can't speak. You guys are having trouble realizing that there are moments when I can't speak, but that was one of them. He said can I talk to your team? And I said yeah. Chris Dailey goes no, you can't talk to their team, it's a violation.
So we went to Stacey's house, and had the home visit and the funniest thing was, he's going along doing his little shtick or whatever. He stops and says how am I doing? Excuse me? How am I doing here? I don't know, you do this for a living, I don't. How many of these have you sat in on? I said 7. He said, so how am I doing? I went (indicating). He was really good. That's why Stacey went to Connecticut. He was real, and he and I developed a fast friendship.
It's like Carl if you came to Oklahoma, you and Barry Trammel would be friends. Barry writes for the Daily Oklahoman. I don't know if you have any similarities or backgrounds, but you would be friends because you see the world the same way. You guys would go to dinner and you would be fast friends because you see things the same way. Geno and I were that way. We had a connection, and we developed a friendship and we laugh a lot and poke fun at each other, and I think we both respect one another. And to be competing in this game and in this situation against him is surreal.
Q. A lot of eyebrows were raised when you got the Oklahoma job coming out of high school. But what advantages did you have being a high school coach and everything that goes with being a high school?
COACH SHERRI COALE: That's a great question, and I do think there are definitely some. First of all, was that I got recruiting mail on a daily basis for my team. And you know what? I figured out what works and what doesn't, what kids read and what kids don't read. I sat through I think nine, maybe ten home visits with Stacey alone. I got to see what makes kids minds wander, what impresses them, what doesn't impress them. I kind of got a backside view of the whole recruiting process, what it feels like to be on the other side.
And I think if you've never been a high school coach, you don't know. You hope you're doing the right thing, but you don't know what works or what doesn't, what is effective and what isn't. I found out real quickly, and I was also able to make relationships with people like Geno, who sort of prepared me for what it's like. And to have Geno say, you know what, what you do is what is supposed to be done, whether you're coaching high school or college or the Lakers. What you do in practice is what's supposed to be done. You have to figure out how to manage all the other stuff, which is like this.
Q. What do the doctors tell you about Ros's knee, and are they surprised that she's been able to play with all that's happened? Is there a concern about getting worse without surgery?
COACH SHERRI COALE: She's a medical marvel, I'm not sure it can get much worse. It's gone. People in our fan base would gasp when she went down. She's gone down on a number of occasions, because of lock up. And people gasp, and I never gasp, what's there going left to tear. She's a kid that figured out how to compensate, and not everyone is physically capable of doing that. I have to remind all those other kids who have torn ACLs, we had a couple of recruits, kids we signed in the fall and tore their ACLs, how does Ros play, I want to figure it out. Some people can't. Some people tear it and can't walk around. That's because our bodies are all put together differently.
She's a medical marvel. For whatever reason she is able to function without it. And our doctors are amazed by her. They're amazed by her pain tolerance. They're amazed by her body's ability to compensate. And when this is said and done, she'll have a six-hour surgery to repair everything that's wrong.
Q. With you and Geno in there, people are talking about the attractiveness meter being very high, plus you have a couple of good looking teams. Is sex appeal good for this sport?
COACH SHERRI COALE: That is so funny, I can't believe you just asked that. First of all, he's getting kind of old, don't you think? (Laughter.) You know what? I think that when women can go out and compete at the level that both of our teams compete at, diving on the floor, making athletic plays, just the level of athleticism that exists within both of our squads, and then they can leave the court and present themselves as they did at the salute dinner the other night and look like the beautiful women that they are, I think, yeah, that's definitely good for the game. I don't know that there's any sex appeal going on here, but I think it's terrific when women can compete and be athletes and still be women.
Q. You said that you don't want to sleep while you're here. How much sleep did you get last night and how late did you party with your players?
COACH SHERRI COALE: We just had a brief team meeting, sent our players to their rooms and told them they can celebrate as long as they want, as long as they're off their feet. They stayed up talking late, I'm sure. Our philosophy all year has been enjoy the moment. When you wake up and the sun comes up, then we'll prepare for the next opponent. I lost too many games early in my career to ever not appreciate or celebrate a win. That's a hard and fast rule.
Until the sun comes up the next day we will live in the moment. I certainly didn't want to rob them of the moment they had in earning the right to play in the National Championship Game. So they celebrated. We sat up and watched film, even snuck in our Duke game, which I hardly ever do. I don't know that I've watched any of our NCAA Tournament games, just because the quick turnaround to prepare them for another opponent. But we had a couple of computer glitches, and Coach Ross was working feverishly on the computer. We stuck in a Duke tape. And then you're fired up and can't go to bed. It was late, but I'll work on these bags before tomorrow.
Q. This could be be a special weekend for the University of Oklahoma. When you won last night, did you get any calls or anything from the other program at the University?
COACH SHERRI COALE: We called Coach Sampson's cell phone. I know they are very strict about their night before the gym, and I'm sure they were in a team meeting. They're very, very strict and organized in that regard. So we just left a message on the cell phone. When it beeped in I held it up in the locker room and said, "It's your turn, go Sooners", and then they went nuts for about two or three minutes. We probably used up all of his time on his voicemail because they were screaming and going crazy. And I know that he had the team together watching our game, and we have a spot this afternoon where we'll be together watching their game at 5.
Q. Do you think that UConn has finally established itself as the premier program in women's basketball? Tennessee has been up there for so long but it appears UConn has started to make in roads there. And the second part of that question, Geno has said that he thinks that you have all the components in Oklahoma to become the next UConn. Can you address whether or not you feel you're on that road?
COACH SHERRI COALE: We have all the components to become the next UConn except ESPN isn't right down the street. So somebody has to come and cover us. Can you guys get a surrogate office in Oklahoma City or something? I don't know that Geno might be becoming the premier program. I don't know that I see it that way. And my perspective may be a bit tainted, because I followed their program so closely. I had a kid go there and play, and my relationship with Geno, but my first Final Four was in Minneapolis when Connecticut won for the first time and I believe that started the era of dominance for Connecticut. And I know Tennessee has won championships since then, but I don't know that any team has been more dominant throughout an entire season after season after season as of late than Connecticut. Obviously Tennessee has the deeper tradition, the greater background. But in the new era of women's basketball I think it's been UConn.
Q. Can you give us an idea of your first meeting with Stacey and also how hard that first year on campus was for her?
COACH SHERRI COALE: My first meeting with Stacey, not the first time that I saw her play, but the first time that I sat and visited with her you're immediately taken back at her maturity level. Even when she was 17. And she's matured dramatically over her five years here. She was the most mature 17-year old that I've ever been around. She was smart, she was witty. And I think the thing that grabbed me immediately was she got it. This is a kid who gets it. And everything that I said when I told her about how hard it was going to be and how lousy we were, and how far we had to go, she just moved closer and closer to the edge of her seat.
And there was this bounce in her eyes and I just knew, this is a kid who was made for this situation. This is a kid that was made for me to coach. We had an instant rapport, and I wanted desperately to coach her. You meet some kids and you think, if I could just -- you don't really think this kid is going to come in and make us win, you think, wow, what a neat deal it would be to be able to coach that kid. She was one of them. And the first year on campus was incredibly difficult for her. She's a million miles away from home. She's crying every night, before we even get to season, because there's never been a kid closer to her parents than Stacey Dales.
Instead of going out with friends she stays home and watches movies with her parents. She had a great rapport with them, and they're a very tight family. Here she comes all the way -- from another country, for heaven's sake, and she's homesick every night and just living for basketball season. When basketball starts that's her love. And then her first game she tears her ACL. And it was -- I remember thinking I just hope she doesn't go home. We've got to figure out a way to keep her here. And we very much involved her in what we were doing.
The team that year was great. You know that -- I used to know the exact number of days this was, and I've forgotten, in excess of 30 days every single day from her surgery on her ACL she got a personal written sentiment from every player on our team, every single day in excess of 30 days. Some days they would make a poster, some days it would be individual cards. Some days it would be everybody signs a note that we put in her locker. That kept her afloat and kept her at Oklahoma. And so those people who -- I've said this -- I said this in Boise, those people that came before in our program who aren't getting to play in front of 30,000 people right now because they've graduated and moved on, they deserve a big chunk of the credit, because they made our place a neat place to come for kids like Stacey Dales.
Q. I just wanted to follow up a little bit on Stacey. I apologize, because this has been beaten to death as well. As a kid from Ontario, how did that all get started between you two?
COACH SHERRI COALE: My assistant coach went to Canada to watch a point guard play that wasn't good enough. And went by a gym on her way back, waiting for her airplane and saw Stacey and called me and said I've found the savior. And I said what's her name and she said I don't know. And I said where is she going, and she said I don't know. And I said I think you should find out. She said I'll miss my plane if I do, I said that's fine, we'll get you another ride home. She stayed and found out that she was leaning towards Syracuse, but she was open and she was willing to listen. And so that first phone call I made to her had to be really good. And we hit it off immediately. I can remember us talking about what was going on in her English class, I was a high school English teacher, we talked with short stories they were reading, and had an instant rapport. And she was just the kind of kid that was looking for a niche, looking for a place to go and be extraordinary.
She didn't want to be another "one of", she wanted to turn something around. And it just so happened that not enough people knew about her, at that time Canada wasn't heavily recruited at all. And she had been injured during key recruiting periods in the previous seasons. So she sort of slipped through the cracks. And it was a situation that fit her and she was a fit for the situation. Pam DeCostas was the assistant; she's now at the University of Kansas.
On how the Oklahoma program has grown in recent years.
"I think our program has come a long way. I used to come watch OU games in high school. I think Coach Coale has done an outstanding job of recruiting and bringing in young ladies who believe in her. For everyone who played before me, that coached before me, they are just as much a part of this as we are."
On playing UConn., which is favored to win.
"We think that we can win. But you look around and it's UConn, UConn, UConn. I think it's good because when teams get to that point they feel a little pressure. We have nothing to lose. We just have to go out there, play hard and leave it all on the court. When you play on a team that is not expected to win, then that team is capable of doing anything. Anything is possible for that team because they are having fun. They are not getting nervous or panicky. We are not intimidated. UConn is just like any other team to us except they are undefeated and they play really well together. They capitalize on a team's mistakes. We are going to have to limit our mistakes and turnovers. We need to try to play solid and play really hard."
On how Oklahoma matches up with UConn.
"I think we do match up with UConn pretty well. As far as being seen as second best, UConn and Tennessee are the teams people look for, for being in the finals. This year when we played them (UConn), we knew what we had to do. It's just that we played them early season and we really weren't accustomed to the flow of each other's game. For teams, that's a great deal, because once you go through the season you get accustomed to one another. You know who needs you to be where. You cover for one another more. That game, we really didn't cover for one another. We were pretty close to them for a while, hanging with them. We just made a lot of mistakes. Great teams like UConn make you pay for your mistakes. Now we are confident and happy playing. We very seldom panic or get gripey with one another. Our team is just together. That's helped us get through the tournament."
Caton Hill, Jr.
Describe UConn's inside players?
A: "They crash so hard and they are very strong players, and they finish very well, we cannot let them get second shot after second shot, we have got to rebound."
Do you think that it is going to be so hard to play defense that you have to remind yourself to play on the other end?
A: "Well, no you don't have to remind me to play offense. They are hard to defend, they use their bodies well, they are very strong you have to get in front of them, you have to get around them to rebound, and you can't let them catch the ball, and we are just going to have to work together, help each other out. They are going to score points, we are going to have to limit second shots."
Will you need more help from the guards coming down than you normally would?
A: "The guards can't help that much, they have (Diana) Taurasi & (Sue) Byrd to look after, one of the post players is going to be out, Swin (Cash) probably, she doesn't look to shot as much, so whoever has her may look to shade down a little bit. K-State is a good example, they are not as physical as UConn, but they have a really inside game and a really good outside game. The guards helped out a little bit against UConn."
Do you think that playing in the Big 12 helped your learning curve?
A: "I would hope so, we played Duke and they were ranked higher they we were and we beat them by 15, and we only beat Texas Tech by 10. Our conference is tremendously hard; Baylor, Kansas State, so I would hope that our learning curve got better than theirs. We have faced a lot of things, like foul trouble, and deficits and we know we can do it. Ever since the Big 12 tournament on we have clicked defensively and offensively and stepped it up a level and that is exactly what we needed to do in order to come here and to get to play UConn."
There is a feeling that UT is the second best team here at the Final Four, do you think people are continuing to overlook you all?
A: "I got questions asked that this is really the national championship game (UConn vs. Tennessee), and that is kind of disturbing. Yeah, it is Pat Summitt's team and Tennessee have won how many national championships, so yeah, I think people are overlooking us. But, I don't think that UConn is overlooking us, I think they are smart girls, they had played us before. We lost by 14 but that game was really close until 5 minutes-plus in the game until we had to foul. I don't think they are, I just think that the media is, which you know doesn't matter really. You are going to report what you have to report, but we can't listen to that because we weren't even supposed to be here."
(On getting to Oklahoma from Canada)
"Basically an assistant coach of Sherri Coale's (Pam Decosta) was up in Canada to recruit two other players and she stopped to wait in the gym for our game and she saw me play. She called me the following Monday and we developed an instant rapport." "When I met coach Coale and I talked to coach Coale, I was sold on her vision for the future of the program. I believed in her vision and I believed I could help her team to become a national power. I wanted to be a part of something that was struggling and I wanted to help it change and get better."
(On being underdogs)
"It fuels our fire. We sort of go through and forget about what is being said about us and the championship game. I haven't focused on anything that is being said. I keep away from that, as well and so does the team, because we feel we are tight and we are one in what we are doing. Our theme in the post season has been "one heart beat" and there is not too many things that have influenced that. We are having a blast and we are immersed in the moment and we have immersed ourselves in this thing (the championship) and we felt three weeks ago that we could go all the way and we feel we have a legitimate shot. Connecticut is the best team in the country hands down, but on any given day any team can win, and I think we know that. Connecticut knows that and other people know that. We just can't make a lot of mistakes when we play them because they are so smart and so good at capitalizing on mistakes. That's how they get their runs so we have to be intelligent basketball players."
(On the first meeting)
"Playing them there was huge for us. We played in front of their fans. They have great fans by the way, I will tell you that. They are great fans, but they are not hostile. They are not going to cuss you out as you go down the floor. Playing them there and playing well at times. We did make mistakes but I think with five minutes left it was a four-point game. That was in their kingdom, their domain. We are on a neutral site right now and while they are probably going to have a good portion of the fans compared to ours, we feel pretty good about the opportunity that is presenting itself."
"You look at that game and you say 'wow, look at all the mistakes we made. We can't do this, and we can't do this. We have to execute in this regard a lot better and we can't let them get this open shot.' You can make one mistake because in basketball you are going to make mistakes, but you can't make four-in-a-row. You can't make five-in-a-row because Connecticut, if you do that, they are up 15, then their up 20, then 25. So, we have to limit our mistakes. I think one thing we do is we have our runs as well and we have to make our runs happen. We have to hit our open shots and we have to get down the floor and score some baskets in transition. If we are able to sustain ourselves through their runs and have a few of our own, it could be a ball game.
(On Connecticut's semifinal win)
"I watched probably 10 minutes of that game. I wasn't awestruck by them at all. I mean, they are Connecticut. As I said, you can't make mistakes. You can't leave Sue Bird open, you can't leave Diana Taurasi open and you cant forget to pick up Asjha Jones in transition or let Swin Cash pump fake and go around you. You have to move your feet and there are so many things you have to do to defend Connecticut. As I said, when you have three mistakes in a row on defense, they are going to score 10 points in two minutes. You have to recognize those things and you have to play smart."
(On guard play in the NCAA tournament)
"The pressure defense that you face in the NCAA tournament is always greater than what you face in the regular season. It always is because the stakes are higher. Being that, you have to have people with the ball that can deal with the pressure. You have to have people with the ball that can make the decisions that are necessary for your team to have the advantage. Guards handle the ball more than anybody else does. There is no secret in that. With that, as I just said, having the guards handling the ball more than anybody, they make those decisions. I think a lot of leadership stems from the guard position and if you have good leadership and you have strong guards and the two parallel you have success. I really feel as though there is something to be said about having great guards and going far in the tournament."
(On matching up with Connecticut's guards)
"They have fantastic guards and we have fantastic guards. We both have a unique chemistry with one another in our guard system. I think we match up very well in that area. We are not as tall as Connecticut is all around, but we have a lot of heart and we have a very fresh mentality and good mental approach to the game and I am excited about how we are going to match up."
(On Connecticut as a team)
"While Connecticut is the best team in the country, they are vulnerable just as anybody else is to making mistakes. Connecticut takes a lot of risks. They take as many risks as we do. We will get up and double-team something and there is always somebody open. It is how well you recover and how well you compensate for that void in your defense. Connecticut does that very well, but a couple of times we scored open layups on Connecticut because they left one of our players open. So you see there are glitches in them just as anybody. They might have less, but they're are there, they do exist."
(On Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird)
"They have a great deal of confidence together. They are very in sync with one another they lead their team very well. Sue Bird is their leader hands down. She dictates what happens and when she is on the floor they are a great ball club and when she is not on the floor, they are still a great ball club. Her leadership abilities are terrific. Taurasi compliments her very well. They have a chemistry. I think that they could have their eyes closed and they would know where everyone is on the court, and it's rare in the game. I think (LaNeishea) Caufield and I have it too. I think they lead their team in a special way. Taurasi is a young player, but she plays like a veteran and if you can say that about somebody, it's a pretty big deal."
(On Oklahoma in the past)
"I think I had bed rot. My first year, I was in a state of depression. I was in my room I saw the four walls and just sat there. At the same time, I would go to the gym, and I would have these butterflies churning everyday I went to the gym in my stomach, because I could just see and feel how good we were going to get. It was a constant battle between frustration and absolute joy and absolute anticipation on where we were going to be. I knew we were going to get there, I just didn't know when it would happen. That first year was bleak, it was depressing at times when you would do everything you could to win. I would have to sit on the sidelines because I was injured that year. I would watch us lose and lose and lose. But on the other side of the coin it was 'wow, we are going to be really good, I feel it' and we are here now."
(On getting married, graduating and playing for the national championship)
"We planned to get married in April because the day we are getting married is exactly a year from our engagement. We also, providing that I do go off to the WNBA, we wanted to leave married. We wanted to go off and move in together married so that was the reason behind that day. Everyone is asking me if it is hard to juggle all these priorities and it's not because you know, I feel pretty lucky in my life right now. A lot of people can complain and say that I have all this stuff going on in my life right now, but how often are you going to be able to play for the national championship, get married, graduate in the course of two months, the course of a year. I feel pretty blessed to be able to do that. I am just prioritizing everything. Right now, my most important objective is to help this team win a national championship. After Sunday, I am going to get married and then after that, I am going to graduate so it is just a step by step process."
(Thoughts on match-up with Connecticut)
"The most important thing is to come out early. Connecticut can jump on teams big. We have to stop them the first five minutes. We did that up there (earlier this year) and we have to do it again. The second thing is they'll have runs where they'll score more than we do. We need to have runs of our own where we score more than them. We have to limit their offensive rebounds and give them one shot per possession."
(On playing at Connecticut earlier this year)
"It's definitely an advantage that we played them once; we know what they're good at. We know Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will make difficult shots and that's okay. We don't want to give them any easy shots. We have to make them work for everything they get."
(On their margin of error against Connecticut)
"We don't have to be flawless, but we have to be smart. We can turn the ball over, but not on consecutive possessions. If we do, we have to make a stop on defense."
"They (Connecticut) played really good against Tennessee who is a great team. Everyone expected so much. Connecticut executed well and exploited Tennessee's weaknesses. It's anyone's game tomorrow. Whoever plays best for 40 minutes. Connecticut is not superhuman, they're a great team but they're not unbeatable. Last night they looked really good, but I'm sure they've had bad games; but they haven't been beaten and you have to give them that respect. To be here, it's obvious we are a good team; it's not luck. Connecticut is unbeaten and they deserve the attention they're getting; we would expect the same. So you have to give them credit."
(On being considered the underdog)
"We don't pay much attention to the media, they don't know what it's like on the inside. It's motivation enough to play for your University and your Conference and to be playing for a National Championship. (Playing Connecticut) It takes pressure off of us because no one expects us to win."
"Connecticut is definitely the best team we've faced all year and we've been tested every night in our Conference. I don't think Connecticut has been tested in the Big East. I think if the game is close it could be to our advantage because we play in such a tough conference."
(On tomorrow's game)
"We're not superhuman, it's another basketball game, but it's for the National Championship. It's not going to be about who makes the most shots, but you does the little things like rebounding and passing the best."
(On going to junior college first)
"I was recruited by some teams, but I didn't like the looks I got. Actually, I wasn't planning on playing ball after high school. I wanted to get a job, an apartment and start my little life. My mom wanted me to go to some kind of college and to experience different things. I'm glad I went to junior college because it evolved my game."
"I wanted to be a part of something different. Everyone knows about the UConn's and the Tennessee's, those programs are established. Oklahoma was on the move and I wanted to be a part of something that was on the move."
(On Sunday's match up with UConn)
"We both have good backcourts. Everyone is worried about Sue Bird and (Diana) Taurasi, but Stacey Dales and LaNeishea Caufield are great guards. They don't get the respect that they deserve, but they are just as good as they are. It is going to be a good match up in the backcourt."
"UConn pushes the ball well and they look for each other. Taurasi and Bird work well together and they are strong inside. UConn never goes away, but I don't think it is so much about what they can do, but what we can do against them. Our defense might bother them ... our defense is the key. Offense will come, but defense could turn things around.
(On the last time the two teams met)
"We know we didn't play our A-game the first time. Everybody didn't show up. We have a lot of experience like UConn with the senior leadership, but we have to make sure we play together and don't splinter off from each other. We know we can go out and defend, we just have to do it."
"We didn't shoot well. We had a lot of open looks, but the shots didn't go down and we missed a lot of lay-ups. It wasn't that their defense really bothered us; we just missed a lot of shots. We looked at the tape and just saw how many open looks we missed. But I don't dwell on the past. Sometimes you do have to look to the past to see the future."
"We didn't play good team defense the first time, either. Now we are more mature and everyone is looking to help out on the back cuts and screens. That is going to help us on Sunday."
(On pulling the upset)
"I don't know how people are going to react if we pull it out. I know I am going to be happy. It will be a 'shock the world.' People have given them the title, putting a little UConn thing on it and everything, but Sunday is what it all boils down to ... I know if we come out and play like we did the first time, everyone is will have their wish and UConn will win." More quotes on next page
(On her bad right knee)
"I didn't know when I got to Oklahoma that I had a torn ACL, PCL and Meniscus. I didn't know I had these problems. Doctors said I had weak hamstrings and quads and that was why my knee kept slipping out of joint. I have been playing on it for six years and it is not repaired. It is troublesome and irritating, but just something that I have to go through. I have to put ice on it for 20 minutes to an hour to keep the swelling down, but I am blessed to be able to play. I don't think it is going to get any worse and doctors have told me a lot of things. I am just thankful I can still play and have a lot of speed. I didn't have surgery because this is my senior year and I didn't want to miss it for anything. And, if I try out for the WNBA, I didn't want to miss that first year either."
(On why her mom couldn't make the trip)
"Her boss wouldn't let her off work. She works with autistic kids and I guess he felt like he needed her and I didn't. She loves Oklahoma, though. She loves Stacey and LaNeishea. She calls us her little babies. The reason I am here is because of my parents. She will watch from home and she called me last night."
(On her offense against Duke in the semifinals)
"I don't care about scoring. I just care about winning and what I have to do to help us win. I would rather worry about defense and rebounding. Last night I just got good looks and I took them."
(On her Oklahoma teammates)
"They accepted me with open arms and helped my as much as they could. They let me ask questions and didn't make me feel like I was bothering them. I am thankful for that."
"Everyone brings something different. That's what brings us together. We are so diverse. People thought we wouldn't relate, that's what I thought, but that didn't happen. I have done nothing but become closer to these people. I love them."