March 28, 2002
COACH SHERRI COALE: Well, we are thrilled to death to be in San Antonio. We're very, very proud of our team and the way they performed in the regionals to earn the right to be here. I guess for a minute I'll fluff through here until the circle surrounding Mr. Auriemma breaks up, and the rest of the media is in here. We're 30 seconds into it, and I'm already starting it with him.
We're thrilled to be here; we're in great company; the other teams are terrific teams. Two obviously with great experience in this venue, and us obviously being the annointed new kid on the block. We're loving every second of it, trying to focus on business at hand and ready to get this game going tomorrow night.
Q. Coach Coale, your program almost didn't exist ten years ago. Can you talk about some of the factors and how remarkable it is for you to be here at this point that close to?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I've said countless times over the past ?? I guess three years has been the time period people became suddenly interested in how we were doing this thing. The secret has been the recruitment of great kids, and I completely and totally believe that. We've recruited skilled basketball players. They're good athletes, but the common characteristic that has been enabled us to be successful so quickly is they're great kids. They're unselfish, they are committed to this University.
They came to Oklahoma believing in my vision for the program. And I think the most important thing they did was fell in love with the process of being extraordinary. I think that's crucial, and I think there's a difference with falling in love with the end result and falling in love with the process. They made a commitment to come to the gym every day and get better, and because of that we've done remarkable things.
Q. I'd like to ask you if Duke seems like a mirror image in what you do, in the way they get up and down the floor, and what kind of problems do they present.
COACH SHERRI COALE: I think we're similar. They spread the floor offensively, have a very nice spacing. They pass the ball well. They've got Alana Beard and Monique Currie who can attack the rim extremely well, great three point shooters. In that regard we're similar. There are differences, I suppose, in some of the players. Ironically they only have eight players on their roster, but they might be conceived to be deeper than we are, because all eight of those guys play a lot. They are a finesse team, and they like to run and hit open shots, and in that regard I hope we're similar. That's the way it ought to be played, so I think it's going to be a great game.
Q. Sherri, would you talk about the difficulties of contending with Beard. And any parallels you see with Stacey, both those questions, please.
COACH SHERRI COALE: I'm not sure you stop Alana Beard. You try to take away the things that she loves to do and make her do things that maybe she dislikes to do. She loves to get to the paint. If she gets to the paint you're in trouble. She's a good perimeter shooter, but not a great, great perimeter shooter. Her forte is getting to the rim and finishing around the basket, And she's as good as anybody in the country at that.
The thing I think that probably perplexes me most about Alana Beard is she's such a great kid. It's hard to find a chink in her armor. And she's a great, great kid. I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the summer with her and get to know just what a complete person she is. And who she is on the court is just a slice of who Alana Beard really is.
So when you get that complete package, I look at my guys and I have a bunch of those, and I think it's hard to find chinks in their armor. You slow them and prevent things they want to do, but they're going to be effective in some way, shape or form, I think you can see that. As far as between she and Stacey, both really run the floor well. Both are very good passers.
Alana might not get enough credit for her ability to pass the ball, maybe that's not what you think of first with Alana is that might be what you think of first with Stacey. But they're terrific athletes, gifted athletes, who are both extremely unselfish on the floor and capable of doing just about anything, outside, inside, both can post you up, both are good defenders and rebounders, absolute a lot of similarities there.
Q. This is for Stacey and LaNeishea. If you could talk about the court matchup, a couple of younger players, but very talented, and just going against Currie.
STACEY DALES: We're obviously excited to play a team like Duke. When you get to a point like this in the tournament you're competing against the very best, and those challenges pose a great opportunity for us to be challenged and to expose our strengths and to try to expose their weaknesses. They have some terrific guards, and I think we're both high pressure oriented teams. We like to steal balls and hit some lay ups. It will be great for the fans, and women's basketball, and those challenges are fun to play in.
Q. How important is the senior leadership on this team, and how much is it going to mean having that kind of experience going into this game?
CATON HILL: Since I'm the underclassman represented here, the seniors have been tremendous this year, especially this post season. They've really stepped up and just been determined in playing their best basketball these last couple of games of their career, college career. This game is going to be tremendous. They're going to be against freshmen, sophomore guards, and some of the freshmen, I remember when I was a freshman, you don't know how you're going to face Stacey and just our senior leadership. And they have been just tremendous. Sometimes when I've been shaken and our underclassmen have been shaken, they haven't been shaken at all. So they're doing a great job.
Q. Sherri, talk, if you will, about what Geno and Pat mean to the women's game?
COACH SHERRI COALE: Obviously we're not sitting right now getting ready to play in front of 29,000 people, if Geno and Pat haven't done what they've done, I mean that goes without saying. I think the explosion of women's basketball over the last say 10 to 12 years has been due in large part to a lot of people who are working behind the scenes.
Obviously people who never get mentioned or recognized, but particularly those two coaches have grown this game in ways that couldn't have even been imagined ten years ago, and I think they've both done it in quite different ways, and have been obviously extremely effective in each different approach to building a program and to winning championships. For them to ?? it's kind of the new kids on one half of the brackets, and the old guys on the other. And you guys just put old in big letters for me right there, would you? (Laughter.) They've been through this gig before, they know how all this works. There is an advantage to that, I think, but I think there is also an advantage to where we are. There's a freshness and a hunger and an innocence with it all, if you will, that we're enjoying and planning to ride to the hilt. But I've said this on countless occasions, that not only is the women's game not where it is right now without those two people, Geno and Pat, but on an even more personal basis, I'm not sitting here wearing an Oklahoma shirt and coaching a team in the Final Four without Geno Auriemma. And I told him when we met on the floor at Richmond in the Sweet 16 a couple of years ago, I'm not here without you. And so I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did for me. You didn't get me this job, but you opened the door that allowed me to walk through and get it and I appreciate that. And why me? But I got it for ?? for the rest of my life I've got to be indebted to Geno Auriemma, how fun is that?
Q. Coach, Oklahoma is suddenly been ranked up there with Duke and UConn, especially because this year you have your men's program and women's program in the Final Four. How does that feel and how do you compare to Coach Sampson?
COACH SHERRI COALE: It's an amazing thing to be part of an institution like the University of Oklahoma, where not only this year are both of our teams competing for a National Championship, but we have such a history of winning championships across the board in all athletics. A few years ago our softball team wins the National Championship, and then a football National Championship. Our guys walk around the school with all those people who win championships, and you know what, pretty soon, everybody thinks that's just what we do. That's what we do at the University of Oklahoma, we win championships. The expectations just continue to escalate. It's been so fun going through the season with our men being so successful. There has been a camaraderie developed between the two programs, I think with the depth that hasn't been there before, because we're sharing those experiences. We break into the top ten, and then the top five and they're 2 one week, and we're 3, and the next week we're 2 and they're 3. It's been really, really fun, and I think we've fed off each other. The first football game of the year this past fall, I walked down to the endzone right before kickoff and Coach Sampson came up and said I want to shake your hand. I've never shaken the hand of the No. 1 team in the country. If I could one time in my life I could be No. 1, and you know what, in about four days, he's probably going to be.
Q. What are things like back in Ontario, considering where you are right now?
STACEY DALES: Well, everybody is jumping on the band wagon right now, because in Canada, you have to realize, basketball for women isn't as heavily touted as it is down in the states. I've appreciated the opportunity I've had down here, but there's a lot of attention in Canada, especially in Ontario, I come from a town of 21,000 people, and every sports bar has been packed for our games over the tournament. And we had some late games out west. So I'm thrilled that they're getting the opportunity to see my team ?? our team and enjoy what we've been enjoying for so long with this program, and they're very supportive and I appreciate that.
Q. Coach, two part question, Tillis, how did she get out of the state, and the second question question, her versatility, what does that present to you?
COACH SHERRI COALE: She got out because she wanted to get out. I recruited the he can out of her. She's a great kid, and she wanted to go away from home. You meet those, there are some bound to stay home, and there are some bound to go. And she was bound to go. She's one of these kids that thinks she wants to live in New York City. She'll find out one day Oklahoma is not so bad. But she's a great kid. I enjoyed getting to know her, a very intelligent young lady, a neat mom, wonderful family, it was a great experience. But she was set on going away, and so she's had a great career at Duke, and you know, things work out. You come across kids that I've got to have this one or I'm just going to die. You know what? You don't die. You find another one and it's okay. Her versatility is a problem for everybody, her size, her long arms inside make her difficult to defend if she's able to catch it where she wants to. And her ability to shoot the three also cause people problems. And I think probably the thing that I concentrate most on, and what I prepare them to cover is run the floor. She can really get up and down the floor. If we can match her there, we can handle her in the half court.
Q. Caton, as an underclassmen and all these seniors deserting you after this year, can you talk about the challenge of sustaining what you have accomplished the last few years, in becoming a UConn or Tennessee?
CATON HILL: I think fortunately all our underclassmen had a chance to be with Stacey and LaNeishea. They know what's expected and what this program has come from and what it is now. And Coach Coale, as she said, she recruits girls that want to be successful and want to be good players, and they keep getting better and are good people. When you have those kind of people surrounding you, it's real hard to be unsuccessful, I think. We're getting recruits in, we have ?? it's going to be really hard to replace these people, and I'm going to try not to think about it right now, but we'll be fine. And they'll leave their legacy for us to follow.
Q. I was wondering for the players, Stacey, since I don't want anybody to be looking back and forth, what your first impressions were of playing, practicing out in the Dome, if it will cause any special problems or any special changes?
STACEY DALES: It's very exciting to step on the court today, and get our first practice under way. I think we're very lucky because in the Big 12 we travel so frequently, and we go to so many different states and on so many different courts that we are accustomed to new atmospheres and new environments. So I expect we'll find a certain feeling of comfort and fall into that comfort as we play. This gym is no different than any other gym, chop off half of it (laughter), but it is exciting, just to be a part of the Final Four, it's a very exciting venue, and the attention it receives nationally is pretty spectacular. And we're thrilled to be here. And again, I'm not worried about the atmosphere surveying us in any way, we're very focused.
Q. Sherri, my question was also about Iciss, you said you recruited the heck out of her. Could you elaborate and when did you cut your losses, and say she wants out?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I made her tell me no. I didn't say, oh, she wants to go ?? call me, tell me now. We did the home visit. We did the ?? had her in. I think she came unofficially to a couple of football games. I went and watched her four times a year like I'm allowed to, ever since I got the job. We did all things within legal ramifications, and it boiled down to her saying I love you, I love your program, I just don't see myself at Oklahoma. And I said okay, good luck at Duke, tear out the page and go on.
Q. For LaNeishea, your coach had said earlier that it was great players that have made this program, to take it where it is. What else do you think has gotten Oklahoma to this point?
LANEISHEA CAUFIELD: I agree with her, it has been great players, but it's also been players before us that know how to believe in the program when things weren't going so well, and they stood up to make a way for us, and we had to have faith, and I think that helped our program to be successful.
Q. You guys have done some unconventional things during the tournament with scavenger hunts, things like that, have you got any plans before the game to kind of lessen the pressure on your team?
COACH SHERRI COALE: I can't tell you that, if I told you I'd have to kill you so ?? (laughter).
Q. For the players, several times this morning we've talked about you all being newcomers on the block. How much are you having to guard against just saying wow, we're here, and being satisfied?
STACEY DALES: Well, being the newcomers on the block, it's a thrill for us. But we have that experience, we have that maturity. I think one of the great assets we have is Stacy Hansmeyer. She played for a championship Connecticut team, she played at Connecticut, and was very successful in her career. With her on our staff and in our program she's prepared us very well for what's ahead. And certainly our coaches have prepared us very well. Our approach to this tournament has been to have fun, to enjoy ourself, to be immersed in the process and not let all the other things affect us. If you enjoy the process, I think we'll be okay, and that's what we're doing.
Q. Stacey, I was wondering if you could talk about LaNeishea, and does her defense remind you of a hockey goalie. And Sherri, could I also ask you, to talk about LaNeishea and her role in the post season and guarding?
STACEY DALES: She has a sixth sense on the court. She has this very unique, innate ability to steal the ball, to put herself in a situation where she can steal the ball and to maneuver in such a way that she makes things happen. She's a team player in every aspect and at the same time she can do things on her own that amaze you. And she does that for us. She creates a great deal of energy for us, and she enables us to get out to the open court, which we like to do.
COACH SHERRI COALE: In her role in the tournament, is that your question? You know, I've said this all along, and you've covered us all year, so you know, LaNeishea sometimes I think is the unsung hero. I know she gets local publicity, and some, too, on a national extent. Most of it's defensive related, people talk about her as being the great defensive stopper, and I think she was Women's Basketball Journal Player of the Year, and that's sort of her reputation. I'm not sure how accurate that is, however. She was unbelievable, particularly in the second half against Colorado. The thing about LaNeishea is she is so versatile. That has been I think an evolvement over her four years here. When we recruited here, she was a post player, and everybody said is she going to guard, where are you going to play her and our pat answer was she'll play wherever she wants to play and she can guard whoever she wants, because we thought she was that good. But really in the last two seasons, she's developed a very consistent perimeter shot. And her decisionmaking process has evolved. She knows when to and when not to, when to pass and when to pull up and just doesn't make very many mistakes due to hesitancy anymore. She has a very sure way of looking at her offensive game. She gives people matchup problems, because if you're not quick enough she'll take you up at the rim. She's a great weapon, because she can become a chameleon for us.
Q. LaNeishea, this is a matchup of the best ball.
Q. One of the things that Beard does is she's left?handed, and most of the people she guards are right?handed, so her dominant hand is going in on the ball. What is your knack that you're making all these steals, you're setting people up, what are you doing to get all the steals?
LANEISHEA CAUFIELD: I just try to anticipate. You have to have the fundamentals in defense, and Coach Coale is always having us have ready hands, ready feet and stance, and all the little things that most people don't pay attention to, it's just that and playing hard.
Q. Sherri, when you went to UConn, two years ago, you ?? can you talk about how your program has changed since the game two years ago?
COACH SHERRI COALE: Connecticut has the reputation of going to help people build their programs. I believe that, and I think that's a compliment. And hopefully we get to the point where we do that for other programs, as well. They came to Oklahoma, obviously to bring Stacey home, to play in front of her home crowd. We had 10,731 people there, not that I remember exactly, but it was a big deal. Walked out the tunnel and there were people in the upper deck, all the way to the top. It was a big deal. I don't know that we do that if it's not Connecticut being there. To win some battles, lose some battles, place the second half straight up, get beat by 16, that was a ?? it was a moral victory. And I know coaches are supposed to say I despise moral victories, trust me, you find every victory you can find when you're building. We left out of Reno going, we're not where they are yet, but we're not that far away. And it was a big, big, impetus for our confidence. And ironically we end up seeing them in the Sweet 16 again that year.
Q. Talk about playing together, what it's been like over the last four years, your chemistry together?
LANEISHEA CAUFIELD: It's been really great playing with Stacey. When we first got here I remember the first practice we were having, and just getting accustomed to one another. She threw a ball and hit me in the face. And the rest of the practice I was going around the court with my hands up. And over the years throughout the seasons just playing with her, we've gotten more accustomed to one another, now she can make a pass, and before I can get to the spot where I'm cutting, our chemistry has developed so well. And it's been great playing with her. She's an excellent passer as well as an excellent shooter. She's big, a tall guard, so she plays defense, and some shorter guys that can't shoot over her, she can post up, so she's really versatile.
STACEY DALES: LaNeishea and I compliment each other great. She pretty much said everything I was going to say, we know each other so well. Just having the opportunity to have somebody on the team to make me so much better, like LaNeishea. A lot of people talk about my passing, but if there's nobody at the receiving end to catch those, I don't get those assists, we don't get those points, we're not ahead by as many points, et cetera, et cetera. So LaNeishea and I have a great chemistry, and it's been a pleasure to play with her. I hope to finish off in a nice fashion.
COACH SHERRI COALE: LaNeishea said she used to run down the courts like this, Stacey first two years, the fans did that, also. She's cleaned it up. It's always been exciting.
STACEY DALES: There's an ambulance on hand, security guards hated me.
COACH SHERRI COALE: It's been phenomenal to have these guys together. And I think each of them embodies the trait that goes along with truly great players, and that is that they make the people on the floor around them better. When you've got two guys like that on your team, the ceiling just gets busted off of your capabilities. The sky's the limit, how good can you get? The great thing about these two guys is they had to play a lot early on, which was difficult. It was a blessing and a curse, simultaneously. They had to play through, when they were bad, look down the bench, you're still my best option, even though you're bad, let's keep playing. They didn't get the luxury of having Dionnah Jackson watching it correctly and being able to model herself. I would explain it to you it needed to be done, and they had to figure it out and put it together. It's not an easy thing to do. The blessing side has been that now they can finish one another's sentences. Motion offense can be as good as the minds that run it. I love playing basketball that way, because there is no limit to how good you can get. With our motion, you know, the very best plays we ever run are the ones I have no idea they're coming, something happens, and that was good, way to go. When they're on, that's what happens. And I sit down and enjoy the show, which is exactly what happened in the second half against Colorado. That only happens because these guys mostly intellectually have immersed themselves in the process of learning how to play this game. That's been a rewarding thing to watch. When they play together the way we did in Boise, that's about as good as it gets. I think playing Sunday night would be maybe as good as it gets, but that was close.
Q. We talked to your mom yesterday and she said that you've always been driven, you've always been focused, you're always looking for new challenges, and a perfectionist. Beyond this weekend, what's next for you both on and off the court?
STACEY DALES: Wow, I haven't thought much beyond, to be honest. I've been immersed in what we're doing, this entire season. And particularly the NCAA tournament. If I have to jump ahead, obviously the WNBA draft is coming up, and there's a wonderful opportunity in that, and I am getting married. So there's a lot of stuff going on. But I've really tried to prioritize everything, and those things are secondary to this team right now. This team is a very special team. I love my teammates, I love my coaches. We have a very special thing, and I'm savoring it, and I'm not going to jump anywhere, every minute that goes by, I'm going to take hold of and enjoy.