No. 4 Sooners prepare for Sweet 16 appearance versus Pittsburgh.
March 28, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The top-seeded University of Oklahoma women's basketball took to the Ford Center court Saturday in preparation for its Sweet 16 appearance.
The Sooners worked out for one hour in front of about 200 spectators and the media.
Oklahoma meets fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Sunday night at approximately 9 p.m., following the game between Purdue and Rutgers. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
"Thrilled to be back in Oklahoma City," OU head coach Sherri Coale said in an afternoon news conference. "Thrilled to be still competing in the NCAA tournament and excited about everything except that weather we have outside!"
OU returns to the site of one of its marquee wins this year when it defeated Tennessee, 80-70, on Feb. 2.
Sunday, the Sooners will face a talented Panther lineup led by guard Shavonte Zellous, whose 22.8 per game scoring is sixth best in the NCAA.
"Shavonte is as good as any guard in the country," Coale said. "The greatest player comparison would be Andrea Riley. She has a nice pull-up jumper and she gets to the free-throw line.
"If she is not number one in the country for attempts, she is right there, averages around 10 free throws a game, so a real conundrum for you defensively to figure out how to contain and contest her."
Pittsburgh's size in the post may also present a challenge to Oklahoma.
"You watch 'em on film and you see that they have interior size, but walking past 'em in the hallway caught my attention. They're powerful. Obviously they play in a tremendous conference, so they're accustomed to facing big, powerful centers. They know how to own the paint and guard their area and attack and score there.
"We play in a great league as well, and we've faced some great centers as well, so it won't be necessarily anything different from what we've seen, but they are big."
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Oklahoma News Conference Quotes
MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Coale from Oklahoma, your opening thoughts?
COACH COALE: Thank you so much, thrilled to be back in Oklahoma City. Thrilled to be still competing in the NCAA tournament and excited about everything except that weather we have outside!
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about Pitt's size on the inside and how obviously you have size with Courtney, but talk about that match-up unfolding.
COACH COALE: I think it's interesting that you asked me that question first because we just passed by the Pitt team stretching in the hallway, seriously, they're huge!
You watch 'em on film and you see that they have interior size, but walking past 'em in the hallway caught my attention. They're powerful. Obviously they play in a tremendous conference, so they're accustomed to facing big, powerful centers. They know how to own the paint and guard their area and attack and score there.
We play in a great league as well, and we've faced some great centers as well, so it won't be necessarily anything different from what we've seen, but they are big.
Q. Can you give us an update on Amanda. Can you talk about the challenges that Shavonte poses to you?
COACH COALE: Amanda is day-to-day, we will go through shooting today, as much as we can limit her no nongame activity. The more extensive she can be in game time activity.
Shavonte is as good as any guard in the country. The greatest player comparison would be Andrea Riley, she has a nice pull-up jumper, and she gets to the pro line, if she is not number one in the country for attempts, she is right there, averages around 10 free throws a game, so a real conundrum for you defensively to figure out how to contain and contest her.
Q. Obviously Whitney is back, but I wanted to ask you about the fact that when a player goes out of the lineup and say out for three or four games and then comes back, maybe disruption is not the right word, but how does the team go through replacing the player and playing without her and then she comes back and you have to reacclimate.
COACH COALE: You have to continue to manufacture rhythm, and that's incredibly important at this time of the year. If you think about what Nyeshia Stevenson has been asked to do, move into the starting lineup after having an effective season in the role of the sixth man, she shared the award of the sixth man with Melissa Jones in the Big 12 Conference, move a kid to a starting role, we need you to make threes, run the lanes, use your speed to get to the rim, but it feels different. It just feels different.
It's one of those subtleties about the game. So we asked her to move into a starting role, and then when Whitney comes back we move her back into the six-man role, and she gets accustomed to that, and Amanda goes out and we put her right back into the starting lineup again.
So there has been an assembly line of rhythm creation going on during our practices, and Nyeshia deserves credit for the way she has stayed mentally tough through it all. Whitney deserves credit for being the master of her own confidence, her own state of mind.
It is not an easy thing to be a true freshman, break your finger, come back in and be asked to pick up where you left off. I think what we saw from Whitney was a kid trying to make up for the games she missed all at once. Everything went too fast, every cut, every shot, every use of screen, even every defensive dig step, that was an over exaggeration of everything.
Because of the minutes she has been able to log in the past three or four games, she has played back into a nice rhythm and that's great news for us.
Q. Sherri, I wanted to ask you about a couple of bench players who have improved their play with injured players, and that's Vining and Roethlisberger.
COACH COALE: Absolutely, Jenny came in and anchored us from behind the 3-point line at the close of season and in the Big 12 tournament as well. So I think that confidence she gained in those minutes, very important minutes in big-time games make us tougher here at tournament time.
And I think Carlee's readiness, which stems from great, great practice to be able to step in and give what you say we needed in Amanda's absence, we need her size and length, that softened us at the four spot, even though Amanda typically plays a three.
As we brought and moved Amanda down, when we lost her, we lost a four as well, so Carlee and Jenny continue to play big roles there, and I think their performance tomorrow night will be critical.
Q. Sherri, you talked about the kids being able to sleep in their beds an extra night. Does it feel any different that you are playing so close to home at this point in the tournament?
COACH COALE: It feels a little bit different today because we just got her, but the thing about it, it doesn't matter where you are, and to a great extent it doesn't matter as much who you are playing as it does can you be the best you can be? That's the whole sense of the NCAA tournament.
If you can continue to call forth your continued play in the tournament, that's the reason we're all here is because we have done that. I don't think it matters where you do that. As soon as we take the floor, it will feel like the Sweet 16 and we will know what is required of us.
Q. Sherri, these crowds the next few games, if they are as big as they look like they could be, you guys could shatter records for a regional. What would that mean to you to see that possibly happening in Oklahoma City and in Oklahoma?
COACH COALE: Well, I hope you're right. I haven't seen any projections, so I don't know what the attendance expectations are. I know what they are internally. But it would be incredibly rewarding.
And I speak for a moment as the president of the WBCA and not necessarily just as the head coach at the University of Oklahoma when I say one of our missions, maybe the center most, is to continue to grow this game in terms of exposure and attendance, and at the top of that list would be student-athlete experience.
When a student-athlete wins the right to play in the NCAA tournament, and especially earns the right to compete in the Sweet 16, you should feel it in your bones. I watched the games on television this morning, and I felt sad for those teams to have to compete in an environment where it doesn't feel like the NCAA tournament.
Hopefully the people of Oklahoma will fill up the Ford Center Sunday and Tuesday. And for all of the student-athletes competing at this site, they will have the ultra competitive experience.
Q. Sherri, talk about the second half you guys had against Tech and what you hope will propel you into this game?
COACH COALE: I felt like we got lost in every possession of the second half and I thought that was the difference. So much at this stage in the game is being lost in the moment.
I think forgetting about trying to win and focusing on the play at hand is important. I felt like in the first half we started off great and missed a few shots. It sucked the life out of us and we looked around and start thinking, oh no, what if we don't do this, what if this happens? Uh oh.
And fortunately we could shut those up and talk about it at halftime, and I thought Danielle's leadership, she and Whitney together, their body language, their facial expressions, and the way they led their team was just fantastic.
And we hung on to the lead and still missed shots down the stretch, shots we're going to have to make Sunday night in order to advance, but I liked the way we played together, the way we competed.
Q. For those of us who don't get to see Courtney play all the time or hardly ever live, talk about the things she does really well, how would you describe her as a player? She has good size and whatnot, but what are the things she exceeds at and makes her such a tough match-up?
COACH COALE: Gifted hands, I always start there, she can catch anything. She is a tremendous rebounder partly because she has the gift of touch and she can tip it to herself and come up with it. Agile, graceful for a kid her size and unbelievably strong and powerful.
She is relentless, and if you commit to blocking her out as many teams have done throughout this season and the previous three as well, many times we have seen opponents to not even having the player responsible for Courtney try to rebound, just guard her, keep her from getting to the rim.
Even when you do that it, becomes a difficult thing to sustain because she wears you out. She is so relentless in her pursuit of the basketball, and I think that's what makes her most dangerous.
Q. Sherri, tomorrow is going to be quite a day for University of Oklahoma basketball, your game in Oklahoma City, Jeff's squad in the regional squad for a right to the Final Four, can you remember a day like this?
COACH COALE: I don't know if it gets better than that, you might have to ask Joe that question, we thought our men were fabulous last night, dismantled a Syracuse team.
We would like to be a little more focused on Pitt at the moment. They will be playing U of Carolina, but that's why you have TiVo, we'll go home and watch it later.
Q. Sherri, maybe you can put your WBCA hat back on. It seems remarkable in the men's tournament if somebody was playing an hour away from home, the other team will be raising holy heck about that. And in the women's tournament there have been some teams lose on another team's court. The fact about growing the game and everybody kind of goes ahead and does it and there is no complaining, is that a remarkable thing about the players and coaches, that they just say, okay, this is what we got to do and they do it?
COACH COALE: Well, remarkable, yes. I think -- I think first of all you have to step back and understand from a big, open perspective what our mission is, what we're trying to accomplish.
We want a fantastic atmosphere for our student-athletes, these young women deserve that. At the same time we're trying to grow the game and increase attendance, we're trying to televise games, we have a lot of objectives that are trying to be accomplished.
Here is what you need to look at, though. When you look at our tournament, yes, people could be hollering, if you will, about the fact that Duke had to go to Michigan State and they got upset there. Well, you know what? Notre Dame had to play in South Bend and they got beat there, too.
The list almost evened itself out, and I think this is where the public makes a case that's not realistic is if there are 15,000 people screaming in an arena, it might become home court advantage.
Sometimes they don't necessarily present themselves that way, so it's not as if that particular scenario, the one that we hope happens tomorrow night, it's not as if that is the case everywhere you go. But I think the important part, Wendell, is coaches and student-athletes are striving to have not a competitive, equitable NCAA tournament, but we're striving to improve our game.
And you have to have parity, and it's a gingerly fence that you stride upon in terms of building that. What we have seen this year is a lot of stuff we haven't seen before, look at the upsets, home court or not, and that's not really the issue. There were more new faces, more new teams going deeper in the tournament this year than I can remember. That is a positive reflection on the growth of our sport.
Q. Sherri, talk about Shavonte and the problems she poses for you guys.
COACH COALE: She's really good. Really good. I like her game, I like the way she not only gets the production from herself and expects the production of herself, but the way she involves her teammates with her.
I think that makes her incredibly dangerous and she is not surrounded by four guys that watch her play, she is surrounded by four guys that play with her, which is why Pitt is in the Sweet 16. I think it's her ability to get to the rim that gives you some problems, and I don't know that we've seen a kid elevate on a jump shot quite the way she does.
She is a good-sized guard, and when she stops on a dime and jumps up, she is over you and you have to bring help that has size. She is a total package, particularly offensively, and she competes on both ends of the floor, but offensively she is a problem.
Q. Danielle, talk about you guys playing so close to home, sleeping in your own beds, does it feel different being at this point in the NCAA and being in the comforts of home?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: We're definitely excited to be in the City, but then again it's like being on the road, because we're not sleeping in our own beds, we're in a hotel, but we have the comfort of having tons of our fans in the stands, and I think that's what makes this section so different.
Q. Courtney, if you are able to, can you go through the season in segments a little bit, preconference, conference, the postseason and chart the team's progress along the way?
COURTNEY PARIS: Oh my gosh. Well, I think -- this is going to be general, but we started off pretty well. Our defense, I know starting off we had a little bit of defensive pride issues, and I think we've improved on that as the season has gone on.
Had some hard games up front, lost to UNC at home by one, had that Connecticut game, learned a lot about ourselves there. I don't know, we just keep trying to get better every day.
Q. Whitney, what was it like having the injury, sitting out and then coming back? Was it as much a mental challenge as getting healthy and getting your hand healed to come back?
WHITNEY HAND: I think so. Anytime you're out of the season, it's more frustrating and you're chomping at the bit to get back.
At the same time, it was good for me personally to get things back in perspective. I think for everybody we just -- I mean, we have all grown together these last couple of weeks through the injuries, and we had many injuries and having to fight through those mentally and getting over that made us stronger as a whole.
Q. Courtney and Danielle, talk a little bit about how important the bench play is going to be this weekend.
COURTNEY PARIS: I think that's real important and it's been our X-factor, Jenny has been knocking down shots and Carlee had two really good games. We're going to need that.
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Especially in this game, it's going to be great for us, for Nyeshia to hit shots.
Q. Whitney, Coach said when you did come back, it was like you wanted to get all of those games back at once. Was that the feeling? It was tough to get back into the rhythm that you were playing in before?
WHITNEY HAND: Yeah. The first couple of games were terrible, and I think it was just because I was going so fast and trying to speed things up, and it was the Big 12 tournament plus not playing for two weeks and the adrenaline, so it was obvious that I was inexperienced in that. But I'm glad we are here now and it's a new start.
Q. Danielle, talk about Shavonte Zellous, and Coach Coale compared her to Andrea Riley, is that what you would say?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: I think she has a great shot like Andrea Riley, she is a great player, been through it multiple times, and she is a leader for her and they feed off of her, so I think her demeanor and the way she plays definitely sparks their team.
Q. Danielle, the Noble Center, you are probably excited about the men's performance last night, are you going to get to watch the North Carolina game tomorrow?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: We get back like four from somewhere and get to watch the game. Definitely excited, they played extremely well last night and we're proud of 'em and ready to join 'em.
Q. Courtney, you obviously are one of the more dominant inside players in the country. Can you talk about Pitt's size and whether or not you like matching on them, 6-5, 6-6, and 6-1, do you like matching up against players like that?
COURTNEY PARIS: Definitely not going to have a choice tomorrow. We were walking by 'em in the hall and they're bigger and taller than I thought they were, but we have that size in our league, Kansas has a really tall girl so we're used to that stuff.
Q. Whitney, you're sitting up there with a couple of cagey veterans, a year ago you were in high school and now you're sitting in a press conference in the Sweet 16, what does that feel like?
WHITNEY HAND: It's weird, my mom called me last night and she was crying, and she was -- I remember we were -- don't quote me on that, please --
THE MODERATOR: It's a little late!
WHITNEY HAND: My sisters were sad that Kansas State lost out because they are huge fans, and I remember -- all of us remember -- it was weird because I didn't make a bracket this year, and she was getting emotional and it was a little weird. (Chuckles.)
Q. Danielle, how does this team play a 40-minute game in the postseason? You had two first halves you would like to have back in the tournament and two fantastic second halves, but what can you guys do to turn it on from the start?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: It's more mental than anything. From the beginning you have to mentally focus and prepare. Our coaches do a great job scouting the team, it's all about us making the decision to come out there and get a good jump.
Q. Danielle, is it a distraction playing this close to home?
DANIELLE ROBINSON: I don't think so at all. It's great that our families get to come out and be here to support us, along with the thousands of fans that are going to come out. I think we are excited about the opportunity that we have to play so close to home.
Q. Courtney, you guys talked about wanting to get back here because of the fans and after the way you went out in the Big 12. Talk about that.
COURTNEY PARIS: That was last year, we wanted to get back here. I think we have great fans, not just our fans but women's basketball fans in general, and it will be cool to play in front of them and it's great that we have this opportunity.
MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you very much and good luck tomorrow night.