Oklahoma meets media, tunes up for Purdue Monday afternoon.
March 30, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Top-seeded Oklahoma was back on the Ford Center court Monday afternoon for a 1 1/2 hour practice session to prepare for its Elite Eight matchup versus sixth-seeded Purdue.
The Sooners and Boilermakers will meet Tuesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
OU head coach Sherri Coale and the Sooners' starting five met with the media before practice and discussed the upcoming matchup.
A major topic of discussion off the dais was the incredible support of the Sooner fans Sunday night and, to a woman, each player agreed that it played a large part in the team's successful night.
"I didn't know it makes a huge impact for us," Nyeshia Stevenson said, "but on the free throw line, one of the girls was like, 'we have to play against all of these fans, come on!' So they do add to the game and it's so much fun to be here."
The Sooners then took to the hardwood, practicing how to play against a tall, athletic team in Purdue.
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Oklahoma Monday News Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Coach Coale, Whitney Hand is here, Courtney Paris and Ashley Paris will be here in a few moments, Danielle Robinson and Nyeshia Stevenson at the end. Coach your comments about last night?
COACH COALE: Obviously very proud of our team, proud of our efforts.
Excited to still be alive and to have an opportunity to face a very, very good Purdue team tomorrow night in what we hope is a record crowd for women's basketball in the state of Oklahoma.
Q. Ashley, talk about being one win away from going to the Final Four.
ASHLEY PARIS: It's amazing, and last night on the way to the media I was talking to Danielle and Whitney about it. They just don't understand how hard it's been since I've been here to get past the Sweet Sixteen and the feeling was unreal. And for them it's like, "we're in the Elite Eight" -- it's a huge deal, it's amazing!
Q. Whitney, your experience in all of this for the first time? What did you take to heart from Ashley and Courtney?
WHITNEY HAND: She told us that she was jealous of us last night as we were walking up, because this is our first time and, I mean, this is incredible. It's an incredible feat. There are eight teams left and we're one of the lucky few that get to practice another day.
We won and survived, and you can't take any day for granted because you don't know how long you're going to be able to be here, so I'm just thankful to get to play with them a little longer.
Q. Ashley, following up on the first question, how much does it mean for you to be an important part of it, the work you've put in in the off-season and to have gotten to this point? What does it mean to you?
ASHLEY PARIS: Personally it means a lot. Obviously to play for a national championship and win a national championship is the dream I had when I was a little girl, so to be this close to it is just amazing.
Just being able to shed some weight in the off-season and working on my game and my confidence, I feel like it's paid off for my team and I'm able to contribute enough for us to be at this point, so it means a lot.
Q. Nyeshia, Ashley and Whitney, what's the progress of getting better and the focus you have to have to improve on what's already a good product?
NYESHIA STEVENSON: I would have to say focus on the little things, trying to get to where we are now, focus on the things from November and focus now. There is no trying to get better, you can get better anyway.
ASHLEY PARIS: It's focusing on the little things and fine-tuning things. I feel personally at this point it's more about how we are together and how we act on the court and how we believe in each other. Just how we are together trying to fight through this.
WHITNEY HAND: Yeah, I mean, Coach always says there is no such thing as insignificant, bad or good days. And I think at this point every second matters, every second that we're together as a team in the hotel and every second we're out on the court as a group getting better, so I think they're exactly right.
Q. Nyeshia, your role has changed dramatically over the last three weeks, first with the injury to Whitney and then the injury to Amanda. Talk about shuffling in and out of the starting rotation.
NYESHIA STEVENSON: It's been a little weird, it's not like I haven't played this position. I just get to come out and do it a little earlier than usual.
My teammates rely on me to step up and makeup for some of it, but I rely on them also to help me and they've embraced me a lot in this role and I really do appreciate them for that.
Q. Nyeshia, Ashley and Whitney, last night you all played in front of 11,000 cheering fans. You will probably have more fans on Tuesday night. How much does that help in a big-game environment like this?
NYESHIA STEVENSON: I think it means a lot. Our fans are awesome, and for them to be here with us fighting the fight with us, knowing that we have one more game just to get to the Final Four, it's awesome. And we really do appreciate our fans and we love them as much as they love us.
ASHLEY PARIS: I've always said it in general, I think we have some of the best women's basketball fans. I think they would still show up even if we weren't playing here. Walking out there and seeing 10,000 fans sitting cheering for you, we're definitely spoiled, and I feel sorry for the other teams, really.
I didn't know it makes a huge impact for us, but on the free throw, one of the girls was like, "we have to play against all of these fans, come on!" So they do add to the game and it's so much fun to be here.
WHITNEY HAND: I think it's a lot of fun. When you take visits to the school and other conferences, they have 2,000, 3,000, you're like, this is all right, it's girls' basketball, and at Oklahoma it's 12,000 people at every game.
This is incredible, but it's not unique for us, we're used to playing in front of this many people, because it doesn't matter if it's exhibitions or regional finals, they're going to be here supporting us, that's what makes our fans so special.
Q. Whitney, for the thousandth time, would you talk about dealing with your finger? Does it hurt now? Do you change the way you catch the ball? Do you think about it at this point?
WHITNEY HAND: At this point, no. I think when I first came back, I think I let it affect me a little too much. I was weary, maybe, and we tried some things, like putting padding on it, to the point that I couldn't dribble.
And I think that I kind of overdid it maybe just being precautious, but right now it's feeling great, I'm catching it normally, and it's not even really a factor in my mind at this point.
Q. Courtney and Ashley, when you guys decided to come to Oklahoma, it wasn't too long after they had been in the national championship game. Do you guys recall watching that game in 2002? Had you thought about comparisons between that team and this team?
COURTNEY PARIS: I remember watching that game, but I had no idea I would be coming to Oklahoma. Just thinking back on it, I'm glad to be in the position we are now and hopefully we can get back there and do what they did.
ASHLEY PARIS: Like Courtney said, I watched that game, but I never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would be here.
I think what's similar between our team and their team, Coach talks about the way they were together and the way they buckled down and got through it. I feel like we feed off of that and learned from that, and obviously Coach has been there and having her here to tell us how to do it is huge for us.
Q. Courtney and Ashley, to follow up, was it the force of Sherri's personality that got you here? It doesn't seem like it's a natural thing to go from the Bay Area to Norman. What was it about her that attracted you to come here?
COURTNEY PARIS: I think there were a lot of factors in getting us to come here. I loved the people that were here, the players and the whole staff.
We were always watching the games, and I don't know who you guys were playing, but this is when I was first sold as Coach Coale as a coach, and they were beating somebody on the Big 12 and they were missing a ton of layups, and she made a comment and I thought "I want to play for that coach."
Q. Do you remember what it was?
COURTNEY PARIS: It was just funny. It was funny but it -- they were winning, but they were missing layups, but they were still playing well, and I can't remember what it was exactly, but I just know I was like, okay.
ASHLEY PARIS: I don't know what Courtney is talking about -- (laughs.) I think just really more so than -- Coach Coale isn't the typical recruiter, she is not going to tell you what you want to hear and all that great stuff.
They're just honest and the people around them, and coming here, it's a family atmosphere, I think that's what sold me. And I didn't know any of these girls were coming when I first came here, but I had her faith in ability to put good people around me and around the program.
Q. Courtney, I wanted to ask you about Danielle. When did you see her getting the confidence she is playing with now? Is there any way that you can describe things that maybe people wouldn't see that shows why she is a better point guard this year, maybe not in the box score, but how she leads you guys?
COURTNEY PARIS: Definitely, she came in from high school last year and had to lead a team. That's a hard thing to do, in any position, let alone the point guard position, and knowing what everybody else has to do.
I know she has a lot of the little meetings, point guard meetings with Coach Coale. (Chuckles.) I remember this summer her putting in time in the gym and her confidence is the biggest thing. She is sure now and it's not just for herself, but we look at her and she's okay, so we feel like, okay, we're okay. So that's the huge thing.
Q. (No microphone.)
COURTNEY PARIS: I think when we started preseason and practices we could see the difference.
Q. Courtney and Ashley, now that you guys have been here four years, talk about how you've seen Coach Coale grow as a coach.
COURTNEY PARIS: Could she get any taller? (laughs.) I don't know. I love the way she deals with people and she knows how to read the situation. I love what she's done with our point guards and building up D-Rob's confidence.
I love our individual workouts and how she challenges people, and you could be playing horrible and she tells you, "hey, here is what you need to do" and she keeps you accountable and I love that.
I don't know, I think of anything this year, I think this is for offensively our assistants, but it may have been just me being younger, not believing that things were going to work, but every single time this year we bring down a scout, I'm like, "wow, I believe in this" and we just have to follow through with the plan.
ASHLEY PARIS: I don't know how she's grown, but I know that she has helped me grow. Like Courtney said, she is able to adjust with you and help you with just the next stage of your life and basketball in general.
Q. Ashley and Danielle, talk about Purdue. Do they compare to any team that you've played this year, whether in the Big 12 or nonconference?
ASHLEY PARIS: I was talking to Courtney and another teammate about this, they compare to like a Baylor, when Danielle Wilson was out there, they have the Rayburn girl who comes off the bench and is able to contribute a lot, just like Melissa Jones and a great post presence, athletic, good rebounders can drive and play the high post and all around solid guards and obviously good coaching.
DANIELLE ROBINSON: Their point guard is quick, their shooters like to get out and run behind her. Like Ashley talked about, they have a solid post presence and two seniors that are leading them in the post and they play together. They compete and play hard and that's what makes them so great and that's what got 'em here.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you very much. Questions for the Coach?
Q. Sherri, do you have a general job description for your point guard? How does Danielle fit into that? Also, has that description changed?
COACH COALE: The general job description is "Everything is your fault. Everything that goes wrong is your fault; fix it, make it right, you're in charge." It's a big thing, because being a point guard is more than distributing the basketball, it's more than getting your teammates in the proper place at the proper time.
It's a whole ball of intangibles that the really great ones possess, and it's a way you walk and a look that you have on your face and a way in which you communicate with others. You are the instiller of hope in your teammates.
It is your responsibility to arrive at the gym with their best game in your eyes. We talk about that in the most specific of ways, getting the ball to the action, getting it below the free throw line, being able to feed a post player.
The most specific things to the most general things, being the first one off the floor to greet your teammates, all kinds of stuff. It's a big development, leadership position and your work is never done. You can never get good enough at it.
Q. How does Danielle fit into that?
COACH COALE: Gosh, I love the kid. If every kid were as coachable as Danielle Robinson, you could do this until you're 99 years old. It's unbelievable, her hunger and her sense of personal accountability, her willingness to take things and learn from them.
I always tell our guys the world is divided into two kinds of people, learners and non-learners, you either do or you don't and the learners get to keep succeeding. Danielle Robinson is a learner, she'll make a list in her notebook after practices, this is what I did well, this is what I need to do better.
And as a result of that, she is just a sophomore and one of the best point guards in the country. And I'm excited to watch her because I don't think she is near her ceiling yet.
Q. Coach, talk about the factors you think are prevalent in getting ready for Purdue in such a short period of time? What's most important?
COACH COALE: Well, I think maturity level is the first thing that I come to, and that you have to be able to immediately switch gears and fine-tune your focus and look at exactly at your opponent and what you need to do to win.
At this stage in the game everybody is good. Everybody does a lot of things that are difficult to defend and everybody give us problems on the other end of the floor. What you have to do is decide what is that one or two -- maybe those one or two areas where we can be successful, exploit something, take advantage somewhere.
And your players have to be mature enough to be able to grasp that and keep that singular focus. It's not unlike some of the situations we've created for our team throughout the year. We jumped on an opportunity to play a big Monday game following a Saturday game for this very reason. So we could figure out how to turn the page and go to the next opponent. Big 12 tournament puts in you a position to have experience with this type of thing. It's not necessarily out of the norm for our guys.
Q. Sherri, Danielle has put together three really nice games in the NCAA tournament, but probably what stands out for me is her assists and turnover ratio, it's 2 to 1.
COACH COALE: That is something that would make her grin from ear to ear, it's a big deal for her and for me and obviously for us.
What Danielle has done so well is she has played at the right speed, and it's such an easy thing to say and everybody goes, "that makes sense ." It's a hard thing to do unless you've been out there doing it, facing different types of defenses. You don't understand what a big deal it is.
Danielle plays at the speed she prefers to play at, not the speed that the defense wants her to play at and that's all the difference in the world.
Q. Sherri, maybe it's inevitable that I ask you this, but the only other time you've been here is your run in 2002. Would you compare and contrast the teams? How they approach the game and how they got to this point?
COACH COALE: We got all the way to 2:04 before I got that one? I think that's impressive. I think there are similarities because it's a hard thing to do.
You don't get to this level unless you have leadership, unless you have toughness, unless you have unity, unless you have chemistry. Those things, I think, are consistent and you could probably look at the teams that remain in this tournament and say they share some of those same qualities. Because I don't think you can just get here by being good, that's not enough, you have to have some special things.
Other than that, there are lots of differences. There are differences in that that 2002 team, we were scratching and clawing on the walls and saying -- it makes me think of the gymnast who looked into the camera, you know, and said "Here I come. Look out, world."
We were trying to get noticed, we were trying to get on the map, we were trying to be for real. If you do this thing right, once you are for real and you do get noticed, you're never in that position again.
I was speaking earlier and talking about how much fun I had during my son's high school basketball season this year, and they went into the playoffs and they weren't supposed to win a game and they were "David" and everybody they faced was the "Goliath."
And everybody they faced they were the underdog, and I had so much fun as a mom. And I had forgotten how much it feels different, because we're always supposed to win now, and this is where we're supposed to be. And I think it's important that we remind our kids and our staff that it's a hard thing to do and a special thing to do and we need to enjoy it.
In that vain, I think the similarities are strong. These guys are really enjoying their time together, here not finished playing basketball together. That was the thing in 2002 when we sat in the locker room, we cried like babies after the loss to Connecticut, but it wasn't because we lost, it was because the journey was over.
Q. Sherri, I wanted to ask you about Ashley. What was the genesis of her deciding to get in better shape? Did she come and talk to you, did you talk to her? How much of an impact do you think that had on the team in general to see a player that had fairly good success kind of rededicate herself coming into her last season?
COACH COALE: It was a personal decision on her behalf. Doesn't matter how much any of the rest of us had talked before or then or challenged or whatever you want to say, it was a personal decision. And what followed that is the action.
I tell our guys, sometimes if three frogs are sitting on a log and one decides to jump off, how many are still sitting on the log? Still three, just because you decided to do it doesn't mean you've done anything yet. And she did it, and I thought it was incredibly inspirational to her teammates.
Every time preseason got hard, they looked around and said if she can do that, I can run the hill. The resonating affects go on and on and on, and when she continues to keep it off and improve throughout the season, it deepens that belief and that trust those guys have in each other. It's commitment, and commitment is contagious.
Q. Sherri, did you go to the Oklahoma games in the '89, '90 games when they were averaging 69 fans, and when they dropped the program, did you raise hell from your position? And what made you want to take the job, because Stacy Dales said you recruited her saying you were going to win because somehow you knew you were going to win.
COACH COALE: First of all, my position, sitting at an English desk at Norman High School, I'm not sure I had a lot of people's ear. I did go to some games and I remember I went into the teacher's lounge to get my attendance sheets, and some guy in the lounge said, "Hey, did you hear what happened? They just dropped the OU women's basketball program." And I said, "No, they didn't." And he said, "Yeah, they did." And I said, "Trust me, they can't, Title IX, they can't." And I went back to class and didn't think another thing about it, because I knew they couldn't.
And the news went crazy, that's all you saw on the 5:00 and 10:00 news for a few days, and obviously the program got reinstated. When you're a ball coach, doesn't matter the level, you're so immersed in what you're doing. I remember vaguely the Final Four and what was going on, but you know what I was doing? I was teaching sophomores how to shoot left-handed layups in the gym at Norman High School.
The most important thing you're doing is what you're doing at that time, and it was important to me because I wanted my high school kids to have a chance to compete for a scholarship without going halfway across the country. I wanted them to have the chance to stay here in Oklahoma and play for an incredible institution, and I knew I had good players but that would be difficult for a while.
And I knew it would be a difficult choice for kids for a while, and I hated that because I had good players that I knew would love to stay at home and play for our institution, and they didn't have that choice for a while, but now they do.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH COALE: Maybe I didn't. Maybe I didn't and that was the great blessing. I didn't think a thing about it, really. I had several people call and groups of people come to see me. You've got to get this job, and I'm like, what are you talking about? I'm a high school coach. I can't get a D-1 job! And really encouragement from Geno.
I had a unique opportunity in that I had had college grade level kids in my gym, so I had D-1 coaches in and out of my gym and talked a lot of basketball with them and realized that basketball is basketball, and there is a whole lot more to this job than that, but the court stuff, ball is ball.
So that was a bit of it, and my affinity for the University of Oklahoma, I don't know that I would have been interested in the position had it not been at this institution. I grew up in a home where everywhere in the house was tuned to OU football on Saturday, and you didn't make noise, you go outside and play if you wanted to.
When they sang the fight song, you stopped in the house and sang the fight song, the whole deal. You know? It was a reverence, sort of, and my brother graduated from the University of Oklahoma and it was the best.
It was nirvana and so why not try? This is how I live, why not try? Just worked out. Longest answer in the history of man kind, sorry!
Q. Sherri, maybe -- one of the biggest wins since you've come along was 2000 at Purdue. Now Purdue is here and you're a heavy favorite. Just your thoughts on the shoe being on the other foot kind of thing. On the David and Goliath idea, is one of your challenges to play like or feel like that team felt in 2002, to play like an underdog, to play like the team that had something to prove?
COACH COALE: You always give questions with lots of clauses, so it takes me a minute to figure out how I should answer offensively to it.
A, it is a little bit -- what's the word? Ironic, perhaps, that it is Purdue here, however there is a vital difference. When we beat Purdue, they were the defending national champions on their home floor as a one seed, and we were in our first NCAA tournament, maybe there was one way back when, but the first in my regime.
In that regard very, very different. This Purdue team is not unaccustomed to being in the NCAA tournament. They have had tons of success, won conference championships, obviously their program has a recent national championship, 10 years ago they were the national champions, so some similarities, but differences as well.