Oklahoma and Louisville meet in national semifinals Sunday at 6 p.m.
April 4, 2009
OKLAHOMA NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES | Women's NCAA Final Four | April 4, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale, as well as student athletes Ashley Paris and Whitney Hand. Coach, if you could give us an opening statement.
COACH COALE: Thank you very much. We're honored to be here, honored to be competing in this Final Four in St. Louis, looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead and very appreciative of the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Ashley, after four years of working, working, working, what does it mean to you to finally get to a Final Four?
ASHLEY PARIS: It means a lot. And Courtney obviously has been here every year for the All America awards and she's always talked to me about how cool it is and how much it hurts not to be here and be an All American.
But just how exciting it is for those girls who are All Americans and playing. So just to be here is unreal. And I don't feel like there's any better way to end my career, any group of people that, better people that I could have been around. So this is just fun, real and exciting for me.
Q. Ashley and Whitney, if you could talk about the challenge ahead what you know about Louisville and this is a program that's new to the Final Four. Is it hard facing a team that's seen somewhat as an underdog?
WHITNEY HAND: Yeah, definitely. I think Louisville is a great program. I think they've gained some momentum in the tournament and they're definitely on a roll and I think they're playing with some sense of urgency that we haven't seen really from them yet in this tournament.
So I think they're definitely on a roll, and I think Angel McCoughtry is one of the best players in the country, and she's definitely difficult to contain and they just play really well around her.
So they're definitely going to be a hard matchup, but they're playing well right now.
ASHLEY PARIS: It is kind of hard because they consider themselves underdogs and they play with that the world's against us mentality and it's hard to play against. And Angel is a talented player, but they obviously have some great pieces that go along with her. They mix stuff up on defense and offense and they're just a very talented team. So it's going to be a great game, I think.
Q. Ashley, can you talk about the matchup with McCoughtry, what a difficult matchup she is being a pretty big girl who also plays outside and how you guys might try to defend her?
ASHLEY PARIS: She is a difficult matchup, because she's a very talented player and she can score the basketball in a lot of ways, but I feel like we have a lot of guys who can try to contain her. I feel, yeah, she's a bigger guard, but Amanda and Whitney are six foot.
So I just feel like with our guards, I feel like they can do a pretty solid job of trying to slow her down a bit?
Q. Ashley, Courtney's not here so you can talk about her sort of behind her back. What is it that you do better on the court and what is it that you are better than her at off the court?
ASHLEY PARIS: Off the court, I'm better than her at pretty much everything (laughter), except for like being annoying and stuff that you don't want to be better at. On the court, I don't know, it's hard to say. I feel like I really complement her game and I think that comes with playing with her all my life.
And naturally I feel like I'm a little bit more mobile than she is and a little bit more versatile than she is.
Q. Follow up, you mentioned the mobility. Has that helped? I read somewhere that you lost some weight over the summer. Do you attribute being a little bit more mobile to losing the weight or how has that affected your game?
ASHLEY PARIS: Definitely. I feel like I have more endurance and just I'm quicker up and down the court and I'm able to be out on the perimeter and give our guards some room to penetrate and Courtney more room to work on the post. Yeah, definitely has contributed a lot.
Q. If you could talk about your season a little bit, both of you, why do you think you got this far? Is there something about the team that maybe we don't know that helped you get this far, whether it's friendship or the bonding that went on? Was there a pivotal moment in the season where you sort of catapulted to this?
WHITNEY HAND: I think our team really just we're as together as any team can be and I think that's really genuine, and I think that's something you don't see very often. It's not just surface we have to respect each other, like each other because we're forced to play with each other; it's a genuine want to be together friendship and love and family that kind of you can just see it resonate to the surface.
And I think that's what made our team special. You've seen very many times we'll have a struggle in the first half. We'll be down at halftime and I think we just show that by playing together and playing within each other to just battle our way back. I think when you're playing for each other it makes it a whole lot harder to beat than when you're just playing for yourselves.
ASHLEY PARIS: Yeah, what Whitney said. I think we're a very talented team. I think our coaches have recruited pretty solid players. We have Courtney and Whitney and Danielle and just a bunch of depth.
I mean, we're a good team. I think the main thing about us and the reason that we're here is because of our chemistry on and off the court. It is that bond we have and that belief in each other and that we truly want to win for each other, and I feel like that's why we're here today.
Q. Ashley, you talked a lot about how you've changed as a ball player over the years, particularly from last year to this year. Tell us how Courtney's changed as a player. Is she pretty much the same player she was when she came in, or what's been her development and progression?
ASHLEY PARIS: Man, it's hard to say that about Courtney. Because most of the time she's going to have the double double and dominate a game and when she doesn't the whole world knows about it.
So, I mean, I feel like she's become a smarter basketball player here and just really learned the game and really learned how to make teammates better and just become a student of the game?
Q. A&M, Iowa State, Baylor made some very strong runs through this tournament and there have been several other Big 12 teams that obviously played real well in the post season. Talk about how getting through a season playing against competition in one of the tougher conferences maybe prepared y'all for getting to a tournament where you're playing very good teams every night and how it might make you prepared for the Final Four.
ASHLEY PARIS: I think the Big 12 is it's frustrating but it's great. I feel like every time we go into one of these games, okay, they're like a Baylor; okay, that's kind of like an Iowa State; okay, they're like a Texas.
I feel like the Big 12 is so versatile and so talented that it prepares you for everything post season has to offer.
WHITNEY HAND: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that, I mean, when you go to press conferences everyone's like how do you handle Georgia Tech's pressure? You lost to A&M, how is that? But the cool thing is we got to play A&M three times and the cool thing is we got to play Baylor twice. I mean, that definitely prepares you and I think especially as a young player it really exposes you to this kind of attention earlier while you're going through it later, I guess.
Q. Whitney and Ashley, is it difficult or how do you go about separating the hoopla of this event and this is a very serious business of trying to win a national championship? Is that a difficult thing to do?
ASHLEY PARIS: I feel like you don't take for granted being here. There's a lot of hoopla going on and I feel like we owe it to ourselves to enjoy it and embrace it, but we also came here with a goal; that's to be national champions. At the end of the day this is all great, but we remember we came here to try to win two games.
WHITNEY HAND: I think, I mean, the same thing. I think it obviously can be distracting, but Coach talks about staying within our bubble and being excited for each other but not losing focus of our ultimate goal.
Q. Ashley, do you feel like you play in your sister's shadow?
ASHLEY PARIS: I think I've said this last night or whenever I was doing media yesterday. I feel like most of the world plays in Courtney's shadow. It's not just me.
And obviously she's a very dominant presence, and she's a post and I'm her twin sister and she's done so much for women's basketball and so much for our program that naturally I play in her shadow. But I enjoy it. I signed up for it.
Q. This is a follow up for Ashley on that. Was there ever a time when you guys thought about going to different schools or were you always a package deal in high school?
ASHLEY PARIS: I think we would have loved to be a package deal. And we thought that way when recruiting started. But I felt like we both decided that we're going to make the best decision for us individually and if we could do that together, then great. And I felt like Oklahoma has what was best for both of us. So it kind of worked out that way.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to both of you. Questions for Coach Sherri Coale.
Q. Sherri, when Whitney is smiling, what does that mean for your team, not only game plan wise? I know it's important for her shots game plan wise, talk about that, but also psychologically her infectious personality, how does that benefit you?
COACH COALE: I've said a number of times this season that when Whitney's making baskets from behind the arc we feel like we're invincible and we sort of play that way.
I think particularly in this tournament, our team has taken on both Whitney and Danielle's personality. I think they've just kind of followed suit. One of the keys I think once you get here, everybody's good. Who can relax and who can enjoy the experience and who can get lost in the immersion of playing the game, that might determine who ends up with a W at the end of the night.
And when Whitney's hitting 3s and smiling and we're jumping around and hugging each other, it's pretty easy to get immersed in the moment and it allows you most often to put your best game forward.
Q. When you look at DVDs, game film, whatever, what do you see with the Lady Cards, the particular style, and what kind of different challenges do they bring to you guys, especially the whole underdog thing and really never been here before?
COACH COALE: The whole underdog thing I find kind of interesting because nobody on my team has ever been here before either. So it's a new experience for everyone.
But Angel McCoughtry obviously is their axis, and as she goes they go. But I think the people around her know how to play around her and with her and alongside of her. They don't stand and watch her play. That's the reason why they're here. They do a lot of things defensively which keeps you from scripting too much offensively. When you don't know what's coming, it's hard to be prepared for it.
I think our guards have to be real heady and we have to handle all those changes and adapt and we'll see how deep our basketball IQ really is because we're going to have to make decisions on the fly and react.
Offensively, I think they're so difficult to contain. I don't know that you can stop Angel McCoughtry. You can maybe limit her as best you can, limit her touches, get her off the ball, and then do everything within your power to keep her from getting the rebound. But she's interesting, because they run everything to her, obviously. You go through their sets and we could have 12 pages of diagrams of sets that they run. Pretty quick hitters, but they all have the same exact ending action.
Angel gets the ball. And it's hard to keep her from doing that, yet that's not the way that she always scores. She's great on defense her anticipatory skills are outstanding. So she creates offense for herself.
She gets a lot of it off defense, anticipating and getting steals, and she gets a lot of it off the glass. So you try to at least limit her touches in those two avenues.
Q. How different is this for you from the first time? Because I remember you telling stories about going to Stacy Hansmeyer, what is this like and what happens in a Final Four. Do you feel like a wise veteran at this point? How is it different?
COACH COALE: I do, I feel like a wise old sage. I've got that Smart Water back there and I've been drinking it and I feel really good.
You know, it is nice to have had the experience, but things change every year. It's funny, we were just in a team meeting this morning. I was trying to tell my guys what was going to happen at the State Farm All American press conference and how it happens. And I was talking about every year inevitably it's in a room that's way too small for all the people who would like to get in there.
We walk in there; it's a daggone banquet hall, it's nothing like it's been, and they're looking at me like, Really, you've been here before?
So everything changes as you go, but I do think it's helpful to be able to prepare just for what the media is like, the open practice, the way you're pulled in different directions and how you have to at the end of the day return to your bubble and do the work you're called here to do. So I think it's helpful to have been here before.
Q. Sherri, what do you need from Danielle tomorrow?
COACH COALE: Continued leadership. Continued leadership, toughness. Control of the basketball. Management of the game. We don't ask point guards to do much, do we. Just listed everything that's important except score 40. We don't need her to do that, though; it would be nice, and I'll take it if she'd like to. She needs to run the team, recognize, handle the basketball, stay composed, have the good face that I think all great point guards who are successful, they carry the good face with them. If she has that, we'll be fine.
Q. Sherri, kind of the same question I asked Ashley. What do you think is the biggest improvement in her game in the last year? And people say that twins tend to have that sort of special chemistry. And I wonder if that helps the rest of the team, complements it or if that ever gets in the way of team chemistry?
COACH COALE: Good question. First of all or questions. First of all, in terms of Ashley's improvement, I think there have been two major areas and they're connected one to the other.
One is obviously her improved fitness level which enables her to play harder, longer, enables her to do more things. I said repeatedly that she has improved her skill set in terms of facing the basket. But the way her improved conditioning level has helped us most is in the area of transition, because it gives us a target down the floor every single time and offensive transition gives us a post player running rim to rim, and defensively it allows us to get out from basket protection to get to our shooters and get early defense sets. She's really affected us in that very important piece of a full court basketball game.
I think the other way that she's improved dramatically has been her confidence. And it's hard to say which came first. But typically kids' confidence grows when you give them something really hard to do and they do it.
Whether we gave it to her or she gave it to herself, she committed to getting into physical condition and she committed to developing a perimeter skill set and when she did that her confidence blossomed and grew, and hard to tell what came first, the chicken or the egg, but it's been a nice ending product.
As far as the sixth sense that the twins have I think it's fabulous, I think very rarely does it cause any sort of a disconnection with the rest of the team. I think you could see a little bit of it in the second half of the Purdue game, a couple of high low passes and extra gives they gave to one another late in the game when the other three guys on the floor are taking care of their business and moving, and it allows that sixth sense that I think is special to twins to sort of rise to the top.
Q. There seems to be a consensus among people who have watched the game all year that your semifinal was a game for second place. Do you catch yourself peeking ahead to UConn, the challenge that you guys would face?
COACH COALE: No. I'm focused on Louisville right now.
Q. Sherri, do you find the last four years have been somewhat of a tinkering process as far as trying to find the right pieces to complement Courtney, and why did this year's team connect?
COACH COALE: I think every season is a tinkering process, honestly. You have different pieces and parts, and even if you have the same exact team, you have guys that develop and change and hopefully they're all getting better and improving in that direction. But no one's static. And it's like riding a bike, you're either going forward or backward. You're not going to sit still on it.
So every team is different. I look at through the four year progression of what we have had around Courtney and with her on the floor and her freshman year. We had very seasoned guards who really had a high basketball IQ and knew how to play around her and with her. She got to go to the block and do the easy stuff, kind of be not that her job was easy, I don't want to say that.
But she just had to hold down that piece in the paint, and the people around her thought and moved and created things and she had this incredible freshman year. Some of those guys graduated and suddenly it got a little bit different.
And every year there's been a different composition. I think the unique thing about this year is that we have, proverbially, I guess, all the pieces in terms of we have a real heady, talented point guard; we have shooters who can stretch the defense; we have speed; guys who can break the defense down off the dribble.
And then Ashley's development, too, and her ability to step off the block and become sort of a quasi perimeter player complements Courtney as well.
I think all those things sort of have fallen into place, along with that magical ever elusive thing called chemistry.
Q. Not necessarily looking at teams in this year's Final Four, but if you go back and look at some of those Tennessee teams, UConn teams, do you think it's good for the game to have teams that are so dominating in one year they can just shear through teams like that?
COACH COALE: Not especially. I think parity is always good for growth. I think Louisville being here for the first time is good for the growth of women's basketball.
I think it's tough. It's obviously tough to break through that when those sort of dynasties are in place, but I think you're continuing to see that. I think we saw more upsets in the NCAA tournament this year than we've ever seen.
And while you hate it for Pat and everything that she's done for this sport, and obviously the success of Tennessee and Connecticut have catapulted our sport into the national spotlight. But in order to continue to grow, there need to be other folks in the sight. And I think it is healthy for the growth.
Q. Sherri, how much can we expect to see Amanda play, and is her foot getting better? And the other thing talk about Courtney's second half against Purdue?
COACH COALE: I think we will see even more of Amanda. We kind of had to make a tough decision at the start of the NCAA tournament as to how much we used her, and I made the decision to only use her if I thought we had to have her early on, particularly in the first and second games.
And I think that it's paid off dramatically. She was feeling much better in the Oklahoma City regional and yet again I thought every day helps. And the training staff told us that: The longer you can rest her the more efficient she'll be when she returns.
We got her some what I call momentum minutes in the first game at Oklahoma City just to get some timing back and to get a feel for the game. And then when we had to have her against Purdue. She was fabulous and was able to practice more yesterday and the day before than she has practiced in three weeks. And that's because of that two week rest we were able to give her. So I expect her to be able to give us whatever we need from her on Sunday night.
Courtney's second half against Purdue I thought was vintage Courtney Paris. You know, she's so good all the time. Who does that? Who gets a double double almost every night of their entire collegiate career? But she does have ups and downs and hills and valleys like everybody else, just her valleys don't sweep quite as deeply as some of ours do sometimes.
I think what you saw in the second half was what has defined Courtney throughout her career: will, passion, energy, explosiveness. She just competed on every possession. And I thought really controlled the real estate right around the rim.
Q. It's easy to forgive because so much has been made against Courtney and Ashley, but beyond those two you've got a pretty young team. Talk about beyond their play on the court, the leadership that you get out of them as seniors. And then also this is horribly unfair, we're not going to give you a second to enjoy the success of this year, but talk about the future. You've got a young bunch that'd be easy to see where they're going to be awfully good for a while now.
COACH COALE: I think our leadership has grown throughout the year. Our two team captains, Carolyn Winchester and Amanda Thompson did a fabulous job early in the year, sort of solidifying everyone and saying this is what we're going to stand for and this is how we're going to work and this is what you'll be accountable for and we're going to hold you to that. And it's not an easy thing for peers to do. I think all successful teams have it, but it's not an easy thing to do. And those two guys really sort of put the rudder in the water and said this is the direction we're going to go.
And as the season has gone on and Whitney has performed the way she has and Danielle has grown in her leadership capacity. Those two guys on the floor in game situations have guided the ship. They've been the ones in charge. I think when you watch us play I think you see we have as a group collectively sort of picked up their personalities and we play in their way.
I think all great leaders have the ability to do that, to infect the people around them and to say, you know, follow me. I know where I'm going, follow me.
And it's really good news for myself and our coaching staff that those two guys are sophomores and freshmen.
Q. Coaches in college basketball, they seem to be the face, the constants because the players revolve all the time. How mindful of that are you that you're one of those faces out there? I asked Geno about it and he said with your presidency of the coaches association and those sorts of things, you're one of those people that's out there. But how mindful of that are you and how important have you taken that role?
COACH COALE: I don't really think about it a whole lot at times like this. I think about it more so when I'm wearing the WBCA hat and going from group to group and doing those type of things than when I'm coaching my team.
Because when you're coaching your team it's sort of your safe haven and it's your grungy sweats, if you will, where you are really who you are and immersed in that thing that you love to do. So it comes naturally.
I think we have a responsibility, though. And I feel so incredibly indebted to the amazing mentors in my conference that I was able to come in and learn the game from in terms of what are my responsibilities as a professional.
You go from high school to coaching college ball and you know everything that happens in between those lines. But the big wide world that's beyond that court is a different deal. And I didn't know much about it. And I had to learn and I was lucky, because I had Marcia Sharp and Jody Conrad and Phil Berry (phonetic) to learn from, and the list goes on. Bill Finley. I could go down the list.
But our league, I think, really gave me a leg up and taught me that we have a responsibility that extends far beyond our program and our institution. It is to this game.
And I feel fortunate and take that responsibility very seriously. At the same time, there are lots of faces that are the sport of women's basketball, and I feel unbelievably humbled to even be mentioned among those.
Q. It's interesting, both you and Ashley when asked about Louisville being the underdog were quick to say that it was them that think they're the underdog. I'm curious, what's your take on the team?
COACH COALE: I think they're really good, obviously. They play in the Big East conference. You look at their schedule, and it goes W, W, W, W and you see a loss. And then you see it goes W, W, W, and you see another loss and it's to Connecticut. And these guys are really good. I don't think anybody that gets here necessarily sees themselves as an underdog. Maybe once they arrive and they look at the field.
But you don't think like an underdog and earn your way to one of these. So everybody has to is given a card or gets an opportunity to play a card and that is whatever you choose it to be. I don't think it's much of a factor to us.
Q. Sherri, I was just curious, and I apologize if this has been asked already. But you're here for a second time with the team. When you come back a second time I know you have in your mind things I would do differently. What are some of those things in terms of bringing a team here again that you do differently the second time than the first experience?
COACH COALE: Give all those ticket requests to somebody else on my staff and let them deal with it. You know, as far as the team goes, honestly, we don't have any idea what we were doing in 2002, we were just playing ball and loving the journey together. That may be the secret. I don't know that I would change a whole lot about what we did.
We were who we had been the entire year. We enjoyed everything. We took everything in. And then when it was time to go to practice we practiced. And when it was time to watch film, we watched film. When it was time to play, we played.
In that regard I really didn't change much. I went back and looked at what did we do in practice, how did we prepare, what were the schedules. Because you know how we coaches are, we keep up with everything. So I go back and look at it and say, Yeah, that's what we still do. Let's do it again.
I think what you do has worked for a reason, so you need to stay with that and feel very fortunate to have opportunity to go back and look at those old notes.
Q. Question and a half I have for you. Your trip to St. Louis earlier this year, even though it's in a different gym, how beneficial do you think that was? And also just your general thoughts about handicapping the field?
COACH COALE: I think everybody has their motivational or preparatory activities that they think puts them in a good spot to be able to achieve their goals. And for us we thought it was important to try to get to the Final Four city, to plant some seeds, to have the experience for a number of reasons.
And in 2002 we played in San Antonio earlier before we went to the championship game there. So we had an opportunity. And I appreciate so much St. Louis wanting to schedule that game and allowing us to be here.
Different arena, but that wasn't really the issue. It was being in the city and having an opportunity to talk about it. And I do think it has helped us. Sort of crystallizes things and makes it a little bit more real for you. Handicapping the field, obviously you just told me that the real game was the second one, so I didn't know that until you told me. So thanks for the heads up.
We're going to go ahead and play six, if that's all right with everybody. Louisville is really good. I talked about them plenty, probably. As far as the other two go, Stanford plays so pretty. I love the way they play. They share the ball. They're skilled. They compete. They just they understand the game. And it's interesting, I heard some little sound bite in the very small amount of time I've had to watch television over the last week or so, but I heard Tara say that basketball is like ballet with a ball.
When I watched them play, that's exactly it looks like a beautiful dance. I think that's the way offensive basketball should look. I have a great appreciation for the way they play. I don't think there's any program in America that's tougher than Connecticut.
I think their toughness is their ace. Are they skilled? Absolutely they're skilled. Do they have a high basketball IQ? Absolutely they do. What separates them from the rest of the world? Their toughness. Just mentally, physically, emotionally, every way you can count it, they're tough. And they're not going to go away.
And so I think it's a great Final Four. I think it's a fan's paradise and I think there will be two really good games on Sunday and another really good one on Tuesday.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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OKLAHOMA LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
Senior Center Courtney Paris
On the motivation behind her promise of a National Championship:
“It was about motivating them, letting them know I 100 percent believe in them, and it’s not something I would say to a team I didn’t think could do it already.”
On her promise becoming a national story:
“When I said it I didn’t think it would even be a big deal in Oklahoma. The next day a little story came out in the paper and no one said anything about it. No one even said anything to me about it after Senior Night, and then a week later it’s on the ESPN ticker.”
On how her promise was interpreted by the media:
“At the end of the day, it’s not about what everyone else thinks, it’s about my teammates believing in what we’re doing and about the commitment I have to my school and university.”
On the inside matchups against Louisville:
“It’s always hard to lose people like they did early in the season but they’ve done a great job getting to this point for the first time ever which is really special. Angel (McCoughtry) is a great player and she’s got a lot of support around her from the other senior and their point guard and I feel like it’ll be a pretty good matchup for us.
Junior Guard Nyeshia Stevenson
On this year’s team chemistry and how it has affected their success compared to last year:
“It’s all about having fun. For some reason last year it seemed like we weren’t having any fun and it showed. The teams that have fun doing what they do end up making it to the end and that’s what I think about us now. We’re having fun playing basketball.
On the matchup against Louisville:
“We matchup pretty well and we know it’s not going to be given to us. We know we have to work hard for it and buckle down and play. We’re very confident, not in an arrogant kind of way but we’ve been through so much and so why come this far and not work as hard as we can to win.”
Sophomore Guard Danielle Robinson
On the Final Four experience:
“It’s been great. We went to the Arch yesterday. We came to St. Louis earlier this year just to get a feel for the city, hoping we’d be back in April and we’re back, so I’m definitely excited about what’s been going on.
On what the last few days have been like:
“We had to talk to our teachers about missing school and everything and then it was back to getting better. Even though there’s only a few days left in the season, it’s still all about getting better at the little things like executing on offense, blocking out and making free throws.
Sophomore Forward Carlee Roethlisberger
On her expectations for the weekend:
“I feel really good about it. The way we’ve been practicing and the way we’ve been playing, I feel like the team is really together. We don’t know what the outcome will be, but with the way we’ve been playing and the positive attitude of this team and how much fun we’re having, I feel really good about it.”
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LOUISVILLE NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES
THE MODERATOR: Pleased to have up here on the podium head coach Jeff Walz as well as student athletes Angel McCoughtry, Deseree' Byrd, and Candyce Bingham. Coach, when you're ready, an opening statement and then we'll take questions.
COACH WALZ: We'd first like to thank everyone that's involved that's put this wonderful event on. The hospitality that we've received since we arrived here has just been outstanding. I know our players have enjoyed the experience to this point and we're really looking forward for the opportunity of playing on Sunday.
It's a group of players from day one we had some goals, we put some things out there in front of them and they've just continued to rise to the challenge day after day. And to be able to say we're playing on the last weekend of basketball is quite an accomplishment for all of these players, and I'm very proud of them and excited to be able to say I'm their coach.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Angel, the comments you made about Kara Lawson the other night after the game, just curious why you said what you said and what you think about it looking back now?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I was very excited during the time and like I told her it was all in fun and I was enjoying myself. And I wouldn't take back anything I said because it was all in fun.
Q. Angel, talk about this team this season and why you think this particular team was the one that made it in terms of the program for the first time, the program's history, to a Final Four, and was there a key point in time, a game or a moment where you saw something happen that propelled this team to this point?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I think it was just because this is our time. Truly this is our season, we all believed it. We've been saying since last year we were going to get to St. Louis. Everybody said it, and now we're here.
Q. Angel and Candyce, Coach Walz has been here for two years and now you're in the Final Four. And I'm kind of curious, what did he have to do for you guys to accept him and believe in him and get you to play at the style you've obviously learned to play?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Well, we already knew he came from Maryland and won the national championship. So that speaks that in itself tells us that he knows what he's doing and can get us to the same spot.
So he just came in and had us work hard and be disciplined and obviously it helped. We're in the Final Four now?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: You know, it takes time when a new coach comes in to funnel the program in what he wants us to do. But we all believed it. That's why I think we're so successful within two years.
Q. Candyce, talk about when you were growing up you saw the program not get a whole lot of publicity, play for less than a thousand people; now you're at the Final Four and you're on the national networks. What's it like and what's it like to be here for someone from Louisville who grew up watching the program?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Again, I never thought this would happen. But, I mean, it's history again. And it's an amazing feeling to be a part of this. Because I think no one ever thought that this program could rise to get to this point. And we've proven that we could. So it's an amazing feeling.
Q. Candyce, talk a little bit about the Paris twins, defending them.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: They're great players. Courtney Paris, four time All American. That in itself speaks that speaks for itself.
But they're great rebounders, great players, and we're going to have to come out and make sure we're boxing them out and just follow the game plan.
Q. Angel, can you talk about how you've changed personally since you came to Louisville, kind of how you've developed and if your teammates could talk about that, too.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: When I first came to Louisville I was younger, and if you don't mature in four years something's wrong with you. I've matured, and I'm a woman now.
DESEREE' BYRD: Being here just two years playing with Angel, last year coming in I was obviously recruited by Louisville, but watching the game she had a kind of attitude problem.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: A little bit true (laughter).
DESEREE' BYRD: She had an attitude problem. With Coach Walz coming in he got on her enough and he kept it real with her. He's an honest man and whether you like it or not he's going to tell you. And he basically told her. I think it's been it's just watching my knees go up I've been here two years with Angel, just watching the change, seeing the attitude problem to just it's just an inspiration to many people around the world. It's respectable (laughter).
Q. Angel, how are the nerves holding up? It's a big week. Deseree' and Candyce, what makes Angel so good?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Well, I'm very relaxed right now. This is a business trip; we're not here for a lot of fun. So we're ready to play.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Just her dedication and her competitiveness. I mean, Angel's always wanting to win, always in the gym, wanting to get better. I think it's her dedication and competitiveness. And it's rubbed off on the rest of us.
DESEREE' BYRD: What Candyce said, her work ethic running up the court. Trying to keep everybody up. We are the sisterhood, and she try to keep us together as a sisterhood. She try to do things. On the court, she ain't always happy with what we do on the court, and she yells that, that's because she wants to be the best and she wants this team to be the best, and off the court she try to do things to keep us together.
Q. Angel, because of your stature, awards and accolades and people have been talking about Candyce the past couple of weeks, can you talk about the rest of the parts like we talked last week and how everybody else has stepped up in the NCAA tournament when you struggled a little bit shooting a couple of games and everybody else has really stepped up?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Well, I have to say for Des, Deseree' Byrd, she played a tremendous game against Maryland, and Becky Burke stepped up a lot. And that's what you need, for the girls to step forward a little bit if you're struggling. And Des put the team on her shoulders. She said, I got you all. That's the type of attitude she play with, like, I've got the team. And it really worked and I'm just proud of everybody stepping up. And if one of us are having a bad shooting night, then we know it's okay because somebody else is going to step up.
Q. There's a perception that your semifinal game is for second place because UConn has handled both of your teams. How do you feel about that?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: I mean, yeah, they beat us. But it's a new day. If we do get to that game, it will be another game and we're going to approach it like another game.
DESEREE' BYRD: Like she said, yeah, they beat us, any given day. Third time's a charm. I'm not saying anything. But, you know, like I told some other people, we've been playing as the underdogs all year and now there's four.
And we're one of those four. So like Angel said, this is a business trip and we're on a mission and we're here to handle our business.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: We better get past this round first. We're focusing on Oklahoma. We need to do that and we'll see what we've got in the next round, once we try to get past Oklahoma.
Q. I know you guys just mentioned doubters. Is that something that you have had something, do you want people maybe in a sense to keep doubting you guys because it only makes you want to prove them wrong even more?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I mean, of course. If you watch the commercial, the commercial strictly says Oklahoma is on a mission to win a championship, but Louisville is trying to fool with that. We're trying to win a national championship too. It's even in the commercials. So for God's sakes, I mean, I don't know what else we have to do to get some type of respect to say they're good, too, they can win on any given day just like the other teams can.
But, hey, I think that does fuel our fire.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: It's okay, they can keep doubting us. We love it.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Watch the commercial tonight, you'll see it.
Q. Can you talk to me about, there's been a lot of talk about this is the first time you've ever been to the Final Four but now actually getting here I know you still haven't played that first game. But can you talk about actually being here now?
DESEREE' BYRD: It's an amazing feeling. I never ever in a million years thought I would be here. I couldn't ask for a better group of girls to be here with and coaching staff to be here with. We bust our butts all year and, like I said, we're on a mission. And that's all I'm going to say.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Again, we're excited to be here but this is a business trip. And we don't want to get too caught up in all the hype or whatever. So we're going to go out and practice hard and try to win a game tomorrow.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I'm not on cloud nine anymore. So, like I said, it's a business trip. I'm ready to play.
Q. Angel, are you at all curious about once we get past this weekend how you're going to be evaluated by the WNBA, whether you're going to be the first pick and how your life is going to change at this point next week? Do you spend any time thinking about it? Do you daydream about it, anything like that?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Right now this comes first. This is what we have to take care of right now. But like I told people, I'm going to go where I'm wanted to play, where I'm needed to help the team and to help the program win a WNBA championship. So whether it's for No. 1 or 20, wherever I'm needed, that's where I'm going to go.
Q. Angel, why do you think you guys haven't received more respect?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I guess because we're the newcomers on the block. We don't have as much tradition as the other schools. But I still feel like we can still we've played hard to the point we need to earn a little bit of respect.
We've had the hardest road to the Final Four. We've had to play LSU. All of the other squads basically played at home. Especially when California, Oklahoma was at home. UConn was at home. We were at LSU somewhere with the alligators.
So we had the hardest road here and I think that's why it's so special right now. I think this is our season. I truly believe we can take it all the way.
Q. For any of the players. You've got national media here, what should the world know about your coach? Tell me about the job he's done and what he's like away from these cameras.
DESEREE' BYRD: He's a hard working man. Like I said, he's going to keep it honest with you, whether he thinks you'll like it or not. Because he's not here only to make us better players but he's here to make us better people.
I think once everybody believes in him, then everybody is willing to make a change. I mean, it took me a long time to really believe it. And I do. And I appreciate him. He's one of my fathers and I really look to Coach Walz as a father figure.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: He's one that's done a lot for us. And he really cares about us. His first year he took us to the Big East championship. This is only his second year and we're in the Final Four. Enough said.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Again, he's brutally honest, but I think that's a good thing, because some people don't like that. But in the end I think you do pay attention to it. And so, I mean, he's a great guy.
I mean, he wants us to be great players, but, like Des said, be good people. So I'm glad that he's been here.
Q. Do you or does the coach have any superstitions that you do or not do before your game?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: I don't really have a lot of superstitions as far as basketball. I just go out there and play. But I do have one superstition: Never split the pole. I don't like that. As far as that's said, no.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Have you ever coached or seen a team that kind of came together the way this one did with so many different players who originally were going somewhere else and then came together and did it present any particular challenges?
COACH WALZ: No, actually. This is the first time that I've worked with a group of players that four of them I think had signed out of high school with different schools, but they all ended up at the same place.
And they even talk about it, just fate. Angel at the time with St. John's, Chauntise Wright I think at the time with Seton Hall, Candyce Bingham played two years at Xavier. We just had some players that came together and found a common ground, and they've been great to coach.
They're right, I'm honest with them. Sometimes they like it. Sometimes they don't. But at least, like I tell them, I sleep well at night because I tell them exactly how I'm feeling. If they're doing well, I tell them they're doing well. If not, I tell them they're not.
So they really learned my philosophy of coaching, and I've gotten to know all of them. So I don't coach each player the same way. But we're fair with all of them. So it's been a great two years and looking forward to many more.
Q. Did you see the commercial that Angel's referring to and what did you think when you first saw it?
COACH WALZ: You know what, the one thing I love about her is she'll just say the truth. She just speaks from the heart and some people don't understand her.
But, yeah, it's not a big deal. They take the schools that they thought were going to have a chance to make a run for the Final Four and those coaches say their spiel, and we're the one that we weren't supposed to be here.
So they weren't prepared for it. Which is okay. And it's understandable. When it comes down to playing, the commercials and all that stuff, it's not going to make a difference either way. It's whoever shows up and plays the best. And at this time of the year a bounce here, bounce there, a call here, call there, can make a difference of if you're going home or if you're advancing.
Q. What concerns you most about Oklahoma and how do you defend Courtney Paris?
COACH WALZ: It's probably easier if I said what doesn't concern me. Because there's about one thing that doesn't concern me. I mean, there's a bunch of things that concern me. I mean, the way Danielle Robinson has been playing at the point. She's been outstanding. Whitney Hand has been shooting the ball lights out. Then you've got the Paris sisters inside.
They've just got a very good team. Sherri's done a great job of putting players around the twins. And it's going to be a challenge for us. We're going to have to come out here tomorrow night and defend well and rebound.
If you look at Courtney Paris's stats, I think she's made 219 shots and she's got 203 offensive boards. It's an unbelievable stat when you look at it. For a kid to rebound the ball as well as she does at the offensive end we've got to make sure we've got a body on her and sacrificing someone so she can't get offensive boards.
Q. Your experience with the Final Four a couple years ago, how does that help you now?
COACH WALZ: I think it's helped with the fact that at least I've been able to share with the players what to expect each day. When it comes to when we get here, what to expect when we get to the hotel, our practice the other day off site and then we come here today, you know we've got practice and an autograph session afterwards.
Just the small things. Just trying to get them to understand the routine to make sure we don't get too caught up in what's going on, but at the same time I want them to enjoy every second of it.
It's something you don't want to take for granted. We've got two great seniors here that I want to make sure that they remember the entire trip. So we're soaking it in. They're having fun, but when it comes to prepare and practice they're focused. I've been pleased with things. So I expect us to come out tomorrow night and play hard.
Q. When you went home the night you got the job, if you were being honest with yourself, what did you think your time line might be? What were your expectations about how long this job might take you to get this program where you wanted it to be?
COACH WALZ: You know, when I took the job, I knew they had some players. Angel McCoughtry, I've watched her play in high school. And Chauntise Wright. So I knew those two kids before I even took the job. And once I got on campus and had a chance at doing about four days of workouts before we were actually finished with school, I was able to see that they had some talent, especially with the way we wanted to play.
We don't Keshia Hines has done a nice job for us in the post, especially with Chauntise out. We don't have a true post player, per se, but the way we like to play by trying to press and making it an up tempo game and scoring off of turnovers, our length and athleticism plays well into that.
So if I'm to tell you we expected to be here when I took the job in two years, I'd tell you I was lying. But we knew we had some players and I told them when I took the job that once you get to the Sweet 16 I really believe anybody can win. It's just the best team might not win. It's the team that plays the best that day.
And we've been playing some really good basketball the past three weeks.
Q. Just talk about this full game round, I don't think you would term Angel's play as vintage Angel because she hasn't shot the ball very well at all. A, do you think at some point she's sitting on a big game, and then, B, what does that say about everybody else?
COACH WALZ: You're exactly right. I don't think Angel's had a superb four games. Now, she's played solid. She'll get her 23 points. She gets her 12, 13 boards, three or four steals. But she hasn't had the games that we're used to seeing.
And it's exciting for me. It's exciting for our staff to see the rest of our young kids stepping up the way Monique Reid played in our regional games, the way Becky Burke has been playing. We've really relied on everyone on this team. And we've got three solid players each night with these three that were just up here.
I've told them, we need two more. And I don't care which two, because they all get a chance throughout the game and Keshia Hines has been playing well and Monique Reid and Becky Burke have been playing solid for us. Actually we've been getting three of them to show up. If we can continue to do that, plus we've got to get some minutes from Gwen, that we'll have a chance to compete.
Q. Can you talk about what kind of your brutal honest it took to get Angel where you wanted her, kind of more than talking about her attitude and all that, what you had to do to get her where she is now?
COACH WALZ: She's a great kid. She's fun to coach. You never know what's going to come out of her mouth. You know, she's great. Now, when she competes, she wants to win. And sometimes, you know, she'll show some disgust at a call, disgust at some teammates.
And we just took some game film, our assistant, Steph Norman, just went through and we pulled out about seven minutes of game film from the previous year before we got there of her reacting to her teammates, to calls. And it wasn't hard. It's simple. You can sit there and tell someone they're doing something wrong but until you show them, they really don't buy into it.
And then as soon as we showed her on film, she was upset. She was like, I can't believe I do that. So she's gotten better. Now, she's still got some room to grow, but from where she was before we got here to where she is now, it says a lot about her character.
Q. You mentioned this a little bit earlier, maybe, but just how good has Candyce been? Angel gets so much attention, and rightfully so, but what kind of a player is she, person, and how good has she been this year?
COACH WALZ: She's been a rock. Angel gets a lot of the press. It's very thorough. Because she's a fantastic player but Candyce is the one that every night I know what I'm going to get. We don't have to run a bunch of plays for her. She just understands the game. She's in the right place at the right time. She goes hard. She can defend in the post on the perimeter for us.
She means as much to this program as Angel does. So without her we wouldn't be where we are right now and I tell her that every day.
Q. I know this is putting the cart before the horse, but did you spend any time thinking about if you win this game, UConn, the next step?
COACH WALZ: You know, I think we did a great job. I mean, because obviously if we play them they're way overconfident. When you lose by a 38 and 28, which we planned that. So, I mean, it was good coaching on my part. It's not easy to do.
You know, we're going to come out here. And it's like I tell them. You can it's one game and that's what it's going to take. We're going to have to come out here tomorrow night and beat a very good Oklahoma team to even have a chance to play the next game.
And if we can come out here and do that, then we'll worry about that tomorrow night after the game. And then, hey, you never know what can happen. If we can get to that game and if UConn can get to that game, then we'll throw it up on Tuesday night and see what happens.
Q. Going back to Courtney Paris, have you in doing all your scouting seen anybody defend her in a way that you think you might try to defend her and what is your defensive plan there?
COACH WALZ: Well, we're going to have to throw a lot of players at her. She's so strong and does a great job of getting position. And Keshia Hines, our post player that comes off the bench, probably is our best match up with her, and that's still not a great one.
So we'll have to go small at times. We'll have to throw the entire team at her. We just don't have enough fouls in the post, I don't think, to be able to just send one at her and try to stop her.
So it's going to be something where we'll clog up and try and make it difficult for her to score. But at the same time I'm just as concerned about Whitney Hand and the way Danielle Robinson gets to the basket.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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LOUISVILLE LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
Guard Becky Burke
On the leadership on the team:
Candyce (Bingham, F), Angel ( McCoughtry, F), They’re definitely the leaders on our team. They lead by example, they’re seniors, We follow them.
On Angel being jealous that it took her four years to get to the Final Four:
She said she is jealous, they knew what it took, they went to the sweet 16 last year, they have a little bit of experience, they know what it takes to get past the first ands second round, mental toughness
On their style of play against Oklahoma:
We are definitely a running team, a transition team, like to get out in front more I think that will help us. It will have to be a team effort down low all around.
Forward Janese Howard
On a number 3 seed coming in to tournament:
At first we were a little disrespected. We kind of took it in stride. We were going to show the nation we were meant to be the number 1 seed. After taking on everyone else we knew we should’ve been a number 1 seed. We feel like we are a one seed.
On coming to St. Louis to play in the Final Four:
To a lot of people it was like it doesn’t feel right. Beating a number one seed by 17, it was like wow, everybody was like shocked but we knew we could do it. To us it really wasn’t anything.
On their greatest weakness that they have built into a strength as the season progresses:
Because we have so many Freshmen we felt a little inexperienced. But now that all of the freshmen have really grown together, we have bought in to what the senior are saying and how they got to the Sweet 16 last year, we kind of knew we could do it. We could help, we are the majority of the team, we are going to help you get to the next level of the game ad do whatever we can. We really care a lot about Angela and Candyce and we were going to do everything we could to get them here.
What advise from Angel and Candyce:
They told us about how long we are going to play, and how hard everybody else is going to play and how each team you are going to play is going to be better and better and better. Each day in practice we come in with a higher mentality, how we are going to knock off the next higher seed.
Center/Forward Gwen Rucker
On playing in the Final Four:
It was kind of like a dream a little bit it was like the most exciting thing in the whole world. You won’t know how to experience something like this until you live it. After it happed you are like “Are we really in the final four?” As a kid you just dream about it, not really thinking you can be here. It is amazing.
Keys to Oklahoma game:
Each game you have to do something better than before. We have to limit the mistakes and we can’t have anymore “my bad or my faults”. We have to play like we always do.
Gueard Tiera Stephen
How exciting is it getting to Final 4 in St. Louis?
It’s very exciting. Something we’ve worked for all year long. This is a great atmosphere for a championship event.
Has Louisville’s men’s team been supportive?
Oh yes, they have been sending text messages and congratulations. They tell us to continue going hard and give us a lot of encouragement back home. We have a lot of fan support and some of them have made their way to St. Louis.
What do you expect from Oklahoma?
First of all, the Sooners are a very good team. Courtney Paris is a four-time All American and her sister, Ashley is very good too. We expect they will pressure us and play a very hard brand of defense.
Has it been a long season?
It seems like it has been especially since I am a freshman. But we’re here to win the Final Four We’re not just content on showing up. Our goal is to win the whole thing.
Guard Mary Jackson
What will we see in your game with Oklahoma?
We’ll be doing the same things we’ve done all year. You will see a lot of play in transition and you will see our focus on defense.
How about the Paris Sisters?
Courtney is an all-American and a handful to guard. They certainly will be playing hard and we expect they will give us a great game.
Your thoughts about being in the Final Four.
Being a freshman, I love it. Some people say we are under dogs. We know Oklahoma has point guards and shooters but please judge us by our actions, not just by our words.