April 6, 2009

Recap |  Notes


AMY YAKOLA:  Joined up here by head coach Gene Auriemma, as well as student athletes Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery.  Coach.

COACH AURIEMMA: Well, all I can say is going into this game I was very nervous about how we were going to be able to guard Jayne Appel and how we were going to defend Stanford in general.

I wasn't that concerned about how many points we would score. I thought we could get our shots. But I can't say enough about the defensive effort that these kids put forth tonight. And these two players right here were just unbelievable, and they just were determined to play one more game, to be in Tuesday night's game.

I said to Renee, I wanted you to play in your last game of your college career to be the last game. And this is the first time that she's had a chance to do that, and I'm really happy for her, as I am for everybody else on our team. AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Renee, sum up your individual performance as well as your thoughts about getting to the title game, please.

RENEE MONTGOMERY: My thought process was simple the whole game. Coach broke it down, just get a score and a stop. And the whole time, every time they shot the ball, if it went in or didn't go in, I was thinking we've got to get the ball up the floor quick.

That was my thought process the whole game, and we have to get a lot of stops and pressure the ball on defense.

Q. Thoughts on the title game?

RENEE MONTGOMERY: I'm excited to have another Big East championship game. That's exciting. I know they're definitely not going to be the same team we played before. Everyone gets better and everyone plays a whole lot better in the tournament. So right now both of us are 1 0. And I'm happy for another Big East team to make it to the championship game, and me and Angel have been talking along the tournament and we actually was hoping each other would meet, and I guess now, you know, we did it and may the best one win.

Q. Renee and Maya, how satisfying was this win for you considering that they knocked you out last year and maybe both of you didn't have your best games against them?

MAYA MOORE: It feels good to make progress. And I feel as a whole our team is better, and we were more prepared this year to compete against Stanford.

And we knew coming in that they were going to fight. They were going to be disciplined. They were going to run. They were going to be aggressive, as you saw. They didn't stop the whole game. They crashed the boards, they ran the floor hard. If anything, we knew what we had to do to beat Stanford. So I'm just happy the way everybody contributed tonight. If you look at the stats, really balanced and I couldn't ask for anything more than just everybody stepping up and doing what they're good at.

RENEE MONTGOMERY: I completely agree. I just think that I'm just excited about how my teammates stepped up in the big moments just to get us here. I think everybody came in, they knew what they had to do and everyone did their part no matter how big or small it was. That's just the most fulfilling part.

Q. Maya, can you just address the defensive effort on their role players compared to last year, how you shut down Pohlen and Pedersen and Harmon, they killed you last year, and what were you able to do this year that you weren't able to do last year?

MAYA MOORE: That was part of the game plan, too, make sure we guard the 3 point line. Which I thought we did a very good job of up until a little bit in the second half. Because that's what hurt us last year.

They were getting inside with Jayne, she's a great player, she's going to score. We tried to make it tough for her. But if other people start getting involved, it gives the whole team momentum that way. So we just tried to do a good job recovering back on them, trying to make it tough for them, pressuring them, and it worked.

Q. Renee, do you ever surprise yourself with your capacity to come up big in important situations like this?

RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it's just practice. I think every day in practice I practice to be able to step up in the big moments, and that's why you put yourself in every drill, to be able to, when your teammates need you, hit the big shot or drive.

You just feel completely comfortable and ready when you've practiced hard every day to come in in a big game and perform. I think it's just work ethic that gives you confidence. So, yeah, it's definitely work ethic.

Q. Maya, you guys talked up here yesterday about how uncomfortable Stanford made you last year. Do you feel like you guys made them uncomfortable early in the game tonight?

MAYA MOORE: I like to think so. I was really proud of my teammates for just stepping up and just really putting pressure on the guards and doing a good job of trying to help each other.

I think one of the best moments in the game was the ball was on the sideline in front of their bench and Renee I think Kalana or Tiffany, you guys just trapped and just pressured the guards. It was the game plan executed perfectly. So just for Coach to come and tell us to do something and we go out and do it, it just feels great. Especially right here in the Final Four.

Q. Maya, can you just talk about the sense of comfort you have playing with Renee when she's locked in the way she was today?

MAYA MOORE: It feels great, just to know that even when I make a crazy decision or throw up a horrible shot I know Renee's going to come back the next time and make something good happen.

So she definitely her presence on the court gives us confidence, and when she comes in and plays like herself, is patient, aggressive, attacks the hole, everybody, just lifts everybody. That's an important part of our team, our point guard, and I really feel like she's led us this way, and we have all the confidence in the world in her.

Q. Maya, it was 14 13. What was Stanford doing early on and what did you guys do defensively to stop them and go on that run?

MAYA MOORE: In the beginning of the game, both teams are going to battle. It's one of those things where we just can't get try to get a 20 point lead off of one shot.

So it was going up and down. Stanford was running the floor really hard. And we had to adjust to that and get back in transition. They were getting some transition buckets. Once we started containing them that way, that helped defensively, and then offensively we just found an open guy. Tiffany hit some big shots, Kalana hit some big shots. When everybody's contributing like that, our momentum just swings and that's when the lead we separate from other teams.

Q. Renee, how much was last year's game against Stanford like just in the back of your mind all season long, like as you went through all those drills and did all the hard work to get back here?

RENEE MONTGOMERY: Stanford wasn't the only team on our minds. You think back to all of our losses, that was probably the only team in her mind because it was her first loss in the tournament. But I think back to when we lost to Duke and LSU, you don't forget losses. Stanford was the most fresh loss, but you just think back to all the years where you fell short. And you just push yourself harder because you know you need that extra 2 percent in the Final Four. You need that extra everything when it comes down to the Final Four. And we kept on falling short. So you have to change something when you're not successful, and I think all the losses that I've had in my career just got me to where we are here today.

AMY YAKOLA: Thank you both. Congratulations. Questions for Coach.

Q. Coach, I know you know Renee so well. Do you have a sense when you see her before a game or you chat with her before a game, can you read her mind, you know what she's thinking? Do you have a sense of what she might do over the next 40 minutes?

COACH AURIEMMA: Pretty much. I think we all do on our team, all of our coaches are very aware of that. It's not just right before the game, it's the day leading up to the game. It's everything that she does.

A performance like tonight is almost what I've come to expect from Renee in any meaningful, big game, because that's who she is. And she's absolutely right about I don't think there was a drill this year at any one time that I can remember where she didn't treat that drill like it was for the national championship.

Every dribble move, every coming off a screen, you know, every single thing that she did was at that level every day. And when you do that, as she said, you expect to be in this position. And that's what you're planning for. She's Renee Montgomery, you know? She's just really good.

Q. Geno, 38 games in, does this team continue to impress you by the way it executes and responds in situations such as this?

COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah. Yeah. We talked about that before the game. We talked about that when you believe in yourself and you believe in each other and in the group how you know that the person sitting next to you and the one behind you and the one in front of you have all invested the exact same amount and are going to be there for you, it's a real comfort level. It's something that all great teams share and it allows you to withstand the other teams making shots, your missing shots. It allows you to withstand anything. They're just really intertwined and really connected right now and they have been since September. My job's been much easier this year than the last three or four years in terms of knowing that they're ready to play.

Q. Geno, last time you were in St. Louis, it was a similar situation. First half you dominated. It was 13 or in that range and you guys didn't come out in the second half and finish the job. Did you bring that up with them or compare how this team was able to come out in that second half and just lock up on them defensively and take this game over?

COACH AURIEMMA: Actually, I didn't bring up our game with Notre Dame in 2001. In the locker room I brought up the Louisville/Oklahoma game that was played right before us. Oklahoma is up 12 and we're up 13, and at this time of the year, you know, there's no recovering from a bad five, six, seven, eight, ten minutes. There's no getting it back.

So I thought if we would come out in the second half and put together a real good five minute spurt that it would be hard for Stanford to come back from that. And they helped us. I mean, they missed some shots and we took advantage of it. But I haven't really mentioned anything about the Notre Dame game back here in 2001. We're on the same bench as we were then. We're in the same locker room as we were then. There's a lot of similarities. But I'm trying not to burden them with that.

Q. How satisfying is it to get back a win from a team that beat you last time?

COACH AURIEMMA: I like Tara, you know? And I respect what she's done and I've always had great admiration for the way she coaches and the kids she gets to go to Stanford and play. And so that really didn't enter any of it. No more satisfaction beating Stanford than it would have been Oklahoma or Louisville in the semifinal game.

The feelings are more about I don't want this team to come up short. I don't want them to stop playing. I wanted them to be in the championship game. Who we had to play to get there was really not even an afterthought. I was more scared and more nervous rather than looking for some satisfaction for beating them.

They're a hard team to play against, and any time you beat Stanford, you've accomplished a great deal.

Q. Since you brought up the Oklahoma/Louisville game at half, how astonished or breathtaking was Louisville's comeback in that second half, and does that familiarity give you any sense of what exactly going into the championship game?

COACH AURIEMMA: I wish we were playing anybody but Louisville Tuesday night. Anybody. I don't care who. And the reason I say that is at least we're going to have a Big East national champion. So that's a good thing. The bad thing is the last team you want to play is a team that you beat the way we beat them the two times we played them. And especially the last time we played them.

So when I saw what they did today, I was not surprised. I wasn't surprised they beat Maryland. I wasn't surprised they got here. We've seen them play. I've seen what Angel can do, by herself, just take over games.

For them to only be down 12 and she hadn't scored yet, you know, Oklahoma's in trouble. They're up 12, but they're in trouble because Angel hasn't scored yet.

So the familiarity works both ways, you know? They know us as much as we know them.

Q. Is this the most satisfying get to the championship game since you have Renee who hasn't been there before? I mean, you've had a lot of titles and a lot of teams make to it the championship, but is there something about her that this is for her to get a championship and put her name with the other incredible players to come through UConn?

COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, yeah, I've kind of felt that from the very first one. I don't mean to go into the history of Connecticut basketball, but in 1991 I just wanted to go to the Final Four because I had a couple seniors that were just responsible for building our program.

Then in '95 I really wanted Rebecca Lobo to go out as a national champion. And the same with Sue and the same with Diana. You love when your best players, the ones that have given their heart and soul to your program and have accomplished so many things for themselves individually, for your team, for their teammates, I don't think there's anything greater than winning your last college game. I don't know that there's anything that could possibly top that.

And I tell my players this all the time. It's not about me or my coaches or the University of Connecticut or the fans that are out here. They might not want to hear that, but it's not about that. Because if we were playing in front of nobody at midnight, it would still be the same. It's about the players that are doing it and how they're going to remember their experience at Connecticut.

If you're Renee Montgomery and we would be fortunate enough to win Tuesday night, that would be like waking up from a dream with a smile on your face for the rest of your life. I just can't imagine that it could get any better than that.

AMY YAKOLA: Thank you, Coach.

AMY YAKOLA: Joined by Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer as well as student athletes Jayne Appel and Jillian Harmon. Coach, when you're ready, an opening statement.

COACH VANDERVEER: First, I'd just like to congratulate Connecticut on a great game. They have a terrific team, and I thought it was a really outstanding individual performance by Renee Montgomery.

And, second, I'd like to just extend my congratulations to Stanford and to especially Jill and Jayne being up here, having just a fabulous season, a team I'm really proud of. And I really liked how our team battled. This was a very tough night for us.

We did not shoot the ball well at all. We struggled turning the ball over. We worked very hard defensively, and were in great position and took away a lot of the things we needed to do. They still made some shots.

And our team, especially with the leadership of Jill and Jayne, competed for 40 minutes and represented themselves and our team and our university in a way that I'm exceedingly proud of.

AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Jayne, through much of the first half and a fair portion of the second half, they seemed to have you playing much further out from the basket than I've seen in the last five games I've watched you. Late in the game you were able to get much closer to the hoop. And the scoring picked up. What were they doing and what changed?

JAYNE APPEL: I think they came out with a game plan to be very physical, always have a body on me and push me out away from the block. As the game went on I just kept trying, kept trying to get in as deep as possible and as close to the basket as possible. Just kept trying to wear them down, I guess, and tried to give myself the best opportunity to score.

Q. Jill, was it a frustrating start? There were some quick turnovers and you guys were having trouble moving the ball around. Then it was 14 13, then they went on a run. Was that not the start obviously that you guys wanted?

JILLIAN HARMON: It was definitely a disappointing start. UConn is a great team and they played a great game. They hit shots. We didn't hit many shots. But I'm so proud of the way our team stayed with it. We were positive for the whole 40 minutes, and it's an honor to be a part of this team.

Q. Jill, can you just talk about this being your last game?

JILLIAN HARMON: I don't know how it's been a great four years. I couldn't have asked more. The best coaches in the world. Best teammates. To have it come to an end is a bit surreal. I was balling my eyes out in the locker room not because we lost the game but because I can't play with these ladies again. But I know they'll come back next year and hopefully be at the Final Four and hopefully I'll be here to watch.

Q. Jill, can you step back and play coach for a second. What would you tell your teammates for next year?

JILLIAN HARMON: Just to work on things they need to work on, to remember this loss and have it motivate them. I think our loss last year in the championship game really motivated us just to improve.

And I know everyone on our team can do that. And I know this team will be back strong.

AMY YAKOLA: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

Q. Will you talk about those first maybe 10 minutes of the game, how things went and what kind of hole it put you in?

COACH VANDERVEER: I think, well, first of all, as somebody already mentioned, it was extremely physical, in terms of the amount of contact on Jayne. I mean, just every time she came down totally pushing her off the block.

And so that created a situation where she then she was easier to double because she was closer to the perimeter people. And we did turn it over. We did miss shots that we needed to make.

I thought we were doing a really good job defensively. We rebounded well, but our offense was we were taken out of our offense by the physicality inside. And they're extremely aggressive and quick on the perimeter.

And we just, you know we took some bad shots, I thought, early. Some quick shots. We missed some shots that we needed to make. And we had too many turnovers.

At the same time, they did go they went on a run where like one time we just totally lost Montgomery. And honestly, for their team, they really capitalized on anytime for the most part anytime someone was open like the first play of the game, Hayes was left open. She knocked down a 3.

And we weren't open that much. But we have to help ourselves more by knocking down shots and making free throws. There's certain things that as a team we have to do to be able to stay in it.

We had some open shots we needed to knock down. Had some free throws that we needed to knock down.

Q. Coach, Nnemkadi spent more time on the bench than she typically does in a game. Was it part of your strategy to sort of pick up more guard play?

COACH VANDERVEER: Are you talking about Nnemkadi Ogwumike? Nnemkadi Ogwumike played really well. And she's averaging about 25 minutes. She played about the amount of time that she was playing. Defensively it was the toughest matchup for her guarding Maya Moore. And a couple times she asked for a sub. She's young and she was tired. But I thought she did a great job when she was in there.

And also some of the things that they were giving us were kind of more to be spread out, and for her to make better decisions on the perimeter and I think as she gets more experience, to be able to hit more of a high post shot and a perimeter shot, I thought she did a great job for us. So she rebounded. She scored. And she really competed well for the time she was in there.

Q. Can you just reflect on the whole season? You lost your best player, Candice Wiggins, to graduation, lost your point guard but yet you made it to the semifinal game. And even though this was a bad loss, at this point can you put it all in perspective?

COACH VANDERVEER: I mean, Connecticut is a terrific team. One of the disappointments that I had was as soon as I looked at the bracket in some ways it's like, I mean, I really feel like we could compete on a really good basis with the other two teams that were here, whether it's Oklahoma. But Connecticut was head and shoulders above us tonight. And what I wanted to make sure with our team was this one game in some ways did define us but in some ways it did not define us.

The best thing that happened was the fact that when things were not going our way, our kids really they stayed with things really well. They competed. They weren't sniping at each other. They didn't have excuses when they came to the bench.

I was so proud of that. Now, it was very difficult. We didn't do some of the things that we needed to do or we wanted to do.

But we've really grown up a lot this season. And to have Jayne in there. She really was an All American in how she kept demanding the ball. Totally getting bodied out and stayed with things really well.

We have a very, very young team and we do not have the guard leadership that Connecticut had. I thought Jeanette filled in really well, but there were times tonight when we just didn't have the let's set things up and let's run things that we needed.

But for the whole season, for our team to be playing in the Final Four with what we've been through, I'm exceedingly proud. I just can't even I have to pinch myself, say, We're in the Final Four. And I just think that our team will build on this experience and it will set in that, wow, you get here, and we want to do better.

Q. You've been coaching for a while. How good is this Connecticut team? There's been four other undefeated teams in the history of this sport. You've seen a bunch of them, if not all of them. How good is this team? Where does it fit in?

COACH VANDERVEER: Tonight, I thought they played really well tonight. They don't have maybe they don't have a lot of depth, but they don't need it. They play Renee Montgomery. They shoot the ball really well. And they defended us very well. They're extremely aggressive. They are extremely athletic.

I don't know about the hyperbole about the greatest team, whatever, whatever. It's comparing how can you compare? How can have you Diana Taurasi come back with that team? Geno would know best.

But they're on a mission. And I think coming out and beating them last year, they've dedicated themselves. Renee Montgomery has improved tremendously. Maya Moore is a great player. But I think she was really the difference maker, and I told Geno after, I said, That's the Player of the Year right there. She's phenomenal.

And their whole team, they stepped up and made plays that they had to make, and they don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't take bad shots. They play within the flow of the game and they play with a purpose.

Q. You mentioned in a conference several days ago your preference for not coaching an undefeated team and how you're uncomfortable with that and your ability to take lessons from defeats. With a young team and so many players returning next year, what lessons do you think those young players can take out of this defeat today?

COACH VANDERVEER: I think that's a great question. I mean, what they saw today either out there or from the bench was a team that has great athleticism, but they're in terrific shape. They run, and they set screens. They're very physical.

I think that they're very skilled. The ability to put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. We had players go in and the ball was taken right away. I think players on our team are going to if we want to be at this level, if we want to compete for a national championship, I think there are a lot of young players who can say, boy, I can get in the gym and I can improve and I can help our team. And hopefully either from not playing or from even playing and saying I can do better, I can help our team more.

Being better 3 point shooters, we didn't shoot the ball well from 3. We weren't as physical as we needed to be. So, again, this is Connecticut's a young team in a way, take away Renee Montgomery, they've got a lot of young players, too. In order for us to compete with them, we're going to have to really work hard in the off season in the same way they did.

Q. I know it's very soon after a loss. But do you have two or three things in your mind that you know you want to work on for next season with the group you've got coming back?

COACH VANDERVEER: I think that there are some real positives to be gained from this game, I think, anytime you come to the Final Four. But I think that people will leave with a sense of feeling great accomplishment of coming, but a great disappointment in not playing better.

I would say the number one we have to shoot the ball better. We have to take care of the ball. We have to be in better condition to be able to run. We have to be better skilled in handling the ball and less turnovers, knocking down shots. And through our season we have not shot the ball well from the perimeter. And that's something that we have to improve. But I think that that's something that we can do. And players will put the time into that. But I would just say basic skills. Fundamental skills of ball handling, passing, shooting, conditioning, and putting time in in the off season.

Q. Following up what you just said. When you get in the Pac 10, you've got two other teams that are pretty high level with you, you've got others that are developing. And you go for that long stretch. And I think of some earlier years, the Texas teams and the Southwest conference that play well early and not see a lot, and then you don't see it until you get here.

Would it be helpful to like get an out of conference game in late February or just give a team a sense of what's ahead?

COACH VANDERVEER: Our schedule next year is really as competitive, but we don't have that gap. We played Cal in the first game. So we played two games all the way through with the Pac 10. And I think the Pac 10 I don't feel that the Pac 10 did not get us ready. I will say this, the physical play that was allowed in this game was different than what but I've said that all year long. When we came back East and we played Duke, we had Eric on that game. When we played Tennessee. Next year we're opening at Old Dominion. Rutgers, we play Tennessee, Duke, Gonzaga, Utah.

We go to Connecticut. We're starting a home and away with Connecticut. So we're playing as tough a schedule as an assistant coach could give a head coach. So I think the main thing for us is to at this point be able to take positive things from our trip here, and I think our team will.

And it's been a phenomenal experience. We're thrilled to be here. We want to compete better, but I'm really proud of our team and how well we've done.

AMY YAKOLA: Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

Stanford Player Quotes

Junior Forward Jayne Appel
On Connecticut...
"They have very talented players and they do things extremely well. I think we were able to handle a lot of their runs."

On what we accomplished in Saint Louis...
"Naturally, we came here to win. We are still a very young team. This summer we will shoot a lot as a team, do a lot of running and try to become one of the fastest teams in college basketball."

On how tough this game was...
"I'm extremely proud of our team - we never gave up. We were down by as many as 30 points. We probably could have given up, but that's not Stanford basketball."

Junior Guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude
On what it's like to play for Stanford...
"It's a blessing to be a part of Stanford, both on and off the court. I've been exposed to so many things that will be helpful in developing my career. I've certainly made lifelong friends here, especially on this team. We've been able to reach the Elite Eight and the Final Four the last three years. As a junior, I have one more chance at it."

On the strength of the Pac-10 Conference...
"It's been a really good year for the Pac-10. The conference was very well represented in the tournament. Look at Connecticut - they had to beat two Pac-10 teams to get here (California and Arizona State)."

Sophomore Forward Kayla Pederson
On the length of the season...
"It's been a very long, but a very fun season. I'm very proud of this team. We wanted to win, especially for our seniors (Jillian Harmon and Morgan Clyburn)."

On Connecticut...
"They are a very talented team at all five positions. I think we did a good job stopping some of their transitions. They are a really tough team to beat."

On Stanford's chances next season...
"We are an extremely young team and we have a couple great recruits coming in to help us. We won our last 20 games coming into Saint Louis and we reached the Final Four the last two years -- very few other teams can claim to do that. I'm extremely proud of everyone on this team."

On her feelings after the loss...
"I think we have that much more to strive for next year. I just want to say I am so proud of this team. With two minutes left in the game we were all still encouraging each other and we never gave up. I know we'll be back next year."

On how she feels Connecticut with matchup against Louisville...
"I haven't seen Louisville play much but I think that if Connecticut plays like they did tonight, it will be hard for anyone to beat them."

On being down at halftime...
"We knew what Louisville had done in the first game and talked about it at halftime. We thought that since they came back in their game there was no reason we couldn't do it, too. No matter how much we were down we talked about making our own comeback and to just worry about one basket at a time. It worked for a while when we cut the lead from 30 to 20, but it just wasn't enough."

Sophomore Guard Jeanette Pohlen
On what positives come from the loss...
"We're young. We have our All-American coming back and we're just a young team that's still growing, I think. The fact that we made it this far is amazing. Of course making the finals was our goal but we've still accomplished a lot. We know what we can do, we know what we are capable of and I think we'll just keep getting better and better."