LSU Pregame Press ConferenceMarch 31, 2007

THE MODERATOR: We'll start with a opening statement from Coach Starkey and then take questions for the student athletes.

COACH STARKEY: Obviously we're very pleased to be here. This is our fourth time in four years. And I don't think the excitement changes at all.

I think it's one of the few things certainly in my lifetime that you've been involved with that lives up to the hype. And the NCAA does a wonderful job of organizing everything. Everything is right where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be. And then what's neat is each city is different.

The people in Cleveland have really been nice and opened their arms out to us and we have certainly enjoyed our experience to this point.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Erica, you were teammates with Essence Carson this summer, right? What was it like and what sort of challenge will she be tomorrow night?

ERICA WHITE: Essence was a great teammate. She's a big shot player and she did the same thing for us at USA basketball. One of the best things she did for our team was defense. She played well. She will be a challenge because she's a big shot taker and if they need a basket they're going to go to her. But I'm sure our defense will defend her.

Q. Erica and Sylvia, this is both for y'all. Talk about the way y'all play defense and it's just really come on strong, especially in the tournament. You look relentless out there. What kind of mindframe do you get into and what kind of pride does this team take in their defensive performance?

SYLVIA FOWLES: It's like our second nature. We take pride in our defense and anything it takes just to get out there and get under somebody's skin, we're willing to do it.

ERICA WHITE: I think that we just pride ourselves on our defense because it's been there for us and it's been solid for us all year. It's been the one thing that we can hang our hat on if the shots aren't falling or not playing well offensively, I believe that you can always give your best on the defensive end of the floor. We just are relentless and it looks like it's six people out there sometimes, but I think the biggest thing we do, we, Coach does a great job of scouting our opponents and we take them out of their initial sets and then do a good job of guarding the basketball when the shot clock runs down.

Q. Sylvia, there's been a lot of talk about how much you have really had a strong tournament and how well you've played. Do you feel within yourself that your game is, quote/unquote, elevated or do you think this is the way you've been playing and how do you feel about your efforts over the four games so far?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Every year my game improves. And I have to give credit to my coaches and my teammates for helping me get to that point. But I feel that my game has improved during the tournament time. And I feel that it's only going to get better.

Q. In any particular way? Seems like you're scoring a lot, rebounding a lot, blocking a lot of shots?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Just being consistent with everything that I do. If that's what it means, crashing the boards or taking more shots or getting my teammates into the offensive set.

Q. This is your third Final Four. Can you kind of speak to being here again, Sylvia, but you don't have Temeka Johnson and Seimone Augustus and kind of the challenges that it poses this time going into the Final Four.

SYLVIA FOWLES: Well, you just named two great players. But our coaches do a great job at recruiting and they know who to pick, the right people to pick to fit in the system. But just going into the tournament without them I think it's kind of different, but it's also a plus for us because we also just are one team. It's not a one man team. Everybody can get out there on the floor and perform what we're asked to do. So I say that's kind of different this year.

Q. Sylvia, being back here your fourth straight time, I guess well, not you, but as a program, does it give y'all any of an advantage that you've been here before, you've been here, done that, you know what to expect? What kind of advantage does that give you over a Rutgers or over any team that's here right now?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Truthfully, I don't think it gives you no kind of advantage. We always made it here, but we never made it to the big stage where we wanted to be.

Just having the experience under your belt doesn't mean anything because any opponent could come out any given night and be on. So I don't think it gives us an uplift at all. We just got to be focused and be ready to play.

Q. For Erica and Sylvia, what do you guys have to do differently to get to that bigger stage that you haven't made the last three times?

ERICA WHITE: I think the biggest thing that's going to help us this year is we're playing well right now. I remember last year's tournament run the best, and I said this before, you just look at those games and getting here we struggled every game, we came out and it took a second half effort to win the game. It finally caught up with us in the Final Four.

But this year every game in the tournament we're playing better. We're getting better. And we believe that. Our confidence is high. And we know we're playing good basketball. So I think this is the biggest thing that's going to help us right now.

SYLVIA FOWLES: I say there's no room for error. You just got to come out good on a good note from the get go. So I think that's what we need to do.

Q. Erica, has Coach changed at all since becoming the head coach from being the assistant to the head coach?

ERICA WHITE: I wouldn't say he's changed. He's doing some different things. Standing out in front of the program and speaking to the media more, but as far as the basketball goes, he's pretty much the same guy. He's just I think he's been sensitive to the situation and he's done a great job and given the team the things that we need. A lot of positive feedback and taking good care of us. So he's doing a great job.

Q. Erica, they're known for their ball pressure and the things they try to do against the other team's point guard. What can you do? What can your team help you to do to prepare for the kind of defense they're going to try to play on your position particularly, and what help can RaShonta give?

ERICA WHITE: I think that RaShonta can give a lot of help being that she's played point guard. So she has the same mentality that I have. And can handle the ball. Our offense is sound. Our principles are in place to handle the pressure. Personally, I don't shy away from it. I know that I can handle it. So it shouldn't bother me too much, and like I say, our program is sound and we can handle the pressure.

Q. Sylvia, are you seeing more double teams and how are you handling them?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Yes, I'm seeing more double teams, but it's nothing new. To me, I just have the mindset that you are going to shut me down or you're going to give up a three or give up a shot on the perimeter. So either way it goes it's a 50/50 chance for me.

Q. Sylvia, do you think that Kia Vaughn could be a challenge and if so, what does she do that might make her a challenge?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Most definitely I think Kia Vaughn will be a challenge. She put the ball on the floor very well and she can also get out and run. She can step away from the paint and she can rebound. It's going to be very competitive tomorrow.

Q. Do you look forward to that more when you know you're facing another center who is not easy to back down?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Yeah, I like a challenge. I think my best game is when I play against challenging people.

Q. I haven't seen you dunk very often in games, but I guess you did it today and it got a rise out of the crowd. Is that just something that you did for show today or was it something to fire you up or just something you always do in practice? Talk about that?

SYLVIA FOWLES: It's something I always do in practice, it just so happened we had fans in there to be able to watch and see it. So that's something I do every day in practice.

Q. Any reason? Can you talk about why we haven't seen it much in games? Is it just the circumstance or talk about that.

SYLVIA FOWLES: To tell you the truth, I really don't worry about it as much as some people think I should. But I just worry about doing what I have to do to help my teammates out. And if a opportunity for me to dunk comes, if I get one, I'm pretty sure I'll knock it down, but that's not my main focus right now.

THE MODERATOR: Okay, we'll take questions now for Coach.

Q. You guys played I think the lowest scoring Final Four game ever against Tennessee. This game certainly looks like it could have the makings of a game similar to that. Just talk about the importance of winning the, as you said before, the hollow possessions. But you know they're going to come for both teams and how much you have to value each possession because the points could be at such a premium? COACH STARKEY: I think the hollow possessions come about more from us not executing. But when you play against a team like Rutgers, you may not even get deep into that possession if you don't take care of the basketball.

I think that's certainly a concern for us. That's something that we have talked about with our team when we're watching tape and when we're practicing is the ability to handle their pressure. Sometimes they don't let you get very deep into your possession. That's their whole goal is to disrupt your team and to make them run their offense faster than what they normally do.

So we need to value the basketball and I think if we value the basketball and take care of it, I think we'll be able to get some good shots just based on that is what comes when teams pressure you like that. It's a little bit of a gamble and obviously they're extremely good at it.

Q. With your team's defensive ability, and Rutgers, very similar on the defensive sides, what kind of similarities do you draw defensively? And I guess the way your team has played through the tournament defensively it's something special.

COACH STARKEY: I think the biggest thing that I see is both teams enjoy playing defense. And that can be sometimes rare. If you watch their kids play, they get excited about it. And I feel like our kids do too. I think both teams have the athleticism to do a variety of things. Theirs is a little bit more full court where our ours is a little bit more half court.

I think they're both very good at taking dribble penetration away. I think they're both very good at getting passing lanes and I think both teams need to play a good defensive game in order for their teams to reach their potential when they're playing other good opponents.

Q. Could you first just maybe describe what this tournament has been like for you and then also just talk about have you had to work on focusing with the team to get through this tournament?

COACH STARKEY: The tournament has been exciting and it's been hectic. But it's always been like that. You travel, you play, you come home. You travel, you play, you come home. And that's been a good thing for me and it's been a good thing for the team.

We haven't did anything more differently in terms of focusing our kids and I think that's a compliment to our kids. We were playing good basketball before the things that unfolded after the SEC tournament, so it wasn't like we had to re invent the wheel or do anything new, it's just to make sure that the kids still understood what their goals were, and fortunately and obviously that they did.

So I think a lot has been made of me being in this position, but these kids have been phenomenal. They have been focused from day one and you can see it in practices, you can see it when we watch film and certainly you can see it in the way that we're playing right now.

Q. You've been quoted as saying that you're not interested in the job permanently under any circumstances. And even more so after the taking over and going through the first few rounds of the tournament. Can you explain what it is about the job so far that you've experienced that would make you more convinced than you were even before you started doing it? And also why do you see yourself or is there ever a point in your career where you're convinced or at what point during your career were you convinced that you were always going to be an assistant coach and didn't aspire to be more?

COACH STARKEY: The things that I enjoy doing the most and, equally as important, the things that I think I do fairly well are things such as teaching, running practice, and watching film.

And while I've been able to do that, through this process, it's meant me staying up a lot later, getting up a lot earlier, being away from my wife a lot more and being a lot more tired because of all the other things that are going on with my job.

And I'm still we haven't did anything with he recruiting. I haven't had to go out and fundraise, I haven't done any public speaking, so there's a lot of things that a head coach has to do. And, number one, I don't feel it is my forte, I don't feel like that's what I do best. And, number two, I think it takes away from the things that I do do well.

And I just think it's important that you understand your limitations, your strengths and your weaknesses. I'm not sure there was ever a time where I made up my mind that I just wanted to be a assistant coach, but I just think certainly at this point I'm 47 years old and I've always been a assistant coach and really never given it much thought or had necessarily very many schools come after me and offer me those type positions. So it's really never been something that I thought about until now.

Q. 47's pretty young.

COACH STARKEY: I don't know. In coaching it's kind of like dog years.

(Laughter.) I think I aged about two years in the last three weeks.

Q. Erica mentioned that you had been sensitive to the situation, sensitive to how you came into this position, what have you done, is it something you've done consciously or is it just kind of I mean, what have you done to be more sensitive to how to the team?

COACH STARKEY: It's been said that I'm very patient. And that's probably that's not true. I'm very impatient in terms of coaching and teaching. And if anybody that's watched us practice knows that I can get after individuals or get after a team pretty good.

I think that probably in light of what happened it's going to get more attention than what it needs, but I think in the post season I think that you need to be more positive. And I think I've been able to do that. And I think maybe they have just noticed it a little bit more because I'm the single voice at practice right now.

I think once you get in the post season, you have either there's an old saying the cake's in the oven. Everything's been mixed and that's it. We have either taught our team how to play or we haven't. So when you get in the post season it's I don't think it's a time necessarily for you to be impatient and I think that I've probably I've certainly been more patient with them but a lot of credit goes to them too. They really haven't given me much opportunity to get on them too much. So, again, they deserve a lot of credit.

Q. Being here fourth straight time in the program's history, does that give you an edge, an advantage that you have been through this process, you know what to expect? Or does it put any pressure to say that we need to come home with a championship or make a run?

COACH STARKEY: I think that in some ways there's a small advantage in terms of all the things that are peripheral that go on before you play. For instance, the autograph sessions, the open practice, yesterday we had to do some things for ESPN. And our kids are all aware of that. And they're all aware of how that stuff flows into the game. But I thought Sylvia's point was, you know, once the ball's thrown up, I don't think it matters. If experience would have been that important, we wouldn't be 0 3 in first round games. It still comes down to playing. And we have a different team this year. And I think that's important. That's good and bad and all the teams can say that. But it's I think each one is different, and I think it will come down to who plays well.

Q. One of the things that's been well documented is that there's not many people who have ever been in your position, taken over this late in the season or in the post season. There's so little to use as a guide for yourself, or has that been difficult or do you just kind of try to rely on the things that you have, that you've done in the past and not try to you said you haven't tried to change much, but has it been difficult with nothing to fall back on?

COACH STARKEY: No, not really. I think that again, I'll go back to the fact that post season play is so hectic. So I haven't had much time to think and that's probably been good for us and me.

We wanted to make sure that we had as normal a setup for our team as possible. Practices have been the same, our preparation in terms of breakdown and scouting have been the same. Travel has been the same. Part of that was we have had a really good year this year so there wasn't a reason to change for anything that we weren't doing well. So we have kept things as normal as possible.

Q. You've kind of been very humble about how this has all happened to you in the last month. I just wanted to ask you just about the challenge of falling into a Final Four as a head coach now with three coaches that have the experience that the other three coaches in this Final Four have.

COACH STARKEY: Those are three great coaches. I was joking with my staff this morning, that when you're in junior high and you have one of these aptitude tests and there's the four pitch pictures there's the apple, orange, the banana and the rock and you kind of have to check off the one that really doesn't fit, I would be the rock.

Those are just absolutely three great coaches. But I really can't think about that. Because I'm not going to be playing against Coach Stringer. My kids are going to play against her kids. And that's where the focus is is making sure that they're comfortable and that they're prepared and that they're ready to play. It was the same thing with Connecticut. I think a lot was made between Geno and I. He's a great Coach and just because my team was more successful that particular day doesn't change that. So I think the focus has to stay with the kids and how they play.

Q. Three straight years LSU has not got past this game. It's different, your team is different, of course you play a different team each time, but is there any common denominator that you learned from experience that you can a play that as you look back on it that can help you get over the hump this time?

COACH STARKEY: Each time we came here, the first year that we went, I don't think anybody expected us to go. And we played Tennessee down in New Orleans and we played really well. We just happened to fall a couple of points short. Tennessee made a play and scored at the bucket and that was the ballgame. But we played great.

Then the next time we lost to Baylor and we played really well the first half and had a great opportunity to win that basketball game and had a bad spell of play where we allowed Baylor to get in the game and get the momentum and beat us.

Then last year was a third game that was completely different where we just didn't play well at all. And I think Erica touched on that. We didn't play well at all in the post season. The three games leading up to the Final Four, all three of those games we were behind at half time and we were a No. 1 seed last year so we just weren't playing well.

And we feel like we're playing better right now. And I think that helps. Does it get us over the hump? I don't know. Rutgers is an excellent basketball team. When you get to this far in the season and you play the people that you play, you can play well and still go home. And that's our goal right now is just to play well and see what happens.

Q. In 1989 Steve Fisher took over the Michigan basketball team and went on and won the national championship. Now you said you're not interested in being the coach, what are you going to do next year?

COACH STARKEY: I haven't given that any thought at all. Right now. Things have been such a way in terms of our schedule and our team that the only thing I had to concentrate on is is just making sure these kids are having a good time and that we're getting prepared to play basketball. And when that's done then I'll probably sit down and look at my options.

Q. To follow up on a earlier question, have you seen any difference in Sylvia's game or approach from the regular season to the tournament?

COACH STARKEY: She's really played well on the big stage but she's done that all year. She just went through the SEC season where she had a double double every game. And within the SEC season we had a couple open dates and we plugged them in with Connecticut and South Florida. She had double doubles with them.

She's had a great year. We weren't on television as much this year, so I don't want to say she's a secret, but it's just not like she woke up against Connecticut and decided to dominate a game for the first time. She is a remarkable kid. For somebody that's as special as she is to be as humble as she is, I thought it was interesting here listening to her talk, and you mentioned Temeka Johnson and Seimone Augustus and she talked, she said, wow, there's two great players. This year we're a team. She doesn't even realize that she's one of those three now. That's kind of her mindset. And I think that makes her special. And I think it's really healthy for our team.

Q. Can you talk about Sylvia's hook shot and how much you have worked on her with that. It looks quite different from most women's hook shots. It looks like more of a not trying to be sexist, but more of a male's hook shot. That is full extension and wrist related instead of slinging it. Can you talk about what you have done with that?

COACH STARKEY: Well, it's something we started working on. She got here as a freshman and we put a lot of emphasis on it before her sophomore year. And basically if you ever come to our practice we the first 30 minutes is a pre practice period where the post players are on one end and perimeter players on the other and we spend a lot of time on fundamentals. And it will carry all the way through the season. We might only practice for 30, 45 minutes late in the season but we'll still have that 30 minute pre practice period to work on individual things. And that's certainly one of the things that we have worked on. It's a jump hook. We think that's the best shot for her because at 6 6 she can extend, it's a very difficult shot to block, probably the biggest thing this year is we started to work on her left hand and she's got a nice left handed jump hook now. Two summers ago she paid her own way and went up to Don Meyer's post camp and I know he spent some time working with her on her jump hook as well. So it's something that I think she feels comfortable with. She certainly knows how to use it very well and it's been really successful for her.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us, Coach.

-Courtesy Wisconsin