Pregame Quotes: Rutgers vs. Arizona StateÂMarch 25, 2007Â



#4 Rutgers

Coach C. Vivian Stringer
Overall thoughts on the game&
Obviously, we are happy and excited to be here. We are looking forward to the game tomorrow. It seems that it has been our destiny to play Arizona State. As most of you know, we were supposed to play them actually our first game or second game in the Virgin Islands, right before Thanksgiving. A very unfortunate incident occurred, so its kind of ironic that the game that was supposed to be played at the beginning is now being played at the end to decide who goes to the Final Four. With that, we are excited to be here and look forward to a great game.

How did you sleep last night?
I didnt actually. I hope to get some sleep this afternoon. You get a chance to appreciate a win like that and quickly you need to compartmentalize it and put it in a box. In the future, one of these days Ill get to smile and think about it and realize how great the moment was. We looked at film on ASU last night and I was saying to them that I dont in my mind own ASU, but I plan to by tomorrow morning. So there was a lot of work to do. Theres no time to rest on my side, players need to rest their legs, but I need to be sharp and know what Im talking about.

Could you elaborate on the comments you made yesterday about when you were scheduled to play ASU, that you were not ready to handle their defense?
Thats true, we honestly werent. We could not have handled that team at that time, we were so young. When I asked them what sort of defense we should use to stop them, one freshman said man-to-man, she didnt have a clue. I really feel that ASU is one of the top teams in the country, they just execute so well and they do all the right things. Weve come quite a bit since then and I think everybody knows that, so I think it will be a very, very good and competitive game.

Are you concerned about the emotional drain from day to day being a factor?
Yes, but a coach cant control that; you just sort of know. This is going to be a real test of our maturity because I know that Arizona State is for real. If we are not on 911 high alert with the passes and the way we come off of screen, our execution, if we are not well rested and our minds clear, this will be one of the most frustrating games of our career and I know that. This is a test of all times. To me, this test of playing Arizona State is like a 4-5 match-up, its really a toss-up. The difficulty in coming here was that so many of the fans were here supporting Duke, and Duke really was and in my mind still is the No. 1 team in the country. We were just the better team on that day and we won just on that day. With us, weve got a job with Arizona State.

Are you surprised at all that this young team could go this far and what turned it for them?
Yes, I am surprised. If you were to sit up here and say, oh yea, we knew we were going to be a Final Four team and come from behind and beat Duke& come on now, lets be real about this. You know how many shook my hand in the hallway, you know, good luck. It was like going to a funeral. It was like, were going down to Duke tonight; we had a nice season. I thought geez, I didnt even want to see anybody else say good luck because they didnt say it with heart and enthusiasm like go down and get em; I didnt get that at all. It was like a funeral, all they had to do was put a flower in my other hand. And I mean everybody; I dont think there was one person who said you can get them.

Having said that, no, because this team was the most unlikely, because this team was the only team that did not pass a physical test. They did not commit themselves in the preseason, they came in overweight, they came in low in their expectation of themselves and by numbers, were able to force me to play them because if I didnt, I didnt have enough people to fill a team. Theres five of them and only two of them passed the test. We needed to put five out there and [Matee] Ajavon cant play. And Im stubborn in that respect, I will not; thats the reason why the numbers you saw in the starting lineups. In the beginning of the season, the only people that can start are those that are worthy. You have to prove that you will work hard enough to be on the floor. Just because you have skill is not enough. So starters will have passed those tests. Therefore you saw Katie Adams start because she deserved to. You saw Myia [McCrudy], because Myia passed the test. The other people, trust me, they didnt pass the test.

There was a lot of learning that was involved because we did not embrace defense and that was different for me. These kids came in highly ranked as a class, but individually their skills were lacking. A lot of times people are told the truth and they just think they can play. There were times that we would be shooting the heck out of the ball and we couldnt guard anybody. We had two games where we gave up 85 points. In all (of) my career, Ive only had 85 points scored on me as a coach five times. A long history, five times. We had it in back-to-back games. They didnt even have an appreciation that I was personally hurting.

I took it for as long as I could. I was trying to allow them to find themselves, but I couldnt take it anymore. If were going to lose, we are going to lose my way. We are going to take something out of your legs, because we are going to play defense. We began to break the game down so that they understood and they began to embrace that.

Kia Vaughn (Sophomore center)
You have had two good performances against teams that have pretty dominant big players in the last two games. What changes do you have to make against a team that doesnt really have a big player on the inside?
Nothing, really. I just go out and do what I normally do. This is March Madness and she might be able to play 38 minutes and I just have to be ready for anything.

Heather Zurich (Sophomore forward)
What was it like waking up this morning? Did you watch the game on ESPN Classic? Did you wake up and say Oh my gosh, we won?
I didnt watch the game again. We have another game to play. We have to regain our focus and get ready to play tomorrow.

Matee Ajavon (Junior guard)
You have really been turning it on during the NCAA Tournament. What are your thoughts on your performance and that of your teammates?
I believe that March is a time where your back is basically against the wall. I just try to give my all to my teammates and, with the help of my teammates the results have been coming out magnificent.

Are you surprised to be here and what turned it for you this year?
I wouldnt say that we are surprised. I think that its great because throughout the year, we worked so hard to even be at this point. Surprised? No, because its been hard work.

Essence Carson (Junior forward/guard)
How do you come off of a huge emotional victory and then play a game that you are supposed to win? How do you avoid that emotional letdown?
I think that we have to have a tremendous focus and understand that if Arizona State wasnt that good, they wouldnt be here. They are a great team with a great coach and we have to take our game plan and just execute it.

How does Arizona State play and can you give us a short scouting report on them?
They are a very aggressive team, especially on the defensive end. They have good shooter and are a great well-balanced team. They are all great players, they are well coached. They remind you of a DePaul or a Villanova which bring all five out (on the perimeter) because all five players can shoot the ball.

Are you surprised to be here and what turned it for you this year?
Im not surprised at all. At the beginning of the year we had our own expectations for ourselves. We recruited five great players and they understood that they wanted them to come in here and do specific things, and have an immediate impact. Yes, we started out very slow and struggled in the beginning. But, we were young. We didnt know too much and as the season progressed they (the younger players) began to learn things. The more experienced they got, the better they became. Hard work and the ability to believe in ourselves has brought us this far.

The Arizona State coach said that many of her players think that this game is fate to happen. Can you take us back to when you heard about Aubree Johnsons brother dying and what the coaches said? Can you tell us exactly what happened that day?
That day we went about the day as if nothing happened because we didnt know. We ate breakfast and actually went to film and at the end of film the coach just broke the bad news to us. It was very sad, even though we didnt know the player and we werent too familiar with the team or even the family. Our hearts went out to them we have all lost someone, especially someone that close, and especially in that situation. I think Coach showed how much she cared for him at the time by saying they dont have to forfeit the game saying, just go and handle your family matters. I think it was destiny that we meet them again and we hope that the family is doing well at this point because we know they are still hurting.

Epiphanny Prince (Freshman guard)
What has this run through the NCAA Tournament been like as a freshman, considering how well you have been playing?
Its been really exciting to come out and play hard and play defense like nobody thought I was going to play defense and just shocking everybody.

You have done some special things in your high school career and throughout this season. How will you remember the last 20 seconds from yesterdays game?
Some people were telling me that it was the game-winning shot, but I was just trying to play defense and help the team in anyway that I could. I didnt even know that there were four people that were on me. I just saw one person at the time and I just tried to attack her.



#3 Arizona State

Coach Charli Turner Thorne :
Overall thoughts&
Just another quick thank you to the people of Greensboro; we are having such an amazing time and appreciate your hospitality for the NCAA tournament. This has just been a wonderful experience. We are very excited to still be playing. I guess we can go ahead and say it now. We did want to play Rutgers, for various reasons, obviously. Duke is a tremendous team and they are close to home and would have had (many) more fans here. We were supposed to play Rutgers earlier this season and its fun that we get to play them now. We are excited about it. We are a little more familiar with their team, but really we are just getting focused on what we need to do to win.

Do you feel like you guys are the underdogs, like youve been written off?
The players have probably paid more attention to it than I do. My husband sometimes will say after a game, you know, theres nothing on the website about your game. I really dont pay that much attention to it. I try to coach my players to basically take the outside distractions out because a lot of times things are brought up. I dont believe in stuff like that. I believe in positive energy and thats what we are trying to keep these young ladies focused on. I think they are doing a good job with that. Whether we are favored or not is not irrelevant.

Is there any update on Bries status?
Shes made a lot of improvement and its a game-time decision.

Can you compare the Rutgers team you had prepared for in November and the Rutgers team you will prepare for now?
They have a young team. What I saw early was a team that had a lot of potential to be an amazing defensive team, as all of Coach Stringers teams are. Possibly, one of the best offensive teams that she has had and Ive watched pretty much all of her teams over the years. They had some jelling to do. They had to figure out some things in terms of each other and playing to their strengths and things like that. I would look at them and think, if they get it together, wow, and they are there now.

Has the perception been off on this program?
Not mine. I think weve had a great year in terms of recognition. I feel like weve had some great articles written nationally about our program in terms of the Coaches poll and the AP poll. I think weve gotten tremendous respect nationally for our performance, week in and week out. I think maybe you may be referring to the tournament coverage, and I dont know. I would like to thank everybody out there that has written about our program and noticed our program and the success that weve had. I for one, appreciate it.

Can you talk about the difference between the Rutgers team with Matee Ajavon and the Rutgers team without her?
We knew that when they were without her, theres a big difference. I mean, Carson was playing the point, people were out of position and they just didnt have the formula. Shes not just their point guard, shes a tremendous defender, (and) shes a great scorer for them.

What do you do when you face a big post player like Kia Vaughn?
Most of the teams in the PAC-10 have dominant centers. That may have been the first game we played without a true center and Im happy we are playing a team with a true center now. Kirsten Thompson had been playing minimally and now we can put her back in the rotation, and hopefully Briann. We already have a deep rotation to play with on Monday night. I think it will be advantageous to us. To see our team play, we play team defense, we dont play one-on-one. Were actually pretty good at limiting teams inside game and not allowing them to come down and establish an inside game. You cant focus on one player. Vaughn has been their leading scorer in postseason play, but every player on the court for them can hurt you, every player is a tremendous scorer. Its going to be about great team defense which is something we are used to.

Talk about what you need to do to win tomorrow, about their pressure.
We have to take care of the ball. We have to play strong and not give them their 20, 25 points in transition off of turnovers. Then weve got to control the boards. I think those are the two biggest keys to being successful tomorrow night.

Can you talk a little about the differences in your pressures and they say no one can simulate their pressure? Do you feel no one can simulate your pressure? What is unique about your pressure?
Pressure is pressure and I think it is hard to simulate. That type of pressure, unless you cant have your first group against your first group in practice then, even if its a scout team or whatever, I do think it is hard to simulate. And most teams, frankly, dont play pressure defense. So you dont really practice against it very often. I think that is part of it why when people do see it, they arent as prepared for it. You dont have very much preparation time, so we are just really talking about things. We certainly couldnt simulate it out there today in practice. Obviously, we know a thing or two about pressure, so hopefully we will be able to counter it and play strong and do what we know we are supposed to do. I think they will too.

I think it is just the consistency of it, as the players alluded to. Weve got ten players, nine of ten players. We are really going to make you work for every touch.

Did Briann January practice today and will she have to do another baseline test tomorrow?
Yes, she practiced today, limited, and no, I dont know if she has to take another test tomorrow (Did she take a test before the game yesterday?) Correct. (Did she pass?) Yes, but she can still become symptomatic. There are things that can happen because she exerted herself today and thats why it will be a game-time decision tomorrow.

How do you feel, in general, about kids talking on the foul line while somebody is trying to take their shot? It was mentioned yesterday during the Rutgers game that they were yelling out Lindsey Hardings name. How do you feel about that; is it unsportsmanlike?
I think its to each her own. Its not something that our team does. If we had a player in our program that really liked to do it, which we dont have right now, I dont know if I would coach them not to do it. I wouldnt necessarily say its unsportsmanlike. I mean, come on, its tough. This is March and youve got to be tough. If you cant handle a few people talking at the free throw line, youre probably not going to get very far. If it is inappropriate in terms of what the player is saying; if they are saying somebodys name and something like that, we have people that do that in our conference and our players just laugh about it. I dont think there is anything wrong with that. I think it crosses the line in terms of profanity, things like that.

What would a trip to the Final Four mean to this team?
I think a lot of tremendous things can happen if we were to be successful tomorrow night for our program. I think the notoriety. For me right now, I would be so happy for these players, my coaching staff, everybody involved in the program. For all the sacrifices and hard work weve put in throughout the entire year, to be able to realize what was our vision from Day One. That is what it would mean initially. Obviously, there are a lot of by-products and things that come out of being successful. It would be nice to enjoy some of those things as well.

Your defensive patters have been compared to a hockey team, is this something that has evolved as your players have been able to handle it? Or is this something that has been your philosophy since you were coaching?
Definitely has transpired since we have had more talent. Back three or four years ago, when we started to turn a corner with our program, we made a really conscious decision. I looked at programs around the country and it seemed year after year, we would get bit, excuse my expression, in the butt and we wouldnt be able to do what we were supposed to do. For example, Briann January, who couldnt play, there was no way we would be able to win a basketball game. So we made a very conscious decision to go to a deeper roster. And as we did that and as we got great players to come to Arizona State, Ive always wanted to play an up-the-court game. Weve been recruiting towards that for the last three or four years to play up-tempo, not just pressure defense, but to run and extend our defense more. Obviously, we need depth to play hard every possession. It has just kind of evolved over the last three or four years.

When you go back to building your program, can you remember key moments when you felt you were starting to get things done?
Obviously, my fifth year (2001). In my fifth year, this is my eleventh season at Arizona State, we won our first Pac 10 championship. Thats when I really felt we had turned the corner. I recruited a few players that did not choose Arizona State. They chose a more successful, prominent program, and then later transferred back. Those players, Amanda Levens and Melody Johnson, had a huge impact on our program. (They) transferred back and we continued to recruit more complete players for our program. That was when I thought we really turned the corner. Weve been in the postseason ever since. Its just a process, you always want to do it quicker than you do.

I also think that getting Joseph Anders and Meg Sanders on board with me, my coaching staff really helped. They are both former head coaches, they are the winningest head coaches in their programs. So having them, with Laura Hughes, has been tremendous in terms of the program.

Have you played a team this year that presents the defense Rutgers has? And have you been in a low scoring game with that kind of intensity?
Ironically, we are usually in a lot of low scoring games. This year, I think weve set every offensive record that we have ever had at Arizona State because we are a lot more explosive and averaged a lot more points. We havent been in as many low scoring games, weve certainly been in some, and weve been in plenty of close games and one possession games. I would say no, I dont think weve really seen&we played Tennessee and I think they get after it pretty good and they might be the closest comparison to Rutgers. I was thinking about that last night, besides ourselves, we really havent been in that position.

Emily Westerburg

Kia Vaughn has had to face two bigs in the last two games and against you guys shes going to be getting a totally different look. What are you going to do to throw her off? Weve been undersized all year, so we are used to being really short and giving up pounds in the post position. That will be nothing different. I think it starts out on the perimeter with your defense and not letting her get the ball. Making it hard for them to make post entry passes. Our guards have been doing an incredible job of making sure that we have pressure on the ball and making sure that they cant see their post. For us, its about playing smart and trying to get around her by making the passes difficult and not allowing her to catch the ball in the post. When (they) catch it, we want to play between her and the basket and contest every shot and not foul her. Not give her any easy shots. Really play within her and the basket and make sure that we get every rebound.

What do you think of Rutgers defense and do you buy the idea that its really hard to simulate? There defense is a lot like ours and we play each other everyday in practice so we should be ready to go.

As seniors and co-captains what would it mean to close your career by going to the Final Four? Ever since we were freshmen, we talked about going to the NCAA and going to the Final Four. It wasnt just throwing it around like it was some dream, it was, what did we have to do to achieve that? I think that for four years we have worked on making that come true. Its not about dreaming. Its about what are we going to do in the off-season for every season to get to that point. Its going to be amazing if we get to say that we are going to a Final Four. Its really a tribute to the coaching staff at ASU who work really hard to make our dreams come true.

Aubree Johnson

Since the trip to the Virgin Islands, Coach Stringer has kept up with your family. How has that interaction been with her?
She has followed up a couple times just checking up to make sure that we are doing well. She has definitely gone above and beyond just to make sure that my family is doing well and going through the process how we should be. The day it happened she came and talked to us and I really admire her. She is a really classy lady.

What do you think of Rutgers defense and do you buy the idea that its really hard to simulate?
They definitely have a lot of really great options. They are great athletes. They are quick and have great hands. But, I think that if we are strong and take the extra half of a second and really set up what we want to do, (we can) get what we want and work for what we want.

You are the higher seeds. Are you the favorite?
If you pay attention to the media I would say that were probably not the favorite. They are so athletic and they have some really great players. I think that we arent as heard of as Rutgers. They have the past history of being in the Final Four and all that. I think that if we go out and play (the way) we can, we can be victorious.

The word yesterday was whoever wins the Rutgers-Duke game is going to the Final Four. Did you hear that and what do you think when you hear that?
I have heard about it a few times here and there. We try not to pay too much attention to that anyway. We are not a team that pays a lot of attention to rankings or polls because we know that on any given night any team can beat anybody, especially when it comes to Tournament time. There are some incredible teams and everybody wants to win and wants to go to the Final Four. Were just going to be ready. Were not going to focus on anybody else. (Just) do what we want to do and play Sun Devil basketball.

As seniors and co-captains what would it mean to close your career by going to the Final Four?
I think for me it would be incredible. We have gone through a lot this season and our team responded really well just coming together. Not only are we playing hard every possession, we really know each others strengths and weaknesses and we have come together. We talked from Day One about going to Cleveland and we know that we can do it. It would be an incredible way for both of us to go out making it to the Final Four.

Do you feel a little extra pressure to do well for your conference and if so why?
The Pac-10 conference is a great conference and we feel really proud to represent them. Even though Stanford got knocked off early, they were a great team all year and they just had an off-night. We want to represent the Pac-10 well, we want to play well and we want to show people that the West Coast really does have some great teams. In our conference we have a battle every time we step on the court. Were excited to represent the Pac-10.

Reagan Pariseau

What do you think of Rutgers defense and do you by the idea that its really hard to simulate?
From watching them, they play aggressive and pressure man. We have seen all sorts of defense this year and were just going to be poised and stick to our game plan.

Danielle Orsillo

What do you think of Rutgers defense and do you by the idea that its really hard to simulate?
Like everyone said they are really aggressive and have great hands. Its really about execution.

Not sure if you know whether you are starting tomorrow or not but what are you going to do if you have to come off the bench and how will you adjust your role from Saturday?
Like I said yesterday, when Im on the court, Im on the court. It doesnt matter when I go in whether its in the beginning or later on, its just playing the game. It doesnt matter to me as long as I get a chance to play and I get minutes. Im going to play hard no matter what.

Jill Noe

What do you think of the pressure that you put on other teams? What do you do that is so different?
Our pressure defense is really hard to match. I know that in practices I get frustrated so I can imagine what it feels like to be the other team. Were just going to bring it and pressure them. Im pretty sure Rutgers hasnt faced our pressure defense and not too many teams have. I think its a testament to Charli and our coaching staff to how hard we work.

We have people coming off the bench giving 110 percent and the people who are on the floor come out and get a quick blow. Its just constant boom, boom, boom and the opposing team doesnt have people that come in.

-- Courtesy The ACC