Rutgers vs. LSU Postgame Press ConferenceApril 1, 2007

LSU Postgame Press Conference

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

COACH STARKEY: Well first thing I would like to do is congratulate Rutgers. I thought they obviously had a game plan that was very well executed, let the kids play hard.

Obviously I hurt for our team and our fans and our administration. But I couldn't be more happy for somebody like Coach Stringer, who I have a great respect for a long time and realize tomorrow or Tuesday will be the first time that she will have a opportunity to play in a championship game and that's a good thing. I'm extremely proud of our kids. We talked about a couple things in the locker room. The most important was they didn't need to judge themselves based on this one outing. That they need to look at the entire body of work.

I told them that you don't have to win championships to be champions. And in my eyes they're champions. We talked a little bit about the Apollo 13 movie that we used for motivation, and even with that, their goal was to go to the moon and I guess ours was too but what sometimes things happen and change and the crew was supposed to bring the ship back safely.

And I thought that's what our team did. I thought we brought our program back to LSU, we have accomplished a lot of things and we have done it in a positive way and I'm extremely, extremely proud of them.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Sylvia, Coach Stringer did pay you nice compliments and said that she feels that you're the best center in the country. I imagine you don't feel quite like that tonight. What did they do to you to take you out of your game and have you had a game that you can recall that was like that?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Not taking anything from Rutgers defense, but I don't feel that they, I don't feel that they had to do much. I just think I had a sluggish game from the get go and couldn't get in rhythm and I couldn't do anything to help my team out from the jump ball.

Q. Erica, they made a lot of shots early. They made a lot of shots with hands in their face. They made a lot of 3s. Were you guys you were out there, it wasn't like you didn't get out there. What does that do to a team? I don't want to say does it deflate you or does it have at least a momentarily depressing effect or did you guys just play through that?

ERICA WHITE: A we just tried to play through it. And our saying tonight was we want to keep an even keel and don't know any negative emotions. If they hit a shot with a hand in their face you just say good shot. And you just come out and try to run the offense. And I commend them, they hit tough shots tonight.

Q. Sylvia, you said you couldn't do anything from the get go from the jump ball, it looked like you were still kind of tying your shoes when the jump ball went up and it was like that almost set a whole mood for the team maybe she basically took that jump ball without any opposition, were you kind of not ready, not into the game the way you thought you would be?

SYLVIA FOWLES: I was into the game. Just couldn't get into a rhythm.

Q. Sylvia, how physical was Kia Vaughn against you and how much did they surround you with extra players?

SYLVIA FOWLES: Kia Vaughn is a tremendous defensive player. She gave her all and she did all she had to do to keep me off the box and keep me off the boards. And about doubling and triple teaming, what are, but it really don't matter. I saw that all year and it didn't play a big effect.

Q. Erica, after all you've been through since March 8 or March 9, do you think it finally caught up to you, all the emotions that have been going through your head that all of a sudden after playing so well to this point that it all caught up to you you just came out and played plat flat?

ERICA WHITE: I don't think so. We didn't play our best tonight and they shot the ball extremely well and I think that's what happened here tonight and nothing else.

We just had a bad game. And it happened at the worst possible time. But I don't think we have anything to be ashamed of and I told my teammates, you know, people will say LSU has gone to the Final Four four years in a row and have lost, but we're getting to the hump, so the fact that we can't get over the hump, I think we should be proud of getting here and we definitely have nothing to be ashamed of.

Q. Erica, a couple of the stats that are obvious not in your favor in this game, obviously the shooting, and then Rutgers out rebounded you guys. Could you just talk about those two things and what was going on during the game.

ERICA WHITE: Rutgers hit tough shots. They hit shots with a hand in their face and I commend them for that. They shot the ball extremely well tonight. We definitely had our nights like that, not tonight. But when a team's shooting the ball that well, there's pretty much nothing you can do. We tried to contest it and I think we did that. They just hit the tough shots. They out rebounded us and we wanted to own the paint but we obviously didn't do that. And yeah, I just commend them, they played well tonight.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you to both our student athletes. We'll take questions for the coach.

Q. All the screens they were able to set with their big people outside it made it really tough for your defenders to get around. What did you try to do to combat that or to adjust to that. But even when you got a hand in their face they were still hitting them.

COACH STARKEY: I want to go over a couple things first, because I think it's really important along those lines. I think that one of the things that got us off to the bad start was our game plan. And I'm responsible for that.

One of the things we wanted to do is we wanted to play inside out on screens and take the dribble penetration, the paint away. So in playing that way we allowed them to get some open looks early that I didn't think were contested and they weren't contested because we weren't trying to contest them.

They came out and hit those shots early and it gave them some confidence.

After that they were hitting some tough shots. One of the things that they did bother us with was the ball screen plays up top. Early on we were sliding through and I thought we made a adjustment to trap and I thought we hurt them a little bit, but obviously the damage had been done.

Q. What do you think happened to Sylvia?

COACH STARKEY: That's a good question. Every now and then Sylvia gets frustrated. She doesn't hit her first shot or she doesn't get a call or and sometimes for whatever reason it's difficult for her to play through.

She's done that in the past. She doesn't do it nearly as much as she used to. And I think that's a positive thing.

But obviously the goal next year I would think would be for her to work through that on a consistent basis where it never affects her.

Q. Did Rutgers do anything different defensively against her that you hadn't seen or anything or just did it better?

COACH STARKEY: Nothing new at all. They played man to man. They blocked off our four player which was either Ashley Thomas or Porsha Phillips and doubled her up and we probably have seen that nine out of ten times when we play. And I thought they did a good job of it. I don't think we were necessarily mentally sharp in terms of what we needed to do offensively. When teams play us like that we need to reverse the basketball a little bit more and get a few more people some touches, make them guard us. The best possession for us was the first possession of the second half when we told our kids that we wanted five passes and two ball reversals. And we did that and we got the dump into Sylvia and she got the lay up. It was just a little frustrating that we didn't try and go about that a lot more often.

Q. What's next for you? Did you say good bye to the players or how does that work with the head coach not being here and you not being interested in the job?

COACH STARKEY: I haven't given much thought obviously to that. My next thing is to go back to the hotel and pack and get on the plane with the team tomorrow. I did tell the team that if I never coached again that I was thrilled that this was the last team that I coached. And if I coached for 20 more years, I would never forget what they had accomplished.

So I think that's important for them to know. And I don't know what's ahead for me. But I was tickled to death to be a part of them. I told my high school coach was here tonight and I made the comment to him that I didn't take them to the Final Four, they took me. And there really is a lot of truth to that. I'm awful proud of them.

Q. The fact that you have everybody or LSU has everybody coming back next year, how do you think this team will remember tonight and use it as motivation?

COACH STARKEY: Let me tell you something. This was a great thing I thought. It was a very emotional locker room. Every kid was crying. And this is the fourth Final Four we have been to. We have lost three previous Final Fours and I never seen a tear in there. This team really cared about each other. I think they were not just crying for themselves, but crying for each other. And I think it will be a great motivational factor for them. I think you'll see that they will have a great off season, Sylvia leaves on Friday for Italy to go work with USA Basketball. We, there's a lot of great things in place at LSU from our strength program to our trainer and these kids, they're wonderful. They're going to work hard. I think that obviously this team's best days are ahead of it.

Q. The question was asked of one of the players, do you think that at times like this it can be a relief to finally be done or do you think any of that factored in the way you guys played tonight?

COACH STARKEY: No. I don't think that factored into it at all. I really think that we came out and played poorly on a night against a good opponent who played extremely well.

I think if there was relief that it was over, the locker room wouldn't have been emotional, there wouldn't have been all those tears. I think it hurt and I think that's a good hurt. I'm glad they hurt. I think that's important in terms of them being competitive and being able to take that next step. I think this team is more prepared to take the next step than any team that we have had prior.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much.

COACH STARKEY: Thank you.

Rutgers Postgame Press Conference

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

COACH STRINGER: Wow. That's the best word to describe what's happening right here. I am so proud of these young ladies. The great effort. You didn't see a fight. We talked at the beginning about only believing what only believing in what we know. And I think that through the course of this year we were a team that had faith but we also believed because of what we saw.

We had an opportunity to play before great crowds and against the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country. And some of the most difficult situations. How could this be any more intimidating than this opportunity. So we took this more as a opportunity. No one expected us to be here. But the long story short is that the people of the state of New Jersey, these players first believed in themselves and as a result I thought that we executed extremely well, focused on the defensive side of it and didn't really read any of the hype.

We're happy to be here. That's why I'm so very proud of each and every person here. And just continue to keep the ball rolling. So I guess we'll see you all of you guys here on Tuesday, right?

THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions for student athletes.

Q. Kia, you essentially muscled Sylvia Fowles into irrelevance tonight. Can you talk about from the opening tip you were on her right away. Could you talk about what you were able to do?

KIA VAUGHN: I just basically played her well. Tried to be tough with her. She was a strong body and I just tried to physically make her move and keep her a away from the basket as far as I possibly could.

Q. Essence, could you talk about the development of your offensive game, you worked on your jumper over the summer and what really worked and what really got that thing going for you and when did you maybe during the season feel that confidence?

ESSENCE CARSON: Well, I really didn't take the time to work much on my jumper over the summer. And I got to apply what I worked on during USA basketball. And I played another summer league as well. And with that experience in summertime it really helped me out. It's one thing to practice it but once you get to use it in a real game situation that's when you really gain the experience and learn how to use it effectively. And that just really helped me throughout this entire season. It's really helped my team out that we do have balanced scoring from four or five positions.

Q. Essence, can you just describe what happened to your leg in the second half and are you okay for Tuesday?

ESSENCE CARSON: I'm perfectly fine. It was a cramp. Typical of athletes. Just a little dehydration. But I'm all fine and dandy now. Walking around and running on it. So I'll definitely be ready for Tuesday.

Q. Was it your right leg?

ESSENCE CARSON: My right quad.

Q. How much of the game plan was to shoot like that from outside or were the shots just kind of falling and were you surprised at how many went down?

MATEE AJAVON: I think it's just it was just there. We didn't plan to like shoot 3s. The shots were there. Which opened up for the inside. So they just went in.

Q. Kia, could you sense how frustrated Fowles got in the first half?

KIA VAUGHN: I really didn't try to feed into that. That's her problem or anything else. She stayed calm to me when I watched her. I just tried to do and maintain what I was doing. And at that I was watching help and everything else. But she's still good, I'm not taking anything away from her.

Q. Essence, Coach Stringer is in the Hall of Fame and this is the first time she's gotten this far. Can you talk about what it feels like to get her here?

ESSENCE CARSON: It feels great.

Q. Second time. Sorry.

ESSENCE CARSON: Well, that's okay. (Laughter.) It feels great to have gotten this far. But you can't give up. When you're this close, why just settle for this. We have worked so hard this entire season. We have come from nothing and basically built our foundation from scratch. And to give up now would just fall short of what she's really trying to achieve. Especially this year with this team. We're just going to keep on believing. There's one more game left.

Q. For any of the players. Coach talked a lot the other day about belief. And a lot about where your journey has taken you this year. But with full benefit of hindsight, if I would have told you when you were 2 4 that four and a half months later you would be in the national championship game, would you have believed it?

MATEE AJAVON: Honestly, no, we wouldn't have. We probably would have looked at you like you're crazy. But like you said, it was just belief in us, just believing in ourselves, the coaches always believing in us and just applying what we learned in practice to the court. So I think that's basically where it came from. And I give a lot of thanks to the coaches who have been doing a remarkable job of preparing us mentally and physically for what we're going through now.

Q. Kia, you looked into the in the first three or four times where Sylvia touched the ball today you just absolutely put the body on her, took her off her feet a couple times. And it didn't get called. Did you feel that the officials were letting you two play and letting you the word was used "muscle her" before. Have you ever muscled somebody like that off the floor? And not gotten called for a foul?

KIA VAUGHN: I didn't realize I lifted her off the floor. I'm sorry.

Q. Kia went out with her second foul nine minutes into the first half. E, who is the leading scorer, goes down seven minutes in into the second half. Why did none of that matter tonight?

MATEE AJAVON: Because we prepared for these things in practice. You got to be prepared for it all. And no matter who is on the floor, you got to have everything has to flow. So I think that the coach he's did a great job substituting and knowing who to put in at certain times.

Q. Essence, and Mat, that point in the first half there was last five minutes of the game where it was score, 55, turnover, score again, 55, turnover, or a missed shot for them. And I think you guys had pulled away at that point. And LSU just didn't know what to do. Is that the point at which you guys thought, okay, this is we're going to go to the national championship game?

ESSENCE CARSON: Not at all. Because LSU, they're a great fighting team.

At this stage, in the post season, you can't declare victory that early. Especially in the first half. They're there's still 20 plus minus left. And, I mean, if we were in that position we would definitely wouldn't give up. We would keep fighting, keep fighting, keep surviving. Until our hearts pounded out of our chest.

So we knew that they were coming back in the second half and they would be very strong and try to come out really intense. And they did come out second half pretty strong. And we knew it wasn't over until it was over until that horn went off.

Q. For Mat, I noticed you were the fourth leading 3 point shooter on the team. Did you have you ever had a game like this before and what was going through your mind when your shots were falling?

MATEE AJAVON: I'm not sure if I had a game like that before. It was just in the flow of the game. My teammates did a great job of recognizing that I was hitting the shots and passing it back to me. So I just give a lot of credit to my teammates.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We'll now start with questions for Coach.

Q. When Kia went out at 11:22 to go in the first half, Sylvia only got one shot. What did you tell Rashidat? What were your instructions to her?

COACH STRINGER: Well, if you noticed even we only have 10 players but we have been using all 10 of those players and each person has had a game where they have made a huge difference. They have had significant minutes. So it's not a front. Just to go ahead when we have got a 10 point lead or whatever, Rashidat has been in games where she's had to make a difference. So we were trying to tell her at the beginning, you don't have time for a 30 second, you're trying to find yourself and someone picking up a foul or have somebody get the rebounds they're not supposed to. See yourself through every move that Kia is involved in and that time will come. Because I only anticipated playing Kia about three to five minutes if she didn't pick up a foul and taking her out. So that Ra got a feel for how the game was being played to the inside any way, so Ra knew that. So when it happened, it's like a relay, this is the opportunity that you've been waiting for. So step in and let's go. You got to cover it, you're not missing a beat on this. The same thing, Mat was a little rattled at the beginning and we needed to bring in

What's interesting about that is they're freshmen, you know. But they seem to be oblivious. We haven't really pounded it into their heads this the Final Four, my God, it's the Final Four. We just tried to deal with the game in a technical sense. We understand history, that we are fourth seed. We're not supposed to be here. No one expected us to be here. That's all right with us.

What we're looking to do is to feel good about ourselves. And so, you know, when Brittany was able to step in there and spell Mat for a couple minutes, she got a chance to talk to her, settle her down. So that gave me a good sense. Now Brittany is ready. Now we put her back in but then of course E goes down.

For some strange reason in years past I have been in, you know, games that lead to a Final Four and you've got a loss of crucial player and your whole team tends to reflect those minutes that that player has been gone. But what's interesting about this team is that, as Mat said, they really believe and know that they're a team. They're not individually looking for accolades as you can see we got none. The only thing that we're looking for is a respect well, that's true. All you have to do is look at that. That tells you something right there. But all you have to do is recognize that we're just playing together as a team and one person asked, well, what makes us so dangerous, is I don't know if it was going to come from E or if it was going to come from Mat or from Brittany. You don't know where it's going to come from. They have functioned all year long doing bad and doing well or doing good and doing, good and bad. But they have done it together. So.

Q. Can you go back to '82 and think about what it was like back with Cheney State back then, and did you think it would take 25 years to get a shot at another, to play for another national championship and can you just describe the feelings now reaching the championship game as opposed to then?

COACH STRINGER: Well, I think that if anyone were to think that of how long anything would take when you're trying to excel at those levels, I don't think that we could probably make it. I think that but because each year I really love what I do in coaching and I look at it from a technical sense of considering where the players are and molding them into the players that you hope them to be, that the years kind of pass.

No, I didn't think about 25 years. I do know this, my heart was broken when I did have to make substitutions, much like what happened with Kia. And as I shared with some you, when I took my 6 4 out I had to bring in a 5 11, and the meantime the game was against Louisiana Tech. It was the first championship that the NCAA put on. I was bringing a 5 11; they were bringing a 6 2, Dennis Rodman's sister who was mad she was coming off the bench, so you know it was just rough.

So this was nice it was a different feeling. I really have confidence in all the players and I don't know why other than the fact that as I said to some of you, really do believe that our steps are in order. I do believe that this is the team of destiny and there's a sense of calm. I was really nervous and anxious. I had been very, very calm. Sometimes I have to ask myself, what the heck am I doing? You know. And it's almost as though I'm free to coach and I feel very good about it. I feel very good about the coaches that are around me. I feel good about the players that are there. And as you know, Rutgers athletics, our football team had such great success, and our so many of our other programs and I just wanted to carry that ball and we know that it's about hard work. I think I saw with the guys what they went through, the football team, and we knew what we had to do and our men's basketball team, too, and we believed it. Gymnastics and every other aspect of soccer, everything that is about Rutgers, we want the people throughout the country to know what it means to come from New Jersey and to a great extent both New York and New Jersey are combined, joined together forces, and we really do feel as one. This team is real proud of the fact that our governor was here, the president of our university. Of course our athletic director was here, but our football and basketball coaches were here. That spoke volumes. So many of the fans that are here and perhaps they're the only people that believed in us. We're grateful. We appreciate that. We just want to make everybody proud and we'll continue to work hard.

Q. Coaches make plans but players have to execute the plans. And have you seen two players, your two posts ever do as solid a job as those two? You don't ever completely stop Sylvia, but I'm guessing that that's as stopped as she got this year.

COACH STRINGER: Let me ask you this. Where are you from?

Q. Cleveland.

COACH STRINGER: Cleveland. Okay. But your observations are very good. Because I'm going to tell you something, not only that, not only that, I thought that the key to that believe it or not was Heather Zurich. Heather recognized who she was playing, and she basically stepped to the four player and then backed off and that made a difference, you see, because in order for Sylvia Fowles to get into what she likes to do best, as all of you know, is that hook shot. But in order to have a hook, you have got it's got to be extended to the outside. So that the recovery was back down to the inside. So that took away that.

I don't think maybe she has worked this hard to get that because she wanted that but in the meantime Kia kept pushing her up she caught her high in the lane and kept her up. So that goes without saying that's perhaps something that you didn't see. Or know.

LSU is as good a team as I've seen all year. And Sylvia Fowles is the best center in America. Period. We were on high alert and I didn't know that we were going to do this good a job. We did. But I can honestly tell you that I just know that this team as a whole executed the way that they did.

And what I'm most impressed with Kia about is that normally Kia gets a little anxious when she gets in the post position, especially with a shot blocker that's as intimidating as Sylvia Fowles was. So my mindset was to give her lead passes so she didn't have to do anything other than to take it to the hole. No reads, no nothing. Catch it and make the pass that will lead her to the basket. But I was stunned because Kia not so much stunned. I should say it like this. I am so proud of the continued development of each and every player including Rashidat, each and every they're so young that they grow and learn every day. What was very significant for me was to see her catch it, keep it tight, look over her shoulder, not get anxious, and hold the ball and in a controlled position. And then go up over the top of her and take that shot. Or be able to bounce the pass back out. So there was a lot of growth that we saw today.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for joining us, we'll see you to tomorrow.

COACH STRINGER: Thanks, every one.

-Courtesy Wisconsin