March 28, 2009


March 28, 2009 An interview with:


THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Coach Berenato from Pittsburgh, congratulations on a great season. Your opening comments?

COACH BERENATO: On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, we are excited to be here. It's great to make the Sweet 16 the second year in a row. It's something that a lot of people are surprised about but we aren't.

We feel that we have a really good team, a team that really doesn't have any stars. We are just a well-balanced program. I just want to thank everyone here in Oklahoma as well as we just came from -- where did we come from, Seattle, right? Yeah, Seattle. And the University of Washington. The NCAA committee and all the schools and the host communities. They've been great.

Our host, Caroline, has been wonderful, so to whoever picked here, and she has been a blessing for us and we had great soul food last night, we treated her, it was definitely out of her realm, but we like doing different things. We are excited about the game tomorrow night and excited about being here and we appreciate all of you being here.

Q. Coach, Shavonte was lightly recruited out of high school. Why the heck was she so lightly recruited and what did you guys see in here that put you on to her?

COACH BERENATO: My associate head coach Jeff Williams is the one who found out about her. He saw her and he has a great eye for talent. He can look and he has great vision.

He just said this kid was going to be special. She was a great track athlete, M.V.P. of her track team for four years in a row. He had been in touch with her and said we have to go see this kid. So we saw her in open gym and we took a chance, but you have to remember that we only had six wins when I got to Pitt, they had three wins, so we doubled it, but it was a whopping six wins.

We told her she could come and make the program and develop the program and she was into it. She was like, "how many games did you win?" And I said "six." But it's not like, for us, anyone -- my eighth grade daughter could have helped me. We had to get recruits, it was in the spring, we were starting a new year and we needed people to take some scholarships.

We love her personality and she has a smile the size of California, so we thought we would like her. Q. Agnus, I guess by this point you're used to playing on the road almost in these games. Would you talk about coming to Oklahoma City to play Oklahoma?

COACH BERENATO: I mean, you know, we knew we were -- you have to go on the road if you're not hosting, so we knew we were going on the road and the thought of being close wasn't even a possibility for us. We just -- I really thought we were going to go back to New Mexico, that's where we went last year, Albuquerque, I never thought about Seattle, but when it came on the board -- and honestly we couldn't see it, you couldn't see where you were going.

When we found out it was Seattle, it was like, okay, fine, and then where do you go from there, Oklahoma. Okay, fine. And my team has done exceptionally well because the Seattle trip was a six-and-a-half hour flight out and it's a three-hour time difference. Then we flew back home and the kids went to classes.

And then to come here, I missed geography in school and I thought it was an hour flight, it was almost three hours. We had a charter, it was three hours, and it was like "are you kidding me?" It has been rough.

When you look at other teams, they've had home seeds or been up the road apiece and they've come back home. Honestly, it's all part of the NCAA, but it makes it exciting and special. We handle whatever we're given, and I think that's what you do in life.

Basketball is just like the game of life, and businessmen and businesswomen, we travel all the time. We travel to California to see a two-hour basketball game of a 17-year-old and get on the red eye to come back home, so why not do it to get into the Sweet 16?

Q. Coach, talk about the match-up between Pepper Wilson and Courtney Paris.

COACH BERENATO: Obviously Courtney Paris is an All-American and averaging 16 and 14, and Courtney has a twin sister that's her side kick and she is playing at home. Pepper Wilson is a freshman and she doesn't have a sister that's a side kick, so what is there to talk about?

I think that Courtney is really good. I like Pepper, she is a freshman, she is learning, getting better every single game. She has played in the rugged, Big East conference and played against some of the best talent in the nation, Tina Charles, Candice Bingham, Tina Vaughn are some of the best in the nation.

She hasn't played against Courtney Paris, but I don't think it's a Courtney Paris show, it's her team against our team.

Q. Coach, as you've looked at Oklahoma, what do you see Whitney Hand, how she fits in and the things she brings to the table for Oklahoma?

COACH BERENATO: I think Whitney is a great player and she adds a lot to their team and she gives them the balance of the outside threat.

When you listen to these games, and I saw the game with Georgia Tech and they talked about she was all that, and I guess she was a rookie in her conference, rookie of the year, and she was shooting well and the game before she hurt her hand. She was like after that 4-for-16 and by a lot of people's standards, that's not so bad. She cracked it open against Georgia Tech, and I think she allows them to have an inside/outside threat, and any good basketball team has that.

So as a freshman, she has stepped up and Whitney looks like a kid that enjoys the game. I've only seen her on video, but I like watching her play because she has fun, smiles, I think that's really nice, and she has a hell of a shot.

Q. Coach, when you've dealt with a player going out four or five games as a starter, I think people don't understand what happens to -- because you bring somebody else in and that person was a reserve and somebody takes their place. Can you talk about in general when a team loses a starter, they adjust and then that starter comes back, how disruptive that can be in general?

COACH BERENATO: Well, I don't know that it's disruptive, I just think it's probably -- you went a couple of nights without dessert, and all of the sudden you got dessert again. It's kind of like you're in time-out, maybe. I don't look at it in a negative way.

Things happen for a reason. I feel like maybe there was a reason her being out. I know it killed her, it probably killed Sherri Coale, but maybe the rest of the team was like, hey, we need this kid. And I think what happens to group dynamics, you're right in that they continued to build and grow, but unfortunately the person that's injured is on the sideline.

So they're kind of feeling a little left out and they're not in on all the little jokes, and do you know what I'm saying? They can't be, every time the coach gets mad, "get on the line and run" and the kids are like, what, your feet aren't broke? Because there are group dynamics like that. I'm just sayin'.

So the people that are working hard are like "you're so lucky," and she's like, "you're kiddin' me!" It's almost like the co-worker that is sick, you're like, yeah, right, whatever, but you really need them. You need them to come back in, and your team has to move on, but the coach has to do a great job in the balance of reintegrating that person within the system, because women have feelings and those feelings get in the way.

Q. Coach, I think you and Gary Blair went to the same media school by the way.

COACH BERENATO: I love Gary Blair.

Q.  He (Gary Blair) comes here for games.

COACH BERENATO:  Gary Blair, we have vacationed before, with family and stuff.  It's like on "You Tube," know what I'm saying?  I can tell you a really funny story about Gary Blair.

Q. My question was going to be about the guard match-ups, because you have veteran talented guards, Oklahoma's guards are more youthful. Talk about the match-up and how you see that playing into tomorrow.

COACH BERENATO: I think that D-Rob is an awesome player and she makes Oklahoma go. She loves the transition game and pushed it into the paint. She likes to penetrate and kick, or if she gets into the paint, she is going to create things.

At the same time, Xenia Stewart for us is so focused and driven, and she has size that maybe can come back, like D-Rob has to offer, the key for us is to limit her explosiveness in the paint.

And I think Shavonte Zellous is playing at the top of her game, she is an All-American. My sports information person, Mindy, told me she has scored more points in the NCAA in the regional or the first and second round than any other person in the NCAA. She doesn't even know that, you know what I'm saying?

It's like she plays because she loves the game. She really enjoys our team. It's not about her, she'll do whatever the team needs her to do. That's how I look at the guards from Oklahoma. I think their team is good as well as Hand.

She'll do the same thing, she likes that 3-point shot, she is going to hangout there and shoot that, but if they need something else from her, I think she'll do it. I think they're going to be a great match-up.

Q. In these first two games you talked about the tempo of the game and how you guys would like to speed it up. Do you feel the same way going into this game? Or is this a different theme athletically? How do you see the pace and the tempo going?

COACH BERENATO: Paul, it's great you're here, so to my Pittsburgh people, we give you a special shout out! How about this weather, it's worse than home! We're not happy about that you guys -- no, I'm just kidding.

I think the tempo is going to be really important but you know me well enough, Paul, to know that we are who we are. I am who I am, I'm not going to change. Somebody might tell me to change, and I'm like okay for a second, and then I go back to who I am.

Both teams like to push, play up-tempo, push in transition, we're both aggressive defensive teams, whether it's man-to-man or a combination of zones and man-to-man and I think that's -- when you get to the Sweet 16 and you get to this level, I don't think anyone is changing the way they're playing because the way you play got you here, so why are you going to change?

You've got to go with it and you're going to try to adjust to what Oklahoma might do or Oklahoma might make adjustments to what we do, but at the same time to change tempo, no, because that's not what got us here.

Q. Are they similar to anyone that you played in the Big East? Do they remind you of anyone? COACH BERENATO: You know, that's like when my kid asks me to tell her about patterns, I don't know. I don't think like that. I don't know, you know? I just think in the Big East we're the best conference in the country. Bottom-line. We play against everything. Running teams, against slow-down Villanova teams, against inside/out teams, Louisville made it to the Elite Eight, we have four teams in the Sweet 16 and we have one that has advanced.

So I would say, sure we're playing against someone like that, like I'm trying to think -- no one is like Connecticut, they're really good. We play some teams from out here, we played Texas A&M, we lost by two possessions, we played Maryland, beat them by 30, here in the Sweet 16. We've played a lot of teams that are here, Louisville twice.

We've played Rutgers, beat Rutgers there, that was a tough environment and I will say that the Big East has prepared us for our environment. I think that's one thing that's important, you know.

You go to Connecticut and it's sold out, whether it's 11,000 or 17,000, you go to "The Rack," which is Rutgers, which was in the top-three toughest places to play in the nation, and we were able to get a win there in a hostile crowd. Louisville had 12,000 people. Of course, all for Louisville.

We played Gonzaga and Montana with their home crowds, but my 28 people were really loud! We brought the house down. It was awesome! So I don't know, but I think every team in the Big East has good guards, people coming in off the bench, that's why I think we're productive and that's why we have four teams left.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for your comments.

COACH BERENATO: Thank you to all of you. On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh but also for our game and unless you guys take your time and your time is the most valuable thing you have, unless you take your time to write about women's basketball, our game won't grow and our game is an awesome game. So thank you very much for being here.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our student athletes from Pittsburgh.

Q. Shavonte, I was asking Coach about your recruitment, and I was curious if you might be willing to reflect a little bit. You're on this four-year journey, not done with it, but when you think back on it, can you talk about your development as a player, lightly recruited and now where you are in your senior season?

SHAVONTE ZELLOUS: I would say my freshman year was a long year. As you know, I didn't play due to the transition of high school to college. But, I think I learned and I had to learn really quick. I think my maturity level has grown from my freshman year to now.

I think my success comes within my teammates. I think they're being here with me for all four of my years has helped me. Xenia helped keep me on track, and I think the coaches have done a great job with that, too.

And it was a matter of me getting into the gym, working on my game day in, day out. And Coach Shea, who is now at the University of Connecticut, helped me, too, when I was working out over the summer, and she helped guide me into doing things the right way.

Q. Shavonte, it seems like you guys are playing a string of road games. Talk about what it's been like in the tournament and when you expect facing Oklahoma so close to their campus?

SHAVONTE ZELLOUS: From a team standpoint, we're used to it. Coming to the Big East we had to travel to UConn, Rutgers, Louisville, so traveling is not a big thing for us, we enjoy traveling, to be honest.

We're well prepared, we come into the game with confidence and we know Oklahoma is a great team and they have a great post player Courtney Paris, and she has a great supporting cast. We're just glad to play. That's it.

Q. Could you talk about the match-up that you guys are going to be facing tomorrow? You obviously have experience and talent at guard. Oklahoma is more on the youthful, talented at guard. Talk about the match-up of guards in this game tomorrow.

SHAVONTE ZELLOUS: I think the match-up is going to be something to watch. Both players get to the free-throw line, very active on the defensive end, there will be a lot of pressure, so I think it's going to be a good match-up for everyone to see.

A lot of explosiveness, a lot of quickness, a lot of leadership and key play among the guards in the perimeter and trying to get the post into the game as well. It's all going to be something to watch. Q. Xenia, when you've watched film to get ready for Oklahoma, what have you seen from Whitney Hand and what does she bring to the table for Oklahoma that makes her a good player?

XENIA STEWART: Whitney has a very good shot, we got to know where she's at. From the videos we watched we can't let her get a shot off. But I feel as though she can't get the ball without the point guard penetrating and drawing in the defense, so if we can know where she is at all times, we can limit her touches.

We're not saying we are going to shut her down completely, and she is wanting to score, but we're going to try to disrupt her a little bit in her game.

Q. Shayla, talk about the prospect of playing -- sounds like it's going to be a packed crowd, but chances are good it's going to be people wearing Crimson, not Pitt colors. Can you talk about that? SHAYLA SCOTT: I think Washington helped us prepare, playing both Gonzaga and being in that environment, when you have a lot of people rooting against you helps you to stay together as a team, helps you be calm and listen to your coaches.

We're well prepared for that and we've played at Louisville and Connecticut, where a lot of fans aren't rooting for you, and I think that's helped us to become prepared.

Q. Shavonte, could you talk about your men's team and y'all are here. Do you have much contact with them? Are you watching? Are they watching you? Talk about that.

SHAVONTE ZELLOUS: I don't know if Shayla wants me to say that, but she keeps in contact with the men's team pretty good. But we keep in contact with them every blue moon, they're focused on trying to make it to the Final Four and we're trying to focus on getting to the Elite Eight, so there is not that much contact besides Shayla, but that's about it.

THE MODERATOR: Shayla, did you want to follow up?

SHAYLA SCOTT: My boyfriend is Gilbert Brown, so I talk to him about the game, give him pointers, and they're always in the background being loud, and they're screaming, but we're all in the same position and it's exciting to both be fighting for a national championship.

Q. Shayla, for a long time Pitt's men's team has been growing in popularity and y'all have been doing the same thing. Has that been cool to be a part of, as they've grown and gotten attention, or are you trying to aspire to the same level that they have?

SHAYLA SCOTT: We have come so far, they had six wins when I came here, it's an enjoyable thing. We have media people coming to interview us, our games are on TV now, Shavonte being an all-american is exciting and getting into the tournament three years in a row, it's great.

I'm just happy that we have made the program as successful, and congratulations to our men's team, who are doing well this week. We're happy for them as well. But I think mostly our fan base has grown due to our success and I feel like we're getting to the level that they are at.

Q. Shayla, follow up on the women versus men deal. If there was a men's team playing Oklahoma -- like if the Oklahoma men were playing here in Oklahoma City and it was the Pitt men, they would be screaming and hollering about the home court advantage, this is terrible, there were a lot of teams that end up -- Duke gets beat on Michigan State's court. How do you guys approach it mentally to say, hey, it doesn't matter, we've got to go out and play. I know the Big East prepares you, but this is supposed to be a neutral tournament and a lot of folks end up playing on a home court, how do you deal with that?

SHAYLA SCOTT: We just try to go out and play our game. We like a lot of people rooting against us and we're like, hey, why not? We want to go out there and upset them. You know what I mean? They're close to home and we want to be like, you know, we can play in this environment and we can take care of business.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, best of luck to you tomorrow.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports



THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Coale from Oklahoma, your opening thoughts?

COACH COALE: Thank you so much, thrilled to be back in Oklahoma City. Thrilled to be still competing in the NCAA tournament and excited about everything except that weather we have outside!

Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about Pitt's size on the inside and how obviously you have size with Courtney, but talk about that match-up unfolding.

COACH COALE: I think it's interesting that you asked me that question first because we just passed by the Pitt team stretching in the hallway, seriously, they're huge!

You watch 'em on film and you see that they have interior size, but walkin' past 'em in the hallway caught my attention. They're powerful, obviously they play in a tremendous conference, so they're accustomed to facing big, powerful centers, they know how to own the paint and guard their area and attack and score there.

We play in a great league as well, and we've faced some great centers as well, so it won't be necessarily anything different from what we've seen, but they are big.

Q. Can you give us an update on Amanda. Can you talk about the challenges that Shavonte poses to you? COACH COALE: Amanda is day-to-day, we will go through shooting today, as much as we can limit her no nongame activity. The more extensive she can be in game time activity.

Shavonte is as good as any guard in the country. The greatest player comparison would be Andrea Riley, she has a nice pull-up jumper, and she gets to the pro line, if she is not number one in the country for attempts, she is right there, averages around 10 free-throws a game, so a real conundrum for you defensively to figure out how to contain and contest her.

Q. Obviously Whitney is back, but I wanted to ask you about the fact that when a player goes out of the lineup and say out for three or four games and then comes back, maybe disruption is not the right word, but how does the team go through replacing the player and playing without her and then she comes back and you have to reacclimate.

COACH COALE: You have to continue to manufacture rhythm, and that's incredibly important at this time of the year. If you think about what Nyeshia Stevenson has been asked to do, move into the starting lineup after having an effective season in the role of the sixth man, she shared the award of the sixth man with Melissa Jones in the Big 12 conference, move a kid to a starting role, we need you to make threes, run the lanes, use your speed to get to the rim, but it feels different. It just feels different.

It's one of those subtleties about the game. So we asked her to move into a starting role, and then when Whitney comes back we move her back into the six-man role, and she gets accustomed to that, and Amanda goes out and we put her right back into the starting lineup again.

So there has been an assembly line of rhythm creation going on during our practices, and Nyeshia deserves credit for the way she has stayed mentally tough through it all. Whitney deserves credit for being the master of her own confidence, her own state of mind.

It is not an easy thing to be a true freshman, break your finger, come back in and be asked to pick up where you left off. I think what we saw from Whitney was a kid trying to make up for the games she missed all at once. Everything went too fast, every cut, every shot, every use of screen, even every defensive dig step, that was an over exaggeration of everything.

Because of the minutes she has been able to log in the past three or four games, she has played back into a nice rhythm and that's great news for us.

Q. Sherri, I wanted to ask you about a couple of bench players who have improved their play with injured players, and that's Vining and Roethlisberger.

COACH COALE: Absolutely, Jenny came in and anchored us from behind the 3-point line at the close of season and in the Big 12 tournament as well. So I think that confidence she gained in those minutes, very important minutes in big-time games make us tougher here at tournament time.

And I think Carlee's readiness, which stems from great, great practice to be able to step in and give what you say we needed in Amanda's absence, we need her size and length, that softened us at the 4 spot, even though Amanda typically plays a three.

As we brought and moved Amanda down, when we lost her, we lost a 4 as well, so Carlee and Jenny continue to play big roles there, and I think their performance tomorrow night will be critical.

Q. Sherri, you talked about the kids being able to sleep in their beds an extra night. Does it feel any different that you are playing so close to home at this point in the tournament?

COACH COALE: It feels a little bit different today because we just got her, but the thing about it, it doesn't matter where you are, and to a great extent it doesn't matter as much who you are playing as it does can you be the best you can be? That's the whole sense of the NCAA tournament.

If you can continue to call forth your continued play in the tournament, that's the reason we're all here is because we have done that. I don't think it matters where you do that. As soon as we take the floor, it will feel like the Sweet 16 and we will know what is required of us.

Q. Sherri, these crowds the next few games, if they are as big as they look like they could be, you guys could shatter records for a regional. What would that mean to you to see that possibly happening in Oklahoma City and in Oklahoma?

COACH COALE: Well, I hope you're right. I haven't seen any projections, so I don't know what the attendance expectations are. I know what they are internally. But it would be incredibly rewarding. And I speak for a moment as the president of the WBCA and not necessarily just as the head coach at the University of Oklahoma when I say one of our missions, maybe the center most, is to continue to grow this game in terms of exposure and attendance, and at the top of that list would be student athlete experience.

When a student athlete wins the right to play in the NCAA tournament, and especially earns the right to compete in the Sweet 16, you should feel it in your bones. I watched the games on television this morning, and I felt sad for those teams to have to compete in an environment where it doesn't feel like the NCAA tournament.

Hopefully the people of Oklahoma will fill up the Ford Center Sunday and Tuesday. And for all of the student athletes competing at this site, they will have the ultra competitive experience.

Q. Sherri, talk about the second half you guys had against Tech and what you hope will propel you into this game?

COACH COALE: I felt like we got lost in every possession of the second half and I thought that was the difference. So much at this stage in the game is being lost in the moment.

I think forgetting about trying to win and focussing on the play at hand is important. I felt like in the first half we started off great and missed a few shots. It sucked the life out of us and we looked around and start thinking, oh no, what if we don't do this, what if this happens? Uh-Oh. And fortunately we could shut those up and talk about it at halftime, and I thought Danielle's leadership, she and Whitney together, their body language, their facial expressions, and the way they led their team was just fantastic.

And we hung on to the lead and still missed shots down the stretch, shots we're going to have to make Sunday night in order to advance, but I liked the way we played together, the way we competed.

Q. For those of us who don't get to see Courtney play all the time or hardly ever live, talk about the things she does really well, how would you describe her as a player? She has good size and whatnot, but what are the things she exceeds at and makes her such a tough match-up?

COACH COALE: Gifted hands, I always start there, she can catch anything. She is a tremendous rebounder partly because she has the gift of touch and she can tip it to herself and come up with it. Agile, graceful for a kid her size and unbelievably strong and powerful.

She is relentless, and if you commit to blocking her out as many teams have done throughout this season and the previous three as well, many times we have seen opponents to not even having the player responsible for Courtney try to rebound, just guard her, keep her from getting to the rim. Even when you do that it, becomes a difficult thing to sustain because she wears you out. She is so relentless in her pursuit of the basketball, and I think that's what makes her most dangerous.

Q. Sherri, tomorrow is going to be quite a day for Oklahoma University basketball, your game in Oklahoma City, Jeff's squad in the regional squad for a right to the Final Four, can you remember a day like this? COACH COALE: I don't know if it gets better than that, you might have to ask Joe that question, we thought our men were fabulous last night, dismantled a Syracuse team.

We would like to be a little more focused on Pitt at the moment. They will be playing U of Carolina, but that's why you have TiVo, we'll go home and watch it later.

Q. Sherri, maybe you can put your WBCA hat back on. It seems remarkable in the men's tournament if somebody was playing an hour away from home, the other team will be raising holy heck about that. And in the women's tournament there have been some teams lose on another team's court. The fact about growing the game and everybody kinda goes ahead and does it and there is no complaining, is that a remarkable thing about the players and coaches, that they just say, okay, this is what we got to do and they do it?

COACH COALE: Well, remarkable, yes. I think -- I think first of all you have to step back and understand from a big, open perspective what our mission is, what we're trying to accomplish. We want a fantastic atmosphere for our student athletes, these young women deserve that. At the same time we're trying to grow the game and increase attendance, we're trying to televise games, we have a lot of objectives that are trying to be accomplished.

Here is what you need to look at, though. When you look at our tournament, yes, people could be hollerin', if you will, about the fact that Duke had to go to Michigan State and they got upset there. Well, you know what? Notre Dame had to play in South Bend and they got beat there, too. The list almost evened itself out, and I think this is where the public makes a case that's not realistic is if there are 15,000 people screaming in an arena, it might become home court advantage. Sometimes they don't necessarily present themselves that way, so it's not as if that particular scenario, the one that we hope happens tomorrow night, it's not as if that is the case everywhere you go. But I think the important part, Wendell, is coaches and student athletes are striving to have not a competitive, equitable NCAA tournament, but we're striving to improve our game.

And you have to have parity, and it's a gingerly fence that you stride upon in terms of building that. What we have seen this year is a lot of stuff we haven't seen before, look at the upsets, home court or not, and that's not really the issue. There were more new faces, more new teams going deeper in the tournament this year than I can remember. That is a positive reflection on the growth of our sport.

Q. Sherri, talk about Shavonte and the problems she poses for you guys.

COACH COALE: She's really good. Really good. I like her game, I like the way she not only gets the production from herself and expects the production of herself, but the way she involves her teammates with her.

I think that makes her incredibly dangerous and she is not surrounded by four guys that watch her play, she is surrounded by four guys that play with her, which is why Pitt is in the Sweet 16. I think it's her ability to get to the rim that gives you some problems, and I don't know that we've seen a kid elevate on a jump shot quite the way she does.

She is a good-sized guard, and when she stops on a dime and jumps up, she is over you and you have to bring help that has size. She is a total package, particularly offensively, and she competes on both ends of the floor, but offensively she is a problem.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much for your comments. Good luck tomorrow.

(Players enter the room.)

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Danielle Robinson and Courtney Paris, Whitney Hand will be here momentarily. Questions for you're student athletes?

Q. Danielle, talk about you guys playing so close to home, sleeping in your own beds, does it feel different being at this point in the NCAA and being in the comforts of home?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: We're definitely excited to be in the City, but then again it's like being on the road, because we're not sleeping in our own beds, we're in a hotel, but we have the comfort of having tons of our fans in the stands, and I think that's what makes this section so different.

Q. Courtney, if you are able to, can you go through the season in segments a little bit, preconference, conference, the postseason and chart the team's progress along the way?

COURTNEY PARIS: Oh my gosh. Well, I think -- this is going to be general, but we started off pretty well. Our defense, I know startin' off we had a little bit of defensive pride issues, and I think we've improved on that as the season has gone on.

Had some hard games up front, lost to UNC at home by 1, had that Connecticut game, learned a lot about ourselves there. I don't know, we just keep trying to get better every day.

Q. Whitney, what was it like having the injury, sitting out and then coming back? Was it as much a mental challenge as getting healthy and getting your hand healed to come back? WHITNEY HAND: I think so. Anytime you're out of the season, it's more frustrating and you're chomping at the bit to get back.

At the same time, it was good for me personally to get things back in perspective. I think for everybody we just -- I mean, we have all grown together these last couple of weeks through the injuries, and we had many injuries and having to fight through those mentally and getting over that made us stronger as a whole.

Q. Courtney and Danielle, talk a little bit about how important the bench play is going to be this weekend.

COURTNEY PARIS: I think that's real important and it's been our X-factor, Jenny has been knocking down shots and Carlee had two really good games. We're going to need that.

DANIELLE ROBINSON: Especially in this game, it's going to be great for us, for Nyeshia to hit shots.

Q. Whitney, Coach said when you did come back, it was like you wanted to get all of those games back at once. Was that the feeling? It was tough to get back into the rhythm that you were playing in before?

WHITNEY HAND: Yeah. The first couple of games were terrible, and I think it was just because I was going so fast and trying to speed things up, and it was the Big 12 tournament plus not playing for two weeks and the adrenaline, so it was obvious that I was inexperienced in that. But I'm glad we are here now and it's a new start.

Q. Danielle, talk about Shavonte Zellous, and Coach Coale compared her to Andrea Riley, is that what you would say?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: I think she has a great shot like Andrea Riley, she is a great player, been through it multiple times, and she is a leader for her and they feed off of her, so I think her demeanor and the way she plays definitely sparks their team.

Q. Danielle, the Noble Center, you are probably excited about the men's performance last night, are you going to get to watch the North Carolina game tomorrow?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: We get back like four from somewhere and get to watch the game. Definitely excited, they played extremely well last night and we're proud of 'em and ready to join 'em.

Q. Courtney, you obviously are one of the more dominant inside players in the country. Can you talk about Pitt's size and whether or not you like matching on them, 6-5, 6-6, and 6-1, do you like matching up against players like that?

COURTNEY PARIS: Definitely not going to have a choice tomorrow. We were walking by 'em in the hall and they're bigger and taller than I thought they were, but we have that size in our league, Kansas has a really tall girl so we're used to that stuff.

Q. Whitney, you're sitin' up there with a couple of cagey veterans, a year ago you were in high school and now you're sitting in a press conference in the Sweet 16, what does that feel like? WHITNEY HAND: It's weird, my mom called me last night and she was cryin', and she was -- I remember we were -- don't quote me on that, please --

THE MODERATOR: It's a little late!

WHITNEY HAND: My sisters were sad that Kansas State lost out because they are huge fans, and I remember -- all of us remember -- it was weird because I didn't make a bracket this year, and she was getting emotional and it was a little weird. (Chuckles.)

Q. Danielle, how does this team play a 40-minute game in the postseason? You had two first halves you would like to have back in the tournament and two fantastic second halves, but what can you guys do to turn it on from the start?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: It's more mental than anything. From the beginning you have to mentally focus and prepare. Our coaches do a great job scouting the team, it's all about us making the decision to come out there and get a good jump.

Q. Danielle, is it a distraction playing this close to home?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: I don't think so at all. It's great that our families get to come out and be here to support us, along with the thousands of fans that are going to come out. I think we are excited about the opportunity that we have to play so close to home.

Q. Courtney, you guys talked about wanting to get back here because of the fans and after the way you went out in the Big 12. Talk about that.

COURTNEY PARIS: That was last year, we wanted to get back here. I think we have great fans, not just our fans but women's basketball fans in general, and it will be cool to play in front of them and it's great that we have this opportunity.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you very much and good luck tomorrow night.

End of FastScripts