April 6, 2009
AMY YAKOLA: I'm pleased to be joined on the podium today by Connecticut head coach Gene Auriemma, as well as student athletes Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, and Kalana Greene.
Coach, an opening statement.
COACH AURIEMMA: I don't know, we're saying the same things every day seems like. If I was you guys, I'd get tired of listening to it. We're tired of saying it. But I know we have to say it because you have to write it.
But nothing has changed in the three days that we've been here. Today we'll do the same thing we did the day before yesterday. Tomorrow hopefully we'll prepare the same way we did yesterday.
We have a great opportunity here in front of us. We're playing a team that obviously has an awful lot going for them right now. And we're playing a team that, from what I heard, really wanted to play us, wants to play us, which I admire their camaraderie that they want it to be an all Big East final. I'm sure that's what they meant.
So all I can say is we've done 38 times what I hope we can do one more time.
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Renee, could you just talk about Angel McCoughtry not just as a player but as a leader of the team and what you're most impressed about her?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I'm just impressed about how she really puts herself aside. I think this last month a lot of the other players on her team have been stepping up and she's allowed them to do it. I know a couple times in the game she drove ball to the basket and dished it off to one of her teammates, and just to have enough trust and faith in her teammates to make a big play, or when it was going down the line, I think there was a few seconds on the shot clock and she let one of her teammates shoot the ball.
You can just see she trusts her teammates, and I think that's big when you have a player that is always used to having the ball and always used to making the big play to put herself aside and let her teammates make that play because she trusts them enough.
Q. Kalana and Maya, I'm sure if you were on Louisville you would be feeling the same they are, the underdog, it's a great role, nothing to lose. And I'm wondering where you think the fantasy ends and the reality begins.
KALANA GREENE: I think when the ball's thrown up in the air, that's when it begins and when the clock ends is when it ends. It's going to be a good game for the fans. I don't think they're looking at it as they're any less than us. At this point in the tournament everyone's 5 0. And they're looking to get a win just like we are.
MAYA MOORE: I agree, the game has to be played. And all talk stops. Like Kalana said, when the ball is thrown up you have to go out and play, and at the end of the game hopefully our reality will be where we want it to be.
Q. Renee and Maya, have you guys played with a refuse to lose attitude all year? And have you allowed yourselves to think about what's at stake tomorrow, not only a national championship but an undefeated season?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think we all played with that mentality, because every year before this we've lost. And I think everyone came with the mindset that it takes one game at a time, and we've made it really simple. And we haven't really looked too far in the future. Each game we're just worried about the next game, and not necessarily two games in that advance. So right now we're worried about the national championship game and not really what it's going to mean to be undefeated but just to get one more win and end our season the right way.
MAYA MOORE: Definitely, I think that's the key to our success all year, is staying focused on what's ahead or the next game ahead and not getting too wrapped up in being afraid of what if we lose or what if we do this, but just getting excited and showing up and playing UConn basketball for 40 minutes. And all the things, the records whatever comes with it, it's something we can look at afterwards.
But we're definitely not going to get caught up in the what ifs; we're just going to come in and get prepared for the game.
Q. Maya and Renee, Coach was saying yesterday that he would rather play anybody but Louisville tomorrow because of what happened in the other games. Do you guys feel that way at all?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I do, just I think one of the better things about playing in the NCAA tournament, you get to play teams you haven't played before that you don't know anything about and it's kind of exciting to play someone that you've never played before.
But, I mean, we are playing them. And so we have to get excited for the game and we know that in a sense they're not going to be the same team we played before. So we can look at it that way and just be excited.
MAYA MOORE: Yeah, I agree. It's fun to play different teams in the tournament. It's kind of like a matchup of all the big games we've had so far this season in the regular season championship. We were competing with Louisville and Big East tournament and competing with Louisville. So this is the third time. So it's not a different team, but it's still a big game for us. It's somewhere that our team hasn't been before. So I don't think it will be hard to get excited about it.
Q. Last night your coach was talking about how you've prepared this season in each and every drill as though the national championship was at stake. Was that something that you brought with you this year to the court after you walked off the court at St. Pete Times Forum, and did that drive you? And how did you maintain that intensity day in, day out without allowing it to become drudgery?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it's easy when you have things motivating you. For instance, losing three years in a row. I think you don't get complacent or you don't lose your hunger because you've never won before. And any time you get tired you just think of things to motivate yourself with, and losing is the best motivator for me as well as my teammates.
And then when we have teammates that are going just as hard as I am and pushing themselves and everyone has a lot of energy, it makes it fun. So it's not drudgery because it's fun. Every drill we make it fun. There's a competition. We turn everything into a competition that we do. And I just think practice has been fun all year, and we've had a lot of fun in all the games. So I think it's easy to stay focused when we have the chemistry that we do on this team.
Q. Renee, I was wondering, with the two Big East teams in the final, and then the other day with the four All Americans from the Big East, what does it say about your conference to have this kind of representation? And also what kind of camaraderie do you have like maybe with Angel? I know you guys have been going back and forth a little bit.
RENEE MONTGOMERY: It says a lot. I think we've been saying all year that the Big East is a really tough conference to play in. And every game, you know, the score might not show it, but it was hard games to play in, and we'd wake up the next morning sore and tired because we got beat up and it was a physical game and it was hard.
And I don't know if the score necessarily reflected it so people didn't really take it to heart, but now that you see it, another Big East team is in the championship game, and that we had four players from the Big East on the All American team, it just shows that it's a tough conference to play in.
And I definitely think from battling with Louisville over the years that me and Angel have developed a friendship, and I'm sure we'll be friends once we leave college. Just not right now (smiling).
Q. Tiffany and Tina, what did you notice, what did Louisville try to do differently in the Big East championship game that maybe they didn't try in January and what do you think they might try to do tomorrow night that's different?
TINA CHARLES: I think just, you know, it's March, and I think every team is going to come out and play different. I think even our team has been playing different in this tournament and the Big East tournament.
Coach set out a couple of goals for people on the team and individually everyone had to go out and perform. I'm sure they're thinking the same thing that they have to perform to the best ability that they can. So I think that's what they're going to do different.
TIFFANY HAYES: I just think that it's hard beating a team three times in a year. They're going to come out hard. Like you said, it's a national championship game, so they're definitely going to come with something different than what they've been coming with the last couple of games. And we just gotta go out and play UConn basketball.
Q. Renee and Maya, if you could both, I asked Angel what she admired most about the UConn program; she said because UConn players are all business. I wonder if you could talk about is that something you feel like your coach is recruiting when he picks you out, but also is it something that develops once you get on campus?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it's a little bit of both. I think they recruit a certain type of player that they can see potential in being able to play in this program. And to be able to play in this program you have to be about business. It's not that we can't have fun, but we just know when it's time to play and when it's time to have fun.
And I think that's just something we've done really well this year, and in all the situations we've been in, for instance, Cancun, we could have easily went out there and just pretty much had a party for a week and lost the games. But we had fun when it was time to have fun and we played hard when it was time to play. And I think that's what makes that's what makes us have so much fun this year.
MAYA MOORE: I think that when you come to Connecticut you have to have a certain competitive mindset. And that's not something you can really teach to a certain point. So the players that Coach recruits, he tries to get tough, competitive people who always want to come to play. When they're in the game or when they're on the bench, whatever it is, they're going to bring everything they can.
And there's a time and a place for everything, like Renee said, and I think our team is a pretty mature group to know when it's time to go to practice or when it's time to go to shoot around or play the game we have to be extremely focused, and until the buzzer goes off.
We've experienced games, except for Tiffany as a freshman, where if you're not focused you're going to lose. So we know what can happen. And that's why I really think this year we've come more than ever so focused in knowing when we're on the court it is about business and it's about winning.
Q. Renee, probably a week from today your life is going to be so different. You're going to be drafted by somebody. You're going to probably be in a new city, meeting new teammates, coaching staff, everything. Rebecca Lobo said yesterday she thought you would be the first player taken in the draft. And I'm just wondering how you feel about that possibility and do you ever daydream about what's next in your life?
RENEE MONTGOMERY: I know people probably don't believe me when I say I don't think about it much. It comes to mind sometimes, when people ask me questions about it. And I'm excited for the future. But it's just what's on my mind the most right now is just winning the national championship. And my life is definitely going to change. That's one of the reasons why I'm trying to enjoy these moments I have here right now, because I know the teammates I meet in the future are not going to be like the ones I have now.
And everything is going to be different and I'm excited for the future. And I'm just I try to live in the present. But I am definitely excited and wherever I am chosen to go I'm going to be happy.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Geno, could you tell the story of recruiting Renee? Essentially you went to see Alexis Hornbuckle and discovered Renee, could you talk about that a little bit?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, it wasn't necessarily a discovery of her. Obviously we had had a chance to see Renee play quite often. She played on one of those high powered AAU teams with four or five Division I players. And it was easy to overlook Renee. And you look at her now and to me she's still one of the little guys out there on the floor.
Now, imagine her even 20 pounds lighter than she is right now and playing, again, with all these great players. But when I went to her state tournament game and I actually saw her play with her high school team, that's when I really got a sense for her leadership skills and who she is and what she's able to accomplish.
And I remember coming back and I remember Chris Dailey asking me how was the game. I said it was a great game. She said, What do you think? I said, I think Alexis Hornbuckle is going to Tennessee. She said, Her father told me that it's down to three schools. I said, I don't care what her father told you. I said, I'm telling you she's going to Tennessee.
She said, How do you know? I said, 'Cause I can tell, I know. I've been watching games long enough. But don't worry about it; we're going to get the right one. And we did. And what else can I say?
Q. Can you just address how Louisville UConn rivalry has matured in the last two years, two Big East finals now and a national championship? And maybe also how after this game how maybe you guys will take this rivalry to even a higher level now that you're playing in a national final?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, it's always interesting for us in the last 10 years or so, however long, it was going to be Connecticut and Notre Dame for the rest of the Big East history. And then it was Connecticut and Rutgers for the rest of the Big East history.
Now it's Connecticut/Louisville. It just seems to me that if you consider yourself the best team or the best, more importantly, the best basketball program in a conference, then it's just natural that as other programs get better you're going to have to deal with that.
And in this case, again, because of Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham, specifically, and generally the way they recruited and the way they've built their program, who knows what's going to happen in the future. Who knows where they'll be next year. I just hope we're still around to still talk about who our big rivals are.
But if you look at our league, there's no shortage of teams that can be your rivals. And Louisville is just the latest one to step up.
Q. It strikes me, you're not much different than you were when we were having these press conferences in 1995. You're very much the same. But everybody talks about evolving in their profession, no matter what their profession is. Can you maybe give us some insight in how you think you might have changed in that time period?
COACH AURIEMMA: I believe I'm a little more cautious, a little more apprehensive about a lot of things. I'm not as free spirited as I think I was back then. I think a lot of things that have happened in the last 14, 15 years have obviously had an effect on how I view myself and my profession and what I have to do to be successful in it.
I can't just go about doing what I want to do when I want to do it, how I want to do it and have fun. I gotta be somewhat miserable like the rest of the world. Because you always gotta worry about what you say, how you say it and how it's going to be interpreted, what you do, how you do it, who's watching.
So in that respect I probably don't enjoy doing what I do as much as I did back then. But at the same time I probably appreciate it even more because I know how hard it is now. Back then I thought, come on, how hard is this? You go to the Final Four, you win a national championship. And the more times we've been here, the more times I've been able to experience it, the more times we've lost at this level, the more I appreciate how difficult it is and what goes into it.
So I am a better coach in some ways. But anybody who gets the best players every year like I do is always a good coach. So if this was 1995 I'd tell you how I really feel (laughter).
Q. Why has this team been able to maintain its focus throughout the season? And is this one of the more driven teams that you've had?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, yeah. I mean, it's awfully difficult to answer a lot of these questions, and I know they're obviously significant or you wouldn't ask them. But it's difficult to answer a lot of these questions, because how do I say that this team is driven more than the '95 team or more than the 2000 team that won in Philadelphia or the 2002 team that was undefeated, or 2003 and 2004 that Di drove them?
How do I compare that? It's a double edged sword for us, constantly being compared to other teams, constantly having to answer about our last loss. It's kind of why I'm glad the Stanford game is behind us now. We don't have to answer about our last loss. Now we just have to answer about there's no way you can lose to this team tomorrow night.
So there's a lot of difficult questions that I'm in a tough situation that I can't answer them. The reason that this team is where they are is because they have all those qualities that those other teams have: really good players, really committed, really good role players, and they get really good coaching from their coaching staff. Tonya did a great job for us while she was here, certainly Chris in all the time she's been here.
We've got nothing but national championship coaches working with these guys. But that's all they know. So you put all that together and you almost think, well, we should be. And when you say that, you go, You know how hard it is to get here? It's kind of a double edged sword for us.
Q. Geno, how much of the evidence that's been presented in the first two games with Louisville, I mean, is indisputable to people trying to evaluate this game on the outside? And, secondly, what is the value in approaching a game like this like Louisville is, with their mindset? How does that alter what the truth is?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, again, it works both ways. I said this the other day, I think, I don't know to who, but if you flip a coin and it comes up heads 10 times in a row, there's no guarantee that the 11th will be tails. They're all individual. They're all in and of itself, its own separate act.
So what we did to them the first game, I don't know that it had any effect on the second game. What we did to them in the second game, I don't know that it has any effect on today. Different environment. Different day. Different attitudes among the players. Different emotions going through.
So, yeah, I mean, there's no disputing the fact that we won by a lot both times. But I don't know what that gets you. You still have to go out tomorrow and make shots and stop them.
If we don't make shots and we don't stop them, we're going to lose. Just like they beat Maryland, just like they beat Oklahoma. So obviously they're really, really good. We have to be really good. And if we are, we'll be fine.
Q. My question to you, you've answered certain parts of my question before, so I'm going to have to restyle it fairly quickly. But with Louisville, what can sneak up on you and what can surprise you about that team that's going to make it difficult for your players tomorrow night?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, that's the one thing that I think is a little bit of a comfort area, that I don't know what could be considered sneaking up on us. We know their players inside out. They know our players inside out.
It's way too much familiarity between both teams. A lot more than you like to have at this time of the year.
Obviously have to see how tonight's game goes between North Carolina and Michigan State. They're not in the same league, but they played once and the game was really one sided. I think they lost by 36 or something like that. I think if somebody asks me, Would you take Michigan State at 30, I would say, Yeah, I would. Not that I would do anything like that, but if somebody asked me, I would.
Q. What would you say tomorrow night you by 30 points, really?
COACH AURIEMMA: Really? No, I would throw up if somebody told me that that's what was going to happen, because then I know that that's exactly the opposite is going to happen. I always think I think the worst. I prepare for the best, but I think the worst.
It's the key to being neurotic and Italian and Catholic. Something bad is going to happen five minutes from now, tomorrow; you just count on it.
Q. I know you touched on this last night, but given the special bond between point guard and coach and also the kind of birthright it seems that the great players need to have to win a championship while at UConn, Renee going out on that kind of note, it's going to be a very powerful feeling within yourself toward her these last 24 hours. Could you just explore that a little bit?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah. I wish we were having this conversation Wednesday morning or Tuesday night after the game and she was fortunate enough to do that. But whether it was Jennifer or Sue or Di, Maria, even, to a certain extent, I think any time you have an opportunity to win a national championship, you can pretty much follow that trail and it leads right to the point guard or certainly to a guard who can control the game.
Now you add to that the special ones just transcend all the practices, all the drills, all the Xs and Os, all the bus travel, the plane travel, film sessions. They go above and beyond that. They're not about just, yeah, how are we going to guard the pick and roll. That's so insignificant when you're talking about those kinds of players, and certainly Renee Montgomery.
I really admire her as a person. I really do. Even when she doesn't make a shot, when she takes shots that I think are ill advised, even when she didn't talk to me for a couple of years when Tonya was her coach, I still admired her.
I've gotten to like her now more now that I'm her coach, and it's been a great relationship and she's gotten to like me a little more and let me coach her. But there's and if you've been around people like this, and I'm sure you have, every great team has somebody like this on their team.
And she's just one of those special people. But not all fairy tales end with the prince taking the princess home and living happily ever after. Sometimes it doesn't end right. I guess in a short period of time we'll find out. But I don't know that I've wanted anything more than I want this.
Q. Geno, the other day Jim Calhoun was talking about his '06 team that had four or five guys go to the pros. And he said he thought that the lure of the NBA started to affect the way they were playing. Well, this game that we have, we probably have the top two picks in the draft, and they seem to be doing fine. Doesn't seem to be affecting them at all. Why do you think women are able to stay more focused, most of the time, anyway, than men?
COACH AURIEMMA: Obviously, when we talk like that, we're talking in generalities for the most part. And having a son and two daughters, I think women are a little more grounded because guys are just schmoes. They just don't get it. They just don't get it. It's so much about themselves, it's so much about what people around them are telling them, they don't have the backbone to stand up for themselves.
Somebody says: Hey, you're not getting enough shots. You're not getting enough touches. How are you going to get drafted if you don't do this. Now all of a sudden you've got people thinking about everything but winning a national championship or state championship, for that matter, or conference championship.
I think women don't have as many jerks hanging around them. There's not a lot of people telling Renee Montgomery: Hey, you're not getting enough shots. Hey, you're not going to be the first pick if you don't do this, this and that. There's nobody telling Angel McCoughtry: You gotta go out tomorrow night and you've got to be MVP of this tournament so you can be the first pick. That just doesn't exist, I don't think.
Now, I'm sure it does exist, I just don't think, from my experience, the players I've had, anyway, ever have to deal with any of that. And maybe that's why they're able to be as successful in these moments.
But it's just a culture. It's the culture that we live in. That's how those boys are raised from the time they're in junior high to the time they get to wherever they're going. And it's awfully difficult to be successful in that culture. Really difficult.
Q. Two questions. First, do you want to take a second to brag about the Big East since you have two teams in the finals and South Florida won the NIT? And, secondly, as sad as it is, this has been considered a drought for you guys being back here for the first time in a couple of years
COACH AURIEMMA: I said to somebody I think I know where you're going. I said to somebody this morning. I said, Most places in America, they would go you know, big headline: UConn going for their sixth national championship. Like that's a big deal, right? I think Connecticut UConn, which hasn't won an NCAA championship since 2004, and you go, Holy Jesus.
So that's kind of you're right. You're like, That is a drought. Like, How dare you? When you win three in a row and you go four years without one, it's like, Your program has fallen off a cliff.
So, yeah, that's I guess that's what we've created and that's what we've got to live with. And it's okay, to a point, I guess.
But one of the things that's gratifying is a few years ago we were at the Big East meetings in Ponte Vedra, and I gotta tell you, it was one of the more tense, contentious Big East meetings I've ever been a part of. Miami was leaving, Virginia Tech was leaving. Boston College said they were staying, they lied, then they were leaving. So there was a lot of emotion running through those athletic directors, presidents, coaches.
And the perception was you'll never be the same. You'll never be as good. It's the end of the Big East. And now here we are X number of years later and we have two teams in the men's Final Four. Two in the women's Final Four playing for the national championship. That's four out of eight. You know, there's a lot of good conferences, a lot of good schools, but I would venture to say that the Big East is healthier, stronger, and better than it's ever been.
And Mike Tanghese and John Marinatto and everybody in that Providence office, I know they're probably the proudest people in the country right now for what's happened in this conference.
Q. Taking it a step further with the draft coming up on Thursday, do you have a sense either from what you know about the league or instincts, conversations you've had, how they may evaluate Renee and Angel on Thursday and how that might all work out?
COACH AURIEMMA: No. Again, I don't allow myself. We've had a couple of coaches and a couple general managers and those people come to practice and all that. But I'm not really involved in any of that at that point. I really don't care.
As a matter of fact, I didn't even tell Renee that she was invited to the draft. They want her there in person. I didn't even tell her that. I didn't tell Maya Moore that she was AP Player of the Year. I don't tell these guys anything. I figure in due time they'll find out. I didn't tell her that she won the Wade Trophy. I figure in time they'll find out. When it's time for them to know, they'll know.
If I was a general manager and I had the draft, I don't know, obviously I would pick Renee because I've coached Renee. But if you pick Angel McCoughtry, how can you go wrong? I love her. I love her as a player. She does so many things. I like Kristi Toliver. I like Courtney Paris. There's a lot of really good players out there.
I think a team's going to have to make their evaluations and say what's more important to us, which position and which kind of player is there a best chance for us to be really good. And sometimes it's not just about this year.
If you look down, a couple years down the road, is there another player like this coming along that if we pass on this one we'll get another one. A lot of things go into making these decisions. Michael Jordan was picked third. Wonder what those two guys are doing today. He's going in the Hall of Fame. The other two guys are what? You know?
Q. A lot of stars in this game. I'm wondering with your familiarity with them what your thoughts might be on Candyce Bingham who is a player that doesn't get a lot of
COACH AURIEMMA: Very overlooked and as key to their team as anybody else. Angel just dominates the stat sheets so much. What did she get five steals last night. They all probably led to buckets. Sometimes turnovers just go out of bounds. When there's a turnover at Louisville there's a basket at the other end and she's the big reason why.
But I think Deseree' and Candyce are way overlooked. They're probably the reasons why they're in the Final Four and playing for a national championship game. As good as Angel has been, I think since this tournament has started, and especially Deseree', I think those people have stepped up their game so much that it's allowed people to you can't just concentrate on Angel McCoughtry.
So I've often believed that those players, those other players that nobody's talking about, are going to be the ones that are going to decide the game. And I love both of those two kids. They're exceptional competitors and they're tough kids.
And that second game at the Civic Center was a little bit of a slugfest. I got a feeling the referees are going to have their hands full tomorrow night.
Q. You've been in this situation before. How does an undefeated record change things?
COACH AURIEMMA: Not that much. Right now that's not the issue for them, for me, because if you had three losses you wouldn't approach it any different than you approach it now. If you had 10 losses, you wouldn't approach tomorrow any different than you approach it.
What's in the past is in the past. Being undefeated is a big deal to everybody else as you go through the season. It becomes a big deal to you if you finish the regular season and then the tournament undefeated and look back and go, whoa, that was unbelievable. As you're going along it really doesn't enter into it.
If tomorrow we're more worried about being undefeated than winning one game, I don't know that that's going to be the winning edge for us.
Q. Is there a pressure element at all, do you compartmentalize it and get it out of the way?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, there's pressure in everything we do. I criticize our guys the way they eat breakfast. So there's pressure in everything we do, in every pass, every drill, every time we do anything.
So the pressure to win at Connecticut is great. Maybe too great. But without pressure you can't be great. So we love the pressure. We embrace it and we run with it.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you, Coach.
AMY YAKOLA: I'm joined by head coach Jeff Walz of Louisville as well as student athletes Deseree' Byrd, Becky Burke, Keshia Hines, Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham.
Coach, an opening statement when you're ready.
COACH WALZ: Yes, ma'am. Again, we'd just like to thank everyone involved with the Final Four for just giving us such a great experience, everyone that's worked with our student athletes to make their experience here I'm sure they'll agree it's been outstanding.
And I'm proud of this team. I'm proud of everyone involved in our program, from my assistant coaches to our managers, to our administration, everyone that has given it all they have this entire season. And for us to be able to sit here today and say we're going to practice the last possible day you can practice is an awfully good feeling.
We'll come out tomorrow night and throw a game plan out there and see what can happen. So we're excited to be here and appreciate everything you all have done.
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Angel, last night there was a reference at least once during the broadcast about the lesser team. Do you think by now this whole underdog thing should go away? Are you surprised by that? Where do you stand on all this?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: No. We want them to keep saying the other team's going, because that's how we win. So I hope they wish Connecticut wins tomorrow. That's what we've been thriving off of, so we don't want that to change.
Q. Are you surprised by all this? Frankly, even we were a little taken aback by someone so polarized in the national semifinal, and then of course you come back and win.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: We just came out and believed. We weren't surprised at all when we won the game. We knew we would win the game. We just want people to keep doubting us.
Q. Candyce, can you talk about the three of the last five games Becky's made two 3s that came at the most opportune time, the biggest time in the game? Talk about her development as you've seen it through this year.
CANDYCE BINGHAM: I mean, she's come on at the right time. I know a couple of us during the game just kept telling her to shoot. And at one point she said she will, she will. So we kept looking for her, and she knocked down 3s at crucial points in the game. And that's what we need.
Q. Candyce, UConn was saying yesterday that they're convinced that you're a different team than you were on March 10th when you played them in the Big East final. How has Louisville changed in that month?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: I believe we are a different team. I think that our freshmen are really starting to buy into things more and putting in the time. They started putting in the time and knowing that they are a crucial part of our program and being successful.
I mean, Coach said when they don't play well, we don't play well. And I think they finally realized that we don't play well when they play well. So they're really starting to pick it up. And we are a different team than what we played them the last time.
Q. Angel, can you just talk about the Big East championship game and what it was that either Connecticut did on you defensively or what you did. I mean, was it just an off night for you?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: That was a time, you know, we don't want to use it as an excuse, but we did play a double overtime game, then we went down to the wire with Pittsburgh, then we played in front of all their fans at home. And then they were just getting rebound after rebound after rebound.
Now we have to take it upon ourselves to really box out and don't give them one chance on the offensive end. And that's what I think the difference was.
Q. Angel, have you given any thought as far as tomorrow being your final game, and also can you just give us your thoughts on your career as a whole at Louisville?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Yeah, it's great to play the last game of the college season. My career has been great. I'm blessed. And I have no complaints, win or lose tomorrow. This is what everybody dreams of doing. And to be here is just amazing. And then to play one of the great teams of America, it's great. You wouldn't ask for anything else.
Q. Becky, this is for you, how does the team start to believe that you can beat Connecticut after what's happened? How do you get over the if there even is an emotional hump to get over? And, secondly, what does that tattoo on your back say?
BECKY BURKE: This is a national championship game and it's for everything. So I think we're not looking at what happened in the past two games. Obviously we're pretty familiar with them because they're in our conference. But this is a national championship, it's for everything. You're laying it all on the line. So I think anything can happen.
And my tattoo says "Be strong in the Lord and the victory is yours."
Q. Geno said last night on the TV that he thought you were the biggest difference or one of the biggest differences in the team in the last month. Talk about how much you've improved in this round and what you've done different in the NCAA tournament.
DESEREE' BYRD: I just think I've been more relaxed. Like I've been saying, the patience with the coaches and the patience with my teammates and the confidence they have in me just being out there running the point guard for this team has been lifting me up. I think that's what's been the difference maker.
Q. Deseree', do you see this as a David Goliath thing like so many people do, and, if you do, are there advantages in that?
DESEREE' BYRD: We were just talking about that before we walked in here. But, yeah, you can look at it like that. I know many people said Geno never lost a national championship game. But neither has Coach Walz. (Laughter.) Thank you, Ms. Kim.
Like I said, we still want our doubters. They add fuel to our fire. I think, like Becky said, this is the national championship. Anything can happen. And we're going to leave it all out on the floor.
Q. Could you just comment on Renee Montgomery and what she does and what a tough matchup that is for anybody?
DESEREE' BYRD: I mean, Renee Montgomery, UConn's point guard, she had a great game yesterday, offensively and defensively, and I think it's one of the best games I've seen her play, all around game.
She's a great point guard. I think a lot of people look up to her. I mean, we come out defensively, play a perfect 40 minute half. This is anybody's game.
Q. Angel, can you tell us how you ended up getting to Louisville after the St. John's situation? Do you ever think about how your career may have been different if it played out at St. John's instead of Louisville?
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: After not being able to go to St. John's I had to take another route. But I knew once I came to Louisville that this is the place I needed to be.
When I signed with Louisville, everybody was like why are you going there? Why would you go to Louisville? Nobody ever heard of Louisville, and the women's program wasn't the caliber that it is now. But for some reason I seen something that a lot of people didn't see. And I think now they're saying now we see why you went to Louisville.
Q. Deseree', you all have obviously built up a pretty hardcore fan base. I wonder if you have any words for them before tomorrow night's game.
DESEREE' BYRD: We just appreciate all the support from all our friends and family. I mean, we're blessed. We're truly blessed to be in this position that we are in. And, like I said, we really appreciate everything that everybody has done for our program and all our fans who came out and support us.
Q. Candyce, can you give us your thoughts what it's been like to play with Angel and your thoughts on her as a player?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: It's been great coming back home. Again, I never thought we would be in this position. But Angel is a phenomenal player. I love playing with her. Some people might think it was I should be different as far as she gets all the attention or whatever. But I love it.
She just makes it so much easier for other people to play with her. And, I mean, sometimes she has her moments. But other than that, she's a great player. And she's going to be phenomenal at the next level, too. So I just really enjoy playing with her.
Q. Keshia, we see you all the time in the Big East obviously in Connecticut and we're wondering how you guys think the program is going to carry on next year when Angel and Candyce are gone and what the next step for Louisville basketball is going to be. Just wondering what your point of view was on that.
KESHIA HINES: Well, we have some great freshmen coming in next year. Even though we're going to miss Candyce and Angel, it's another year and it's part of life. We gain some and we lose some. We're going to do the best we can.
DESEREE' BYRD: Can't replace a Candyce Bingham and an Angel McCoughtry. But I think we feel like we all feel the same way, and I think we want to have the same feeling next year. Everybody is going to get in the gym and work on their weaknesses and get better as individuals. Because as Coach Walz said, if we get better as individuals we get better as a team. He's going to push us just like he pushed us this year.
With Angel and Candyce without Angel and Candyce he's still going to push us to the fullest, to the best as we can be.
Q. Candyce, I was wondering, could you talk about just like since the beginning of the tournament, since Selection Monday, you guys got sent down to Louisiana and just the ride that it's been, like just keeping winning and winning to get here?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: I'm so glad we got a 3 seed. Because I think we had the most promising route to get here. I mean, I don't know. You know, people are doubting us, saying we couldn't do this, we couldn't do that, but we beat two No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed. And we believed. We didn't let the 3 seed get down. We didn't let having to play at LSU get us down because we all just believed.
We've played in front of crowds like that all season. So we just believed in each other and believed in the coaching staff and now we're playing for the national championship.
Q. Candyce, how have you changed since you first got to the program? How are you different now than maybe when you started? And I would even ask that about the team. What have you seen in that time how the program and the people in it have changed?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: I think for myself, leadership has been a big factor in me changing, and then with the team, just believing in one another. And then when we got a new coaching staff I know at first it was hard to buy into what they were saying, but we knew that Coach Walz had won a national championship. He knew what it took to get there.
So I think it didn't happen overnight. But we knew that in the end him coming here and bringing in that staff would get us to the point we are today. And it worked.
Q. Candyce, just following up on that. Maybe, Angel, you can chime in here if you would like. But do you recall that first drill of the first day of practice, and what was that? And when you were going through that, did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think about that it would lead you here, that doing something like that would lead you here? And how far away did that dream seem then and now that you're on the threshold of it? How real does it seem?
CANDYCE BINGHAM: Yeah, we have this drill, what is it, 21 free throws. And you have you and a partner. And you have to make basically a 1 and 1 free throw, whatever, but we didn't make it. We just ran. This was last year. We just ran for like an hour straight. And this year there were different drills. We had one person pretty much give up on the drill and you were just looking around and saying, wow, what are we getting ourselves into.
But with six freshmen on the team that's what's going to happen. You're going to have days where you're just kind of like, What is going on? What are we getting ourselves into? But we had plenty of meetings and talked to them and told them how things were going to be. And it finally ended up working.
We didn't think it would at that time. But it finally came through and we're in the national championship game.
ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY: Well, it's just been crazy. We had to run for hours. It seemed like it was going to be a long year. But ever since the North Carolina game last year, that's all I dreamed about was getting to St. Louis and getting to this. I've actually had a dream about it, putting on the hat, running up and down the court. So hopefully my dream can come true tomorrow.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Jeff, can you just talk about what you talked a little last night about the development of everybody other than Candyce and Angel, especially in the tournament and what Becky kind of has brought to this team.
COACH WALZ: Yeah, it's been a year. It's been a two year process for Keshia and Des. And we had our freshmen, we had to put them on a fast track because they didn't have the luxury of playing like a normal freshman. With Keshia and Des, their first year we could throw them out there and if they had some problems I could sub them back out.
To just give them time to reflect on the bench and relax and put them back in. But we've started two freshmen the entire year, just about. And it's been good for them, but at the same time it's been tough on them. Because they've had to learn as the game's going. There's no time for them to sit on the bench and kind of reflect and try to take things in.
We've had to have freshmen step up and play, and especially this past month in the NCAA tournament, Becky Burke has stepped up big. Monique Reid last night I watched the game film this morning, and Mo was as good as anyone on the floor defensively for us. She just did an outstanding job.
She took the ball hard to the hole in the last two minutes of the game. Just did everything we asked her to do. And our kids are starting to play a year ahead of what they really are. Des and Keshia are starting to play like some juniors and our freshmen are starting to play like sophomores. And that's what we have to have if we want to have a chance to compete tomorrow night.
Q. How would you rate yourself as a motivator? And in your career where does this game rank as a motivational challenge?
COACH WALZ: You know, we keep it real. I mean, that's the one thing we do. I've always been a believer in being honest with players. So when it comes to motivating them, I just try and challenge them. I told Angel last night at halftime, she was bad. It's the worst I'd seen her play, and it was.
So I wasn't going to walk in there and tell her it's okay, because it wasn't. And that's what we've done for the two years I've been there. And our players, you know, at the moment they might not appreciate it, because every player, when they leave a locker room after a game, they go back and see their parents and the first thing they say is, Great job. You did a great job. It's a lie. Just tell them the truth.
So I've told our kids after our UConn game in the Big East finals, I told them, When you walk out of here, if your parents tell you you did a good job, they're lying to you. Just tell them you're awful. And that's what they appreciate now because they at least know they're going to get the truth.
When our kids play well, I tell them they play well. I'm the first one to praise them and tell them they've done a great job. So we motivate by just telling the truth to them.
And our entire program is based on that and our players learn to respect that, and that's all I really care about.
I tell them, I'm not trying to find 15 new friends. I'm there to coach a basketball team. But what I do care about is when the day's done and we walk off the floor that they respect me and they know I'll take care of them. And that's what it's all about. It's not just about winning basketball games. We've done a great job of that this season, but I'm just as proud of what they've done off the floor as I am what they've done on it.
So motivation is not tough if you're just honest with players. And for myself, it's going to be fun tomorrow night. We're going to have to come out and play a great game. There's no question UConn is the best team in the country. There's no doubt. But what we have to do is find a way to play better for 40 minutes. That's it. It doesn't have to be 42, 43. We've got to play a better basketball game for 40 minutes.
If we can find a way to do that, well, then we win tomorrow night. And that's not going to say that we're a better basketball team if we can figure that way out. It's going to be a challenge for us.
Q. I know you've talked in the past, but can you revisit the tape that you showed Angel to kind of open her eyes to how immature she was being and how far she's come since then? And kind of as a follow up, did that really present itself at halftime in the national semifinals? I mean, in the past could her maturity even allowed her to come out and play as well as she did to end that game?
COACH WALZ: All we did was Steph Norman, my assistant, we sat down and I watched some game film and I'd ask her, Hey, let's clip out about four minutes of Angel her freshman and sophomore year, just the way she reacted to the officiating calls, to her teammates and just show her how she's handling different situations.
And it's not that she was immature, it's just the kid's a fierce competitor. She wants to win, and that's what it all comes down to. And people, I think, had talked to her in the past about, how, you've got to watch your behavior, you've got to relax a little more. But no one had actually shown it to her.
And my wife we've got a three year old that threw food on the floor once and we laughed at it and we thought it was funny. The next day she starts doing it again. So we realized we better not laugh at that anymore. So if you show them stuff on film, especially, kids will change. It just takes some time.
And last night's game, Angel, there was no doubt in my mind she was going to come out and play a much better second half. But she needed to know that the way she played in the first half was not acceptable.
And she took the challenge and came out and just played extremely well for us.
Q. Jeff, you mentioned they're the best team in the country. Could you just talk about what weaknesses you can see such as maybe depth and what do you do to try to exploit those?
COACH WALZ: I think I saw their manager drop a bottle of water. So that's a weakness.
You know, that's the scary thing about them. They've got three of the top 10 players or 12 players 10, right? State Farm team's 10. Yeah. Three of the top 10 players in the country. Then you've got Tiffany Hayes, who is shooting the ball extremely well.
Kalana Greene, I mean, it's just a list of them. We're going to have to come out and we're going to have to try to find a way to make them uncomfortable. How we're going to do that, I haven't quite figured out yet. I've got until 7:30 tomorrow night to try and figure that out.
But we're going to have to try to control the tempo of the game. We're going to have to make some shots early. The difference is if we come out tomorrow night the same first five minutes the way we played last night, instead of being 11 0 it's 25 0. So I'm aware of that. Our kids know that.
But at the same time, who expected us to be here? I'm not sure anyone did. Well, actually I know no one did. So we've got nothing to lose and everything to gain, and that's how we're going to approach this game. We're going to come out and lay it on the line for 40 minutes. And we'll be proud of our effort, there's no doubt about that. And hopefully we can play better basketball than they do for 40 minutes.
Q. Two part question. Following up on what I asked your players. When you ran them for an hour in that first practice, you say you like to keep it real, and they were asking themselves what have we got ourselves into. With as many freshmen you had to integrate on this team, were you asking yourself the same thing? As a coach, as you motivate your players, is it tough to kind of, I guess, reconcile wanting them to keep focus but at the same time to have a purpose for what they do in terms of playing for a national championship? Do you dangle that as kind of a carrot out there in that first practice and say, Look, if we do the little things, this is what can happen at the end of the year?
COACH WALZ: You know, our first practice, we go into it each year and I tell them exactly what drill we're going to start off with. So I tell them that our first individual workout. It's the same drill we do in individual workouts. So they know what to expect.
I told them this is our goal. And until we meet it we're going to run. So it took us an hour. So our first day of practice was just up and down. But what that did was that got a group of players to understand, hey, when Coach says something, he means it.
So it started I thought even though it was a bad first day, I thought it sent a message to all of them. And I've said all year long that our margin for error is very thin. We've got Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham who are two fantastic players, and we've got really good role players, and we've got some that are starting to step up and get better.
But it's the same thing. We can't afford a lot of mistakes if we're going to win games. And we've done a really good job. If you go back and look at our last five games, we've, I think, cut our turnovers down from averaging about 18 to averaging about 12 or 13. And those are things we're going to have to continue to do if we're going to have a chance to win tomorrow night.
Q. Jeff, you're a pretty animated guy on the sidelines. I was wondering how you gauge how you approach the officials during the game and what you can get away with and when you cross the line, or how do you feel them out and know what kind of conduct or decorum to carry through on a game?
COACH WALZ: I've watched film of Coach Auriemma, Geno, and I've learned from him. He does an outstanding job with the officials.
And we try to have conversation with them back and forth. You know, there are things I question at times and I'm sure they question my coaching at times as they're officiating a game.
But I've got to try to protect my players as much as the next coach does. And, you know, when they warn you, I say okay, and then you try to back off some. But I just go as the game goes. Some games are better than others.
Q. This was the year there was so much talk about the Big East men and the possibility of three teams in the Final Four. As it turns out, there is no Big East team playing for the title tonight but you have two Big East teams playing for the title here. Could you speak first to the pride of the conference, what you think it says about the conference? And also, from a Louisville point of view, after the disappointment with the men's team, whether this game alone is enough to bring the campus back up to a very spirited level, or would it take you guys beating Connecticut to do that?
COACH WALZ: You know, we had two bus loads of students that came up for the game last night, bused back home after the game. And I think we've got three or four bus loads of students that will come back up tomorrow night. So our campus pride is great. Our men's team had a great year. They ran into a very, very good Michigan State team that's playing for a championship tonight.
So that's just one of those things where, you know, our men would have loved to have been playing in the game tonight. And unfortunately they're not. Speaking on behalf of the Big East now, I think you just go back and look at what our conference has done. 13 of our 16 teams played in post season play. South Florida just won the NIT. And now you've got two teams playing in the championship game.
So I don't think there's a question of what league was the best. I know this year we were being told we were the second or third best conference in the country. But I think we showed everybody with the performance we've had here, not only with the teams in the NCAA tournament, but the teams that played in the NIT, who the best league was.
Q. Jeff, just wondered if you as a sports fan have a favorite upset and whether you I don't know, Villanova over Georgetown, U.S.A. Hockey over Russia, and whether you might draw on that in talking to the team?
COACH WALZ: We've talked about those things, and, no, I really don't have one that I'm going to sit there and go on. I mean, we've kind of gone on the philosophy the whole year that we're the Bad News Bears. So that's still going to be our approach to things.
It's like I said, no one even when I listened to the game of last night, the commentators, Oklahoma is letting a lesser team come back. They should have buried them in the first half. This team's not as good. But it just seems that our kids find a way.
And we might not have been the most talented team on the floor for the past four games that we've played. But I think we've been the tougher team and the team with more heart. And that goes a long way. And we've got a group of players here that are buying into a system and buying into their role.
We have kids that aren't shooters that aren't shooting, which is a good thing. It's like I tell a few of our players when they come over to me and they say, Hey, coach I'm open, I tell them, There's a reason you're open; they ain't guarding you. Those kids aren't shooting anymore. Which is good. They're passing and setting screens for our shooters.
And I think when you get a group of players that buy into what their job is, you've got a chance to be successful. Because our past three games we've tried to make kids on other teams that normally don't score take shots. And we've been successful with that.
So hopefully we can continue to do that. Now, tomorrow night my problem is they all make shots for UConn. So it's a matter of trying to figure out who we're going to have to try to make more shots compared to what they normally make.
Q. How much did the way the Big East championship game play out help you guys regroup for the NCAA tournament, make this run? I think I remember you saying your team sort of quit towards the end and gave up in the last couple of minutes. Did that get you refocused and help say, okay, we've got new life here, new season, and play that way?
COACH WALZ: You know what, we looked at the film for about one time through, just real quick, and it was kind of like it was ugly. It was bad. And just kind of explained to our kids that's not us, we can't let that happen again.
And the nice thing about it was we had about a week and a half off to forget about that game. And then a chance to start things over again. And they bought into coming back and practicing hard and working on the small things. And now we're playing here.
Q. Coach, it's been more than two decades since two men have coached in the national championship game. What significance, if any, do you find in that fact and that time gap?
COACH WALZ: None. Honestly, it's just one of those that our team has just been playing well and I happen to be a man and he's a man and we're playing tomorrow night.
I don't think there's any significance in it at all. I think there's a bunch of great coaches in our game, male and female. When we go to play somebody, I don't look down the bench to see if it's a male coach or a female coach; I just look at their coaching and what they've done.
So to me there's really no significance in that at all. We're just thrilled to be playing tomorrow night.
Q. Can you sum up Angel's accomplishments in her career and also how fitting is it for her to have the opportunity to play for a national championship tomorrow night?
COACH WALZ: What she's done for this program you really can't put into words. I think the easiest way to sum everything up is her freshman year I think they average about 1,400 fans a game. And by her senior year we were averaging close to about 8,000.
So that sums up her career in my mind, just the fact that she brought women's basketball in our city to a brand new stage.
And I think it's going to continue to grow. We're opening up a brand new arena in two years, and our goal is to have 10,000 season ticket holders when that opens. And I really think we have a great chance at that.
Q. How fitting is it for her?
COACH WALZ: It's wonderful. I mean, she's one of the few players that, you know, you come out of high school and she was recruited by some good teams. St. John's, Kim does a great job up there. And she saw in her before what everybody else saw what she could be.
And the amount of work Angel has put into her game to go from being ranked about 80th or 90th out of high school to being a three time All American doesn't happen very often in women's basketball.
So for what she's done for her career and how fitting it is to play in this championship game, I'm so excited for her and Candyce.
We have two seniors that have been the heart and soul of this team the entire season. And I'm happy for both of them. But I know they're not satisfied with just playing in this game tomorrow night.
Q. How much of the film from the previous two games do you show today and tomorrow before the game, or do you use it as motivation?
COACH WALZ: None. Not going to watch it. There's no need to.
Q. This is a little off the beaten path kind of question, but following up the question about the male coaches thing. Geno talks once in a while about how he aspires someday perhaps daydreams about coaching men. And I'm wondering if you ever thought about that, and, more importantly, how you thought an elite women's coach like you and Coach Auriemma would be accepted by male players on the college level?
COACH WALZ: I had the chance, my second year, at Western Kentucky, to possibly switch over to the men's side and really had no interest in that. I enjoy coaching the women's game. I enjoy the fact of recruiting, that when you recruit players you've got the opportunity to see them grow and develop for four years.
On the men's side, I've got a lot of respect for what they do because you have coaches that go out there and bust their tail recruiting to get the best player and then they're there for one year. We can sit there and Geno, you get a Maya Moore and you're going to get a chance to coach the kid for four years, and that's a pretty darned good feeling.
So I enjoy being in the women's game. I don't really have a desire to switch to the men. But I don't think if he wanted to do it or if I decided to do it, if the opportunity came about, I don't think it would be a problem about coaching men. I don't think they'd have a problem respecting us. Basketball's basketball. You still have to put the ball in the basket. You've got to be able to draw up some plays.
So Xs and Os are about the same. I think it's how you handle your players on and off the court that are going to make a difference how you can adjust coaching a female athlete and a male athlete.
Q. Can you just talk about the Bad News Bears analogy. I mean, you guys have been a top 10 team all year. Do you just see things inside the program that you are busting the kids about that they have to fix to get better?
COACH WALZ: No, you know what, we've been a top 10 program all season long. But I really believe that it's one of those, I think we're voted the top 10 because we just kept winning. It's like, golly, I really don't want to vote them there, but they didn't lose; so we're stuck voting them there.
I mean, our center is six foot two and about 145 pounds. When they announce the starting lineups for last night's game, and again Gwen Rucker runs out to half court and here comes Courtney Paris, were you not like, wow, that could be a problem for them.
Our point guard goes out to shake hands and, you know, Des has just done a phenomenal job, but she's not your typical point guard. I've had everybody be like Des will tell you she was a quarterback for a pee wee league football team. She played with the guys.
And when I say that, that's what I talk about. We don't have your six foot four post player. We don't have your five foot ten lightning quick point guard. We're just different. And I think it plays well into the way we play.
But that's what I refer when I sit there and I say we're the Bad News Bears, that's what I talk about.
Q. I know you talked before about your relationship with Rick Pitino, could you expand on that? Do you know if he's coming here tomorrow to watch you guys play?
COACH WALZ: I'm not sure if Coach is or not. Got a text from him last night congratulating us on the win, and some of his staff are here and said that he's going to try and come to the game tomorrow night. He's been outstanding to us.
He's given us the opportunity to come and watch practice, pick up some Xs and Os from him. He'll sit down and talk basketball whenever he's got time and we have time. It's a very good relationship, and I appreciate the time he's given me and my staff.
And, you know, it's one that hopefully it will continue to grow because it's benefited me greatly.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you, Coach.