Here are the quotes from the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team in their press conference before tomorrow’s matchup with the Baylor Bears in the NCAA Women’s Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.
COACH AURIEMMA: We’ve been talking the last couple of days about being in the Final Four and what a unique experience it is and how you have to really try to get as much out of it as you can, the whole experience, not just sitting around waiting for the games.
A lot goes into the preparation part, because it’s not easy with all the things you’re asked to do. But this group has been real good all year about zeroing in on what’s important and making sure that we stay on task.
And now tomorrow we get a chance to play in the game that we’ve wanted to play in since we got back to school last April. And we’re just anxious to go. We really are. And I know I speak for them and everybody else in our program. We’re anxious for tomorrow to come.
Continue reading for more quotes.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. For any of the players, Coach just talked about zeroing in on what is important. What is important right now for you guys?
KALANA GREENE: I think what’s important is getting the next win and doing the things that we’ve done all season to get the win. I think when it’s time to have fun, we know how to do that. When it’s time to get on the court and play basketball, that’s when our focus really turns on and try to get the next win.
Q. Tina, just your thoughts on playing against Griner tomorrow night and what kind of challenges she presents?
TINA CHARLES: Coach has made it clear that it’s not Tina Charles versus Brittney Griner; it’s UConn versus Baylor. All the challenges I’m going to face we’re going to face them together, if there are any challenges. Just going to go out there and play hard.
Q. Maya, can you just talk about this ride you’ve all been on, the winning streak, and can you just talk a little bit why the team chemistry is so good?
MAYA MOORE: I think our program, just the way we do things, definitely gives us an opportunity to have strong chemistry. We’re always together. It’s a unique set of people, I think, first of all. You have to have a good group that like to be around each other and like to be in the gym.
And really have the same interests. And most of us do. We live together. We always look out for each other. Anytime we go anywhere, we’re always going in groups, going out together.
And we have an unselfish group. You know, if you watch us play it’s so clear we don’t care who scores. It’s all the same. We all get just as excited if Jacquie Fernandes is hitting a 3 or Caroline Doty is hitting a 3. It’s just a unique group and our coaches do a great job of setting the atmosphere.
Q. Tina, obviously you don’t have somebody on your team who is 6’8″. What can you as a team do to simulate Brittney? Do you use brooms in practice, for example, or do you use 6’8″ guys? What can you do to prepare in that fashion?
TINA CHARLES: Just mentally go out there and play hard. We’re not going to change anything that we do, offensively. We’re going to — Coach is going to give us a game plan and go out there and do it the best we can. We’re not going to change anything we’re going to do. We’re not going to use brooms or anything.
Q. Tina, just wanted you to reflect a little bit about the matchup you had as a freshman when you played Sylvia Fowles and what impression did that make upon you, and do you see any similarities in this matchup? I know you’ve said it’s not me against Brittney. But so many of us here making into that, because we see that matchup in the post. But do you see any similarities, she being an up-and-coming center, you being regarded as one of the best in the country, and back then Sylvia being the best and you being the up-and-coming center?
TINA CHARLES: You know, I guess like how everybody thought for me, there’s a lot of growth left for her. Definitely going to be — when she’s leaving college, going to be one of the great centers to come out of college.
Like I said, a lot of growth. You can just see. Every time I see her play, she’s improving on something. Whether it’s a different move where she has the ball, whether it’s her intensity level, just how she gets energy when she’s blocking shots, just little things like that. So definitely there’s always room for growth when you’re a freshman.
Q. What about the impression of Sylvia, the matchup, what impression does that make?
TINA CHARLES: Definitely was a challenge, something that I wanted to see myself when I became a senior, wanted to become one of the dominating seniors to leave school.
Q. Maya, obviously you guys being the defending champs and the winning streak puts a target on your back pretty much every time you go out there. Coach talked about the anxiousness that you guys are feeling to play. I mean, do you guys get motivated for going up against the best teams in the country?
MAYA MOORE: Absolutely. That’s what March is. That’s what the Final Four is. That’s what UConn basketball is. We’re a competitive group and that’s why we’ve been able to maintain the success we’ve had, because our coaches and the players around me are very competitive.
And anytime you can get a matchup with a competitive team who has talent, who has worked hard, who has shocked a lot of people in coming as far as they have, and they’re on a roll right now, we would have it no other way. That’s when basketball is fun. If it’s competitive, high pressure, everybody’s watching, that’s what you love.
So after practice now I was ready to go. I was asking our assistant coach, Chris Dailey, if we could play right now because I was ready to go. We’re definitely excited and anxious to play.
Q. Early this morning the Oklahoma players talked about Coach Sherri Coale as a celebrity and certainly around Oklahoma. This is for any of the players, do you think of Geno as a celebrity?
TINA CHARLES: He’s The Godfather (laughter).
Q. Want to expand why you —
TINA CHARLES: He’s Italian (laughter).
Q. Maya, Baylor has a lot of freshmen. You have been in this event as a freshman, and I know you had a lot of preparation coming into that event. Is it a little overwhelming as a freshman, everything you have to experience, and can you reflect back on what it was like for you your first time at the Final Four?
MAYA MOORE: You’re just excited and soaking in the experience. You’re not really — I don’t think you’re really too stressed, unless you feel like your team isn’t ready. That’s the only reason I would be stressed, if I didn’t think we were the best team out there.
But you’re really not doing a whole lot of thinking. I mean, as poorly as we played at times my freshman year in that game, most of the time I wasn’t doing a whole lot of stressing or thinking; I was just going out there playing.
It’s a good thing when you come in you’re fresh and you don’t have anything to compare it to, you’re just going out and playing. It can be an advantage. But if you don’t have upperclassmen that ultimately take the responsibility for the team, you can get in trouble.
So I just feel real good with where we are, just the experience I’ve had from freshman year until now. I feel like I have and the seniors next to me have taken a lot of responsibility for our team and we feel really confident.
Q. Kalana, with your third time back in three years, I assume the entire team is pretty comfortable with the logistics that surround being at a Final Four. Coach was talking about the way you guys get pulled around different places and everything. You pretty much know what the deal is by now. Does that help you get ready for the game that you’ve already had to deal with all the off-the-court stuff that you have to do?
KALANA GREENE: I think we know what to expect. I think the first year we came here, Tampa, you know, we were excited. But then there’s like a lot of things going on and you’re like, oh, my God, I’m ready to play. You’re kind of overanxious.
Now I think we expect everything that’s happening, and I think our time management, we know when we’re not doing a lot of the off-the-court stuff we need to relax and get ready for the game. Especially after this afternoon. We’re going to take a lot of time to just relax and get out. Get our mind off of basketball and get our mind off of being in the gym all day and clear our heads before we come in tomorrow to work.
Q. Maya, I wanted to get a chance to ask you when it happened, but were you surprised when you won the Wade Trophy this year?
MAYA MOORE: Anytime you get an award that’s based on someone else and their opinion of you, you can never really be sure. But it’s an honor to be respected in that way.
And I’m just glad that it’s happening the way it is, just as far as how far our season is going. And to have my teammate up there with me, Tina, and the rest of my teammates over in the corner cheering and acting goofy for us and excited is what makes it really worthwhile.
So it’s an honor, but that’s not why I came here. I came here to play tomorrow and take care of business.
Q. Maya, you guys have been playing unreal defense all season long. It seems somehow you turned it up a notch in the tournament. I think you (indiscernible) 40 points a game and shattered almost every NCAA record for defensively. What have you guys done differently the last four games to sort of get even better defensively for an unreal defensive effort all season?
MAYA MOORE: At this point it’s not a whole lot of physical changes or improvements. It’s all in your mind. It’s all focused, knowing your scouting report. Just really studying your opponent and knowing what you need to do. Trying to make the other team not necessarily steal the ball every time but make them uncomfortable, disrupt their flow, and just continue with that aggressive attack mentality.
And we pick it up in March and in April. That’s what we do at Connecticut. It’s the best time of the year. It’s our favorite time of the year to play, and we just come with everything we have, and we’re just using that momentum from each game, pick up the defensive intensity.
Q. To follow up with that, March and April, you yourself have turned your game up. Your numbers are a video game, like shooting 70 percent from 3-point land and 64 percent from the field. Do you turn your game up in March and April as well?
MAYA MOORE: I always try to play my hardest every game. And something about the tournament, I guess it just gets me excited. But I’m just playing free right now. I’m not trying to do a whole lot of, like I’ve said before, not doing a whole lot of thinking, not trying to improve or work on my game per se, but I’m just going with my strengths.
I’m comfortable out there and my teammates are doing a great job of setting screens for me and finding me in transition and playing great defense, which gives us more opportunity to play offense. And I’m just really comfortable right now.
Q. Maybe two of you can answer. How has the complexion of this team changed without Renee running the offense?
TINA CHARLES: It changed a lot. There’s things that Renee can do that just can’t be replaced. Just the way she’ll just penetrate in the lane and able to dish that off or how she just always wanted to come down the court and be in transition all the time. That’s what Lorin Dixon is doing for us right now.
But I think it was a great challenge for Tiffany Hayes and Caroline to come out of their shell and just do something they probably didn’t think they could do. I think that’s one of the best things about playing for Coach.
He’ll take you all year-round and make you feel like you can do something else. Make you do things that you need to work on, that can help you in the long run. But it’s not about having a two point guards; it’s just about getting the job done. And so far that’s what Caroline and Tiffany has done for us.
Q. Maya, you’ve been dominating teams by 30, 40 points all season. How concerned are you that if you get into a close game, that things won’t go your way? Specifically, where Stanford has been in the same boat all season, except for the loss to you, and then they wound up being in a close game and had a real hard time. How concerned are you with that?
MAYA MOORE: I’m not concerned. It’s the same mentality and attack mindset that we have during the game is what I believe will carry us over in a close game. It’s the fact that we will never stop attacking. We’ll never stop playing hard. And so if another team decides to do the same, we’re confident that we’ll be able to be the winner in the end, because we go hard every game, regardless of the score.
That’s why you see us diving on loose balls when we have a 30-point lead, because we’re playing in that attack mentality, with that attack mentality for 40 minutes. Because we play that way we have confidence if it comes down to it, we’ll still be in that same mindset, if it comes down to the wire.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, one of the things that I’ve noticed throughout covering you is that no matter what kind of challenge Connecticut has, who their individual players are, Connecticut always seems to just focus on what it has to do to be successful as opposed to what the other team does. Is this another example of that philosophy with Griner coming up tomorrow?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, I mean, I think every game involves two things: There’s things that you know you’re going to have to do to neutralize some things that they do, and you know that there’s certain strengths that you have that you have to try to take advantage of.
And I think as a coach you have to make that distinction between how much of our focus is going to be on what they do and how we treat them and how much of our focus is going to be on what we do and who we are and how we’re going to approach things. I think you have to do a little bit of both. I don’t think it can be all one or the other.
But I would say tomorrow’s not going to be that much different than all of our other preparations in that the majority of our preparation is what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and knowing that they’re going to react a certain way and we’re going to have to go to plan B, when that time comes. And maybe plan C.
Some games you get a plan A and it just stays there and you don’t have to worry about anything.
Q. Coach, earlier was talking with Coach Coale about the first time she met you. She talked about how you came into this little barn of a gym in October with no socks, coat pulled up around your neck. Can you talk about that day and how your friendship has blossomed over these last 15 years?
COACH AURIEMMA: I just wanted to fit in with the locals (laughter). At least I had shoes. I mean, you know? I remember my first impressions were, wow, this is like really good. This is not like your typical high school practice. I coached high school. I know what a good practice looks like. I know what bad ones look like. And I’m watching them practice and go through some drills.
I thought this is really good. This is a really good program. She really knows what she’s doing with these kids. And they’re fortunate to have somebody like that, who is passionate about the game and knows how to teach it. Knows what she wants to teach and knows how to teach it. Not a lot of people do.
And that was my initial reaction to Sherri, and our friendship kind of grew from there, probably because of our shared love of the game and the way we play the game, and I think there’s a lot of similarities between the way they play and the way we play.
And kind of flattering a little bit that they’re using Danielle Robinson the exact same way we used Renee Montgomery last year. And we talked about that a lot in the offseason.
And I’m glad they’re having a lot of success. I knew it would happen. I just didn’t know to what extent. That’s been the best coaching job I think she’s ever done, given who graduated and Whitney Hand getting hurt, it’s pretty remarkable that they’re here. I’m not surprised.
Q. Your players talk about attacking for 40 minutes. It’s hard to get — I mean, a lot of teams talk about it, it’s hard to get players to do that. Is that something in the players individually, or is this — have you had a team like this before in that sense? And is it because of them personally?
COACH AURIEMMA: I have had teams like this before. I don’t think you win — I don’t think you go through a season and win as many games as we’ve won in the past and win national championships unless you can have that kind of mentality.
Sometimes it’s a little more subtle, and sometimes it’s really overt. I mean, this team — it’s evident what they’re doing, and there’s no subtlety about it. It stems from the expectation level and who they are as people. I could have the same expectations, which I’ve had of other players and other teams and not have this result.
So it all stems from the individuals. They have it in them, and it’s our job as coaches to get it out. They didn’t have it in them, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.
Q. I guess they called it having a little dog in you or something, they say great players have maybe a mean streak or a little nastiness. Do these as a team have that, and have you seen that before in the team?
COACH AURIEMMA: They don’t have it. They don’t have it. Again, they don’t have what Shea Ralph had or what Diana Taurasi had or Swin Cash.
Q. As a group?
COACH AURIEMMA: As a group they have it. But as individuals they do not. They’re more a collection of parts that make a great whole. Some of the other teams I’ve had, there were individuals on there that were — like they don’t have what Renee had. But they get the same things done. They just do it in a different way.
Q. Last weekend with Tina Charles as a player for you, and I would ask you to reflect on that relationship from where you started and where you ended up?
COACH AURIEMMA: A lot has been said about that. I did think about that, too, as a matter of fact. Last weekend I thought about it, that this is the last week. The last week of practice. Maybe the last two games.
And I do think back to freshman year and how quickly things changed, that in practice I thought, wow, this kid’s going to be something special. In the first two exhibition games, I was like, wow, we haven’t had anybody like her in a long time. This kid is an offensive rebounding machine.
It didn’t dawn on me until the third or fourth game that all the offensive rebounds were her missed shots. And that’s when the problem started, because she was patting herself on her back for all of the offensive rebounds and I was bitching about every missed layup.
So it fell apart quickly that freshman year. But from then on I think the expectations that she has for herself are so much higher than they were back then. She’s so much more mature. She’s someone that now you don’t have to necessarily kind of badger all the time. You can just point some things out to her, whereas before you would point something out, it would go in one ear and out the other because she couldn’t understand why you were saying what you were saying or why you were doing what you’re doing.
And she’s such a nice kid that you couldn’t even get her mad. You just shook your head and said, man, it’s really hard to get mad at this kid because she’s such a nice kid.
And she wants to please me so bad that it was really hard for me to go to practice and say, You’re the worst player I’ve ever coached in my life. I know you love me, but I hate you as a player. And I think you’re a great kid and I think you’re sweet and a good student, and I wish I could take you home, but, man, I hate the way you play basketball.
It was a constant back and forth like that until all of a sudden it dawned on her, you know, I think Coach is right; I don’t necessarily like myself as a basketball player as much as I could.
And now I think she understands. But everybody has their own timetable, you know. I’m just glad that hers didn’t run out before she finished her eligibility.
Q. Heather Buck didn’t practice today. Is there anything wrong with her?
COACH AURIEMMA: She’s been sick for the last couple of days. Stomach problems.
Q. And the question is: Knowing how you feel about Maya and Tina personally, and you understand their nuances as players so well, next week, when you take them on the court as the coach of the United States Basketball Team, how do you separate those emotions when you have to make a determination where they fit into this other big picture?
COACH AURIEMMA: That’s very easy for me. I don’t ever have a problem with that. Whenever I coach my players outside of UConn, they have to prove to me that they’re better than everybody else. They get nothing from me. It’s like when I coach my son’s AAU team, the first person that got benched, first person that got thrown out of the gym was him.
So when we show up for a national team, every little thing that Maya Moore and Tina Charles does that I let somebody else get away with they’re getting in trouble for, and they know it. Because if they make the team and they’re starting and they’re playing a lot of minutes, it’s not going to be because I’m their college coach, it’s going to be because they earned it.
So if we win Sunday and we’re fortunate enough to play Tuesday and we win Tuesday and they’re all jumping up and down and hugging and kissing and loving life when we get together next week, I hate ’em (laughter).
Q. Geno, obviously people have asked you before about being a man coaching women’s basketball. And, I mean, it’s obvious you can do that at this point. I was wondering about is there like a secret to co-existing with them? Like we know you can coach them, but like the other stuff? Do they ever gang up on you, the kids and your wife and daughters and C.D. and Janelle and do you ever feel outnumbered? Or is there a secret to co-existing with all of them?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, wine helps (laughter). Helps tremendously. Feeling like you’re tremendously outnumbered and saying, yes, dear, no problem, and knowing like what’s important and what’s not important to get upset about, what to argue about, what not to argue about. I don’t have a lot of rules with my team. That’s the problem.
Most coaches get themselves in trouble. They try to micromanage these kids. We have very few ironclad things that we believe in. Standards of how we are and who we are and what we do. So they know I’m not after them all the time; that when I get after them about something, it’s really important to me. And it becomes important to them.
But I’m not yap, yap, yap, yap. You know, they do that among themselves. That’s what women do. That’s what girls do, you know? And I let them do that whenever they want.
It’s like stretching. We stretch. That’s the biggest waste of time in the history of sports. But we have to stretch. And I give them ten minutes to stretch before practice so they can all sit around and talk about what movie they saw, what pair of shoes they saw in some store or — you know. And I stay in my office until they’re done and then I come out. It’s nauseating.
You let them do what they do because that’s part of who they are. I let them make decisions about all kinds of things. And they’re really good about it. I treat them like adults. I don’t treat them like kids. I expect a lot from them and they know what they’re going to get from me, and there’s no nonsense.
And it’s the same thing I am with my kids at home. I give them exactly what they need. I give them everything I have. I give them everything I have, and they know it. Everything I have is theirs. My house is their house. My family’s their family. And that’s why it works for us, I think.
Q. Your streak is incredible. But I’m trying to figure something out, and maybe you can help a little bit. There are hundreds of thousands of girls, maybe millions of girls, and women playing basketball in our country. And, as you know, when UCLA men had their streak, they had 16 games that were in single digits and they had two that were one-point games. You guys, of course — no team in the last two years has gotten within single digits of you. It’s great for you. I’m wondering how is that possible that there’s not one team that can get within single digits with all of these girls, with Title IX — you know the rest. Thanks.
COACH AURIEMMA: How is it possible? I don’t know. I wish I could give you like — I wish I could give you a list, say, Here you go, here’s the list, it’s because of this, this, and this.
But, to be honest with you, everything I will put on the list you would say, So? Don’t other teams do that? So? Doesn’t that team have that?
It’s something that I have a hard time explaining, because it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s happening, again, and the cynic out there will say, well, everybody else is really bad. But that’s not true. Not everybody can be bad. The UConn fans will say, well, that’s just the way it is. Connecticut is supposed to win every game.
But somewhere in between there there’s the players themselves, and a unique group that just came together at the right time and the right place and it’s gotten bigger than any one of us individually now. It just kind of has a life of its own and it just moves forward.
We don’t think about it. We don’t talk about it. We play a game. They know. And this could end tomorrow. Tomorrow we could lose by double digits.
Everything that we’ve done right up to this point could all go wrong. But no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, my players are under the impression that it doesn’t matter; we’re going to win. And maybe not every kid that plays college basketball says it doesn’t matter, we’re going to win.
I’ve seen teams, when they’re winning, they know they’re going to win and they know they want to win. When they’re losing, they accept losing. Okay. It’s not our day today. The hell with it, my bad, I’ll get it tomorrow.
And my guys refuse to accept that under any circumstances. They will not accept it. If it happens, we’ll have to deal with it. But they won’t accept playing poorly. They will not. They will not.
And if we’re up 30 and there’s a loose ball and two of my guys don’t dive on it, the guys on the bench are pissed. If somebody dribbles by somebody and somebody doesn’t rotate over and the lead goes from 38 to 36, the guys on my team are pissed, because that should not be happening. We worked too hard for that to happen. But we’re up 35, I don’t care.
And if they made a goal already that we’re going to hold somebody to 50 points and they get to 45, the intensity level goes up ten times, because they don’t want them to get to 50. Forget how many we have. So it’s that kind of mentality that somehow just becomes — it’s pervasive in our program.
I don’t know how it got there all of a sudden, and I don’t know — I can’t explain it. But it’s there right now. It’s there. And I’d venture to say that the teams we play against know it’s there. And tomorrow, you know, that kid could just take her hand and just wipe all that away and 70-some games would go right down the toilet.
Q. The question is meant obviously as a compliment towards your program. It’s been mentioned by many people. Because of your dominance and the amount of points you win by, some people have questioned whether UConn basketball is somehow good for the game. Your response to that, because it’s obviously something that you’ve built up. But in the big picture, do you see this as somehow negative for the game?
COACH AURIEMMA: I’ve been asked that question a lot, obviously. And I think — I’ve worked really hard the last five or six years to not lash out at people and get defensive and be my old self. And a lot of the guys that cover our team aren’t too happy about that. They like when I make smart-ass comments and get myself in trouble and annoy everyone in America and let all those people think that I’m an arrogant ass, say, See, I was right.
But I’ve worked really hard to stay away from that stuff. So when I say this, I don’t want it to sound kind of rude or anything towards anybody, but most of the people asking those questions are gender-biased. If this was a men’s team, no one would be asking that question.
I don’t remember anybody asking questions about, you know, when Tiger was winning every major, is this good for golf? Can’t anybody out there beat this guy? No, they couldn’t. He was too damn good. Well, everybody all of a sudden had to get better. So you either get better or you just keep letting people win.
And if you just keep letting us win, then, you’re right, it’s bad for the game. But I guarantee you, five years from now there will be a lot more good teams in America than there are today because of what we’re doing. Just like after we won the whole thing in 1995, there are a lot more programs doing what they’re doing now than there were back then.
Somebody’s gotta stand up there and say, I’ll be the bad guy. And right now I’m the bad guy. I’m the guy that everybody loves to hate. We’re the team that everybody loves to beat. We’re the Yankees, we’re the Celtics, we’re the Montreal Canadiens, we’re the Russian hockey team before 1980.
But everything goes away at some point. Everything changes. And when the change comes, it will be because somebody’s paid attention to what we’re doing and said, you know what, that’s how I’m going to do it. I’m going to knock those guys off. And it could be this weekend. But it’s going to happen. And I would like to think that we’re going to help it happen, and that’s good for the game.
Here’s a link to the quotes from the Baylor Bears.