UConn coach Geno Auriemma listens as guard Bria Hartley answers a question at a press conference during the NCAA Tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena Sunday.

Here are the 2014 Elite Eight pregame quotes from UConn Huskies women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma and some of his players from Sunday’s media conference.

Geno Auriemma, UConn Head Coach
Opening Statement

“These are pretty much standard. You win a game. You don’t have time to celebrate the really good win that we had yesterday. And already you are thinking about what you have to do tomorrow night. That’s really one of the great challenges of this tournament. You don’t have time to dwell on what just happened. It’s a quick turnaround to play a completely different team tomorrow night than we played last night. And I know we put a lot of minutes in. These five guys played a lot of minutes yesterday. I think we’ve seen enough during the last four to five months that regardless of what happens tomorrow, we’ll be ready.”

On the Elite Eight being a gut-check game

“It’s just always been my experience. I don’t know how it is for anybody else. I like to read books obviously. As coaches, we have a lot of airplane time and bus time whatever. It’s like when you read about people who climb Mount Everest. You know? They get to where it’s 500, 600 feet away from the top and that’s when most accidents happen. That’s when most people die. That’s because you can see the end. You can see the result of all of your hard work. But now is when you have to be the most careful. So here you are, you are one game away from the Final Four. That’s every kid’s dream, you know, when you go to college. You’re right there. You are right on the edge. And it affects people in different ways. That’s why I think it’s difficult.”

On what his team needs to look out for tomorrow night

“Yesterday’s game plan probably won’t work. Our first play yesterday was we were going to have (Breanna Stewart) take an uncontested shot that she had no chance of making. And I think she was aiming for Hamson’s back of her head, maybe to get her out of the game for a couple times because it didn’t hit anything on the way to the floor. Starting the game in a way that from a conference standpoint, you get exactly the shots you want. And that’s so crucial I think at this time of the year. Right in those first five minutes you get shots that you normally get during the course of the year and you get off to a good start and your confidence is high. You can do different things defensively when you are making shots. I’m sure it’s the same thing with Texas A&M. At this time of the year, everyone’s biggest fear is making shots, because as you get closer and closer to the Final Four, kids are usually just carefree and line up threes and knock them in. It doesn’t work that way in the final eight. You saw those BYU kids in the first half. Hey, you know, this is like we are playing Gonzaga or playing Pacific. This is cool.

And then the last 15 minutes of the game they realize they are in the NCAA Tournament and playing for the national championship and those shots don’t go in anymore. I think every coach’s biggest fear is how do your players respond on the offensive end. The defensive end is the defensive end. You’re not going to shut anybody out at this time of the year. Bria (Hartley) said it right. We do a really good job of not fouling. I think we led the country this year in fewest fouls. So if tomorrow is a foul fest, if tomorrow all of a sudden becomes 20 fouls on them and 20 on us, we are going to lose.”

On if foul trouble concerns him with only six players playing significant time

“You usually get down to seven or eight max at this time of year. I think for teams that play 10 this time of year, it’s going to be a struggle. You really don’t have the kind of continuity that you want to have when you play that many players. Six is probably not enough. I remember in Minneapolis in 1995, we played six. And in the first half, we had three All-Americans on the bench with fouls. Then the officials went in the locker room and probably looked at each other and said ‘we are the dumbest people on the floor today. Not the players.’ And in the second half we didn’t foul and you win the game. I think any time you are playing in the NCAA Tournament, fouls are a huge issue, because the teams you are playing against are good enough that if you have a couple really good players on the bench, you can’t cover for that because the other team is really good. Like yesterday, BYU – a couple of their really good players got in foul trouble and they couldn’t make up for that. And it would be the same for us. Playing really intelligent basketball at this time of the year is probably the most important thing. Everybody’s tired. Everybody’s either in great shape or not. Everybody’s got strengths. Everybody’s got weaknesses. But generally speaking, the teams that are the most intelligent with their talent aren the teams that move on.”

On instilling discipline

“You start out with getting players that are really coachable. You heard Jeff talk about how we had the best players in the country. And I’m sure Gary will bring it up more than once in the next couple days about how we have the best players in the country and woe is me. I wonder how these other players feel when they’re coach is telling them they suck and that our players are really good. So it starts out with us getting the best players that ever lived. And then we try to just coach them a little bit. We try to recruit players that are coachable. And then we talk to them in practice about we’re going to work really, really hard. But the minute you smack somebody, all of your hard work is negated. So why would you want to work that hard on the defensive end and then be stupid and smack somebody for no reason whatsoever. And after a while they get to understand that if I want to stay in the game, I can’t foul. If I foul, I’m going to sit down. I don’t care who you are. You know? Somebody asked me yesterday, ‘were you mad at Bria?’ I said, ‘no. I wasn’t mad at Bria. Bria gets two fouls in the first half.’ They understand that if I foul, I’m not going to play. So if that’s part of your culture, then it just kind of becomes who you are year after year after year. It’s like teams who take bad shots. They take bad shots every year. They just come down and whatever shot they feel like taking, they take it. And that becomes who you are as well. I think it’s not necessarily that our players are better than everybody else, which in a lot of cases they are. But if we allow them to do some of the dumb stuff that other players do, they wouldn’t be any better. I don’t know. I just think that’s called coaching. You recruit coachable players and then you coach the hell out of them.”

On UConn’s recent history against Texas A&M

“I don’t know. When we played them there last year, it was really early in the season. They were playing a lot of young guys and a lot of those young guys have grown up a little bit. They are a year older this year. You can see the maturity in their team. I’ve always admired Courtney Walker. I think she’s one of the best guards in America today that a lot of people don’t even talk about. I liked her in high school and I like her even more now. They had Kelsey Bone and I think that their offense was maybe more geared to players in the post and I think their guards are more in charge now and I think it’s made them an even more dangerous team. The fact that we won by a lot down there last year, I don’t know that it has any significance this time of year. I think they are playing really, really well. Really good players have short memories. I bet if you ask them what the score was last year, they probably don’t even remember.”

On if he recruited any of Texas A&M’s players

“We got Moriah Jefferson. That was kind of unusual in the sense that we don’t get a lot of players from that part of the world for whatever reason. I think kids that grow up down that way; I think they think they need a passport to go to Connecticut. I’m not sure they realize we are all in the same Union here. So they tend to stay down south. (Jefferson) was an exceptionable situation, but generally speaking we haven’t had a lot of success down there. And from what I understand, she had committed to Oklahoma earlier. By the time I really got a chance to see her up front and center, she had kind of already made a decision about where she wanted to go. We were involved with Kelsey Bone a little bit. She went to South Carolina and then back to A&M, so that’s the neat thing about college basketball nowadays. There’s a lot of good players all over the country. And if you can keep the ones that grow up in the area close to you, then you have a chance to have a really good team and Gary (Blair) has done a really good job of that.”

On what he expects to see from Texas A&M style-wise

“They’ll probably play 40 minutes of zone. You know? You coach a certain way, that’s how you are going to play. I don’t think you change how you coach and change how your team plays at this time in the season. If they are a man-to-man team, which they are, that’s what they are going to do. They are going to play the way they’ve played most of the season. I think it’s a bad message to send to your team if you say ‘look, we are a really good man-to-man team, but not against these guys. We can’t play man-to-man. We are going to have to play zone.’ Then all of a sudden, the kids start to think, ‘oh, boy. Our best defense isn’t any good against their offense?’ I think you have to go with what your strength is and go to where you feel most comfortable. We’re going to do the same thing. We are going to play the same way we’ve played all year long. That’s why some matchups are better than others. Going into the BYU game, I thought this wasn’t an easy matchup for us for a lot of different reasons. But you can’t all of a sudden make a change in one day and go, ‘we defended the ball screen this way for four months and now we are going to defend it this way today.’ We guarded down screens this way and now we are going to do it this way.’ You can’t. You have to go with what your strengths are and we know what their strengths are. We know what they are. We know what our strengths are. They know what they are. We make a lot of money as coaches, so we have to make things sound complicated. But, basically speaking, when they shoot it and it goes in and we shoot it and it doesn’t go in, they are going to win. And if we make more shots than they do, we are going to win. The perfect example is yesterday. The NCAA Tournament is about making shots. We know each team has guys that can make shots.”

On Arkansas hiring Jimmy Dykes

“That’s funny. That was a topic of conversation this morning. As a matter of fact, I’ve known Jimmy for a long time. When I saw it, I was like ‘wow. How many Jimmy Dykes do I know?’ And I realized it was the same one. Hey, it’s certainly thinking outside the box, isn’t it? Like I said, I don’t know much about the University of Arkansas’ athletic program basketball-wise. I remember when Gary (Blair) was there and they went to the Final Four and had a lot of success. Tom (Collen) had a moniker of success there until recently. But I think changing conferences and going to the SEC, I think that changed a lot for them. Back in the day, even before Gary got there, I think they had a really high profile, and I think when Gary got there and they started playing Tennessee all the time and playing Georgia and you are playing all these really good teams, I think the expectations are really high there now. Jimmy certainly has an awful lot of basketball in his background. None of it with women. It will be interesting. That will be one I’m sure a lot of people will be watching pretty closely.”

Reporter: “Coach, you mentioned something about matchups and how teams do that. Gary’s going to say you have McDonald’s All-Americans and he’s got Burger King’s…”

Auriemma: “Actually that’s not really true, but that’s how those guys talk.”

On why Blair is able to win

“I think they start out from a defensive standpoint. They play pretty good defense night in and night out, so they give themselves a chance to win. They recruit pretty good athletes. They have their share of All-Americans that get better. They take advantage of their strengths, you know? I think he’s pretty good at getting his players to buy in to what he thinks is important. They rebound the ball. They do all the things that good teams do. They generally don’t beat themselves. They don’t come out do things that make you scratch your head. Like what are they doing? When you’re solid and you do fundamentally good things, then that transfers no matter what school you are at. You get a certain kind of kid, which he does, and his teams at Stephen F. Austin, at Arkansas, at Texas A&M – they all look the same. He has a philosophy and he sticks to it.”

On the DFW Elite

“I remember watching them when they had that run for three or four years it seemed like. And without question, they were one of the more dominant programs in America. So it’s no surprise that those kids have gone on to play at a really high level. They work at it all year round. They take it seriously. There’s probably more good players two hours in the Dallas vicinity than there are in all of New England. It’s no surprise what they did when they were in high school and it’s no surprise what they are doing now. It’s a credit to their program and the way they operate. Then right down the road in Houston, you have one that’s almost just as good. There’s an awful lot of All-Americans that are growing up in Texas. If you’re not getting them, don’t come crying to me.”

UConn Student-Athletes
Moriah Jefferson, UConn Sophomore Guard

On being recruited by Texas A&M

“I remember (Coach Gary Blair) is a funny guy. I was recruited by them starting in eighth grade and I went on a couple trips up there. It was a nice program, but I think UConn just fit me.” On her familiarity with the Texas A&M players “We played together in eighth grade through the rest of high school. We played on the same AAU team, but we’ve talked a couple of times since I’ve been here, but it’s strictly business now.”

Stefanie Dolson, UConn Senior Center

On preparing for a team that is more guard-oriented like Texas A&M

“We just have to make sure that we do a good job of containing their dribble penetration, making sure we make it difficult for them to get into the lane. Even though they’re different from BYU, they have Karla Gilbert, they have a really big man and they can rebound. They’re going to be extremely physical with us so we have to be ready for that. Today in practice we’re just going to focus on executing our offense and making sure we go out and execute our game plan.”

Senior Guard Bria Hartley, UConn Senior Guard

On the challenges of facing a physical team like A&M

“I think like Stephanie said, you really want to contain their dribble penetration, have really good help defense. I think it is important to go out there and play defense without fouling. With teams that like to attack, sometimes you get caught up and have a touch foul here or there. I think we really have to work on that and concentrate on that. I think our team does a really good job of communicating and helping each other out. We have to go out there, be aggressive and force them to make tough plays.”

Locker Room Quotes

Kiah Stokes, UConn Junior Center

On playing in the Regional Final fairly close to home

“It’s been great. It’s easy for my family to come out and drive a few hours out here instead of traveling all the way to the east coast. It’s great to have them here. We’re just excited and looking forward to the game tomorrow.”

On the team’s performance heading into the Regional Final

“I think we’re playing pretty well together. Obviously, yesterday was a good test for us, and I think we needed that. It’s not always going to be easy, so it was a good test. We’ve been playing pretty well, so we just need to keep it up and focus on a game at a time.”

On playing against a physical Texas A&M team

“I know they need me to come in and be a big defensive presence. It’s something I’m good at and something I can do, so I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a great game for sure. It’ll be a different type of game than we played on Saturday, so we’re really excited for it.”

On Texas A&M

“They’re very aggressive, and they’re going to play physical. With fighting to get to the Final Four, it’s going to be intense. We can’t be afraid of contact, because there will be fouls on both ends. It’s going to be physical and aggressive, so we need to be ready.”

On being one win away from the Final Four

“We know it is crunch time. They’re playing to get to the Final Four just like we are, so it’s going to be tough. They want to be the ones to beat UConn, so we have to be focused and ready.”

Saniya Chong, UConn Freshman Guard

On finding a way against BYU on Saturday

“Yesterday wasn’t our best, but we played much better in the second half. We didn’t hit shots in the first half, but our defense was good which pulled us together. The second half was much better.”

On the lessons learned from Saturday’s challenging game

“Some of our other games have been blowouts. Yesterday kind of opened our eyes to how it’s going to be for the rest of this season. It also taught us that if our shots aren’t falling, still work hard and always get back on defense.”

On what they know about the Aggies

“They have pretty good scorers on their team. They go to the basket hard and are very aggressive. We have to be more aggressive than they are, and we need a good 40 minutes.”

On her freshman season with the Huskies

“Being a part of this team is so remarkable. They’re my family, so it’s great to be a part of this.”

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Quotes courtesy of UConn Athletic Communications

photo credit: cloe poisson – hartford courant