Jan. 28, 2009
"Starting first of all with Auburn and our loss there, I think that Auburn played very well. They're a veteran team and that certainly showed. It also exposed our youth and I was just very disappointed that we didn't compete for 40 minutes. We obviously have had a pattern that it has been very difficult to get this team to play for 40 minutes. We haven't had a game where we really just committed to that. We just came back and talked about it and had a very challenging workout and all the coaches tried to emphasize that we've got to become a 40-minute team if we want to be a successful team. Obviously, they worked hard, but that's when the coaches are in control. They have to work hard when they're in control so we hope the lesson has been learned. I just now started watching tape on Ole Miss. We get everyone's best game and I would expect for that to be the case on Thursday. We've got a little bit of time to prepare. We have an extra day here because we're playing Oklahoma on a Monday night. A lot's been said about this Oklahoma team. I think after losing to Connecticut, this team is very focused and they appear to be playing very well and I know that the Paris twins are playing very well."
Could you talk a little bit more about your concerns with the lack of heart and commitment and whether you see this as a reflection of how young you are or if it's more than that?
"I think youth is a part of it, but it's not all of it. We do have players on our team who are not competing on every possession; they take a lot of possessions off. I'm sure, coming from high school to this stage it is a huge transition for those who are not like a Glory Johnson, who understands competing all the time. I think running track helped her and playing for Shelley Collier helped her as well. Not everyone played in that kind of environment or was challenged like that. Looking at Shekinna Stricklen, her high school coach really demanded a lot from her and she's a competitor. I think we lack that across the board. So that's why I said that I may have to shorten my bench some and really evaluate those players that are committed and invested in getting the job done. That's something that we'll take a look at as a coaching staff."
Other than Shekinna and Glory, do you feel like some of these other players have it in them, it's just going to take more to bring it out of them?
"I don't know that yet. You're always saying that you hope they have it. You see glimpses of it but the lack of consistency is what is bothering me. That hurts us. When I substitute now, I may only substitute one-at-a-time because the substitutions at Auburn really were costly."
Coach can you talk a little bit about Alyssia Brewer and how she's been performing for you so far?
"She's a very talented player but she doesn't always play hard and compete the way we want her to compete. When she does, she has a tremendous impact on how our team plays. There's no better example than our comeback at Rutgers. She started that and she was big in our success. I thought it was one of her best outings. I think the thing Alyssia has to do is play hard all the time and be more competitive on all of our plays. That's not uncommon for a lot of kids coming right out of high school and playing for a program like Tennessee where our conference is tough, our non-conference schedule is tough. I think Alyssia wants to be consistent, but she has got to take ownership of that and be more consistent in her play."
What's the key to flipping that switch with young players?
"Obviously I must have lost my key. It's interesting because you sometimes can say something and trigger a positive response and other times they may not respond the way you want them to. That's a big part of coaching, the psychology of it and trying to figure out what is the best thing to say to each player at any given moment. It is a little bit of a guessing game but I'm just going to keep challenging all of our players. Alyssia's not the only one, by no means. We have a number of players that, I feel like, are under-achieving sometimes and when you see how they can play in some of the games that we have put in a good performance then you raise the bar. Expectations are a lot higher."
Is closing in on 1,000 wins a distraction from the media?
"I don't think so. For me, no, but I don't know about our team. I was joking with them, I said, 'I hope we get it this year.' Sooner rather than later was probably the feeling with what's happening on the court. As far as the players are concerned, if the way we played at Auburn is any indication, I don't think they're very focused on it."
In retrospect, the practice you had Monday, do you wish you would have done that a little earlier?
"I thought about that after our loss to Vanderbilt. I think that I was trying to be patient and recognizing the fact that we are so young and not break anybody's spirit, but that philosophy, I just threw that out the window. That didn't work. I'm going to challenge this group because I know that they have a lot more to give than what they've been giving. Across the board for most everyone, there's more to give. Accountability has got to be in place now so I probably should have done this after that Vanderbilt loss."
Could you just talk about Oklahoma and what they've done to establish themselves now as seemingly one of the more elite programs in women's basketball?
"I think Sherri (Coale) and her staff has done a great job of recruiting. I think that the talent in the Big 12 is pretty amazing. There are a lot of great players at Texas and Oklahoma. I just felt that when the Paris twins decided to go to Oklahoma, that was going to give them what they needed in terms of having that inside game. Obviously, their perimeter game is strong as well and I just think that it's a reflection on the job that Sherri Coale and her staff have done. They've had lots of success in recruiting and I think the winning helps. Any time you have a winning program, you've got players in your area that want to stay there and you can recruit out of state as well because they want to play in a program where they know they have a chance to win and get to a Final Four."
If they don't get to a Final Four or don't win a national championship while the Paris' are here, what sort of ramifications could that have for a program, long term?
"First of all, I think they've got a great shot at making it to a Final Four. We obviously went to seven Final Fours and played in four championship games before we won a national championship. It's hard to do. It's hard to get there and it's hard to win. I think Oklahoma is going to be a program that's going to continue to have success even if they don't get to a Final Four, but I would expect them to be there this year. I think they're good enough, but you've got to get some breaks along the way. Regardless, I think their program is one that is strong and it's going to be consistent in terms of being among the elite teams."
What is the significance for you, when you think about getting to 1,000 wins?
"I think it speaks to the success we've had in our program, consistently throughout the years. It's a pretty amazing number, even for me, I'm like, 'Wow, have I really been this successful for 35 years? And where did time go?' I think about all the players that wore the orange uniform and made a commitment to winning. Most of our teams have been really competitive, whether they got to a Final Four or not, they won a lot of games and we've played tough schedules. In the last couple of weeks I look at the All-Americans, I look at the Olympians, I think about the championships and just how fortunate we've been to be able to recruit nationally and bring together people who work toward a common goal and have a passion for winning."
Nobody's ever gotten to this number (of wins). It sounds like even you're having a hard time wrapping your head around it, is that true?
"It's true, I've never thought about it. I've never focused on numbers. I've focused on trying to get teams ready every year and win every game that we can possibly win. The ultimate goal is to win the national championship. But you've got to think about it as, we've got to get to the tournament, we've got to survive and advance. I've never really been focused on a number until this year. Obviously, a lot of people are bringing attention to it and I'm trying to figure out how we're going to beat Ole Miss."
Is it even conceivable to think about someone ever approaching 1,000 wins when you think about all the years of consistency that has gone into this? Have you got the bar out there where nobody's going to touch it?
"I haven't looked at numbers. I don't know who's behind me or who is closest to that number. With that, it depends on how long I stay in the game and I don't know that. As long as I'm enjoying what I do and I still love the game and I'm passionate about teaching the game. So, I don't know if that's a number anyone will get to or not."