Feb. 11, 2009
"Obviously, I think the challenge that we had, in particular at Florida, coming off a big win against Georgia. I thought we turned the corner as far as having more consistency than we've had all season long in a particular game. That was obviously a positive for us coming off a lost to Oklahoma. Then, at Florida I thought we started out pretty strong and played some really good basketball. Unfortunately, we couldn't close out the game and disappointed down the stretch. We couldn't make plays and couldn't get to the free throw line and struggled in the end. They're a veteran team. I think this is one of (Florida Head Coach) Amanda (Butler's) best teams. There's no doubt that having experience paid off for them and the lack of experience was costly for us. We have to get ready now for Alabama. I know just watching Alabama, watching the Auburn game yesterday, they've got a lot of fight in them, a lot of grit. They played Auburn very tough. The thing that our players have yet to, maybe, take in and comprehend is how everybody right now is playing Tennessee, with the graduation of five starters, and rightfully so, everyone's thinking this is the year to get us. I'm not sure our freshmen understand how to defend that. We've had a couple of good practices so I'm looking forward to seeing how we respond in the Alabama game and obviously we've got the "Big Monday" game against Duke, but we'll take it one at a time."
You used Glory (Johnson) a couple of times on the perimeter, defensively, down the stretch against (Florida's Sha) Brooks. Would you be willing to try that again, or is that a game-to-game determination?
"I would not hesitate to put her out there and eventually I would like for her to defend more on the perimeter. The one thing is that Alex (Fuller's) game is so much better when she's working in the paint, from a defensive standpoint. Of course she can step out and have good range when she does but as far as playing Kelley (Cain), for example, and Alex and Glory; Glory would defend on the perimeter. That would be a possibility of us seeing more and more of that."
How much of a distraction was the quest for the 1,000th win and is it back to a more normal routine right now?
"I don't think it was much of a distraction for our players because they're going to class or going to practice and kind of living in their own world. For me, just the time demands, but not anything that cost us any games or anything. It's just a lot of interest and more than I even imagined myself. That's behind us now and I just want to focus on this team and trying to win some ball games and close out the regular season in a strong way."
Could you talk a little bit about the situation at Louisiana Tech with the coaching change? I know you've continued to play them even though they haven't been the big name that they used to be. A lot of their fans are expecting them to get back into national prominence. Do you think they can do that and do you want to continue to play them?
"I think we just ended our series, if I'm not mistaken. That is not a reflection of not wanting to play them, but because of the schedule we've put together, maintaining our matchup with Stanford and hopefully getting a series going with UCLA for (former assistant coach) Nikki (Caldwell) to come here and us to go out there, we've got a pretty tough schedule as it is. It just amazes me to see coaching changes in the middle of the year. I don't care much for it. The change may be the most favorable thing for the team and the program. You're seeing that in the men's game and now we're seeing it in the women's game. Personally, I'd like to see a coach have a chance to finish out the season. That's just my thought on it."
Do you think that (Louisiana Tech) can get back to the level they were at during your rivalry in the '80s? Is it pretty hard for a team in a conference like that to be competitive at the same rate as the BCS schools are?
"It's a challenge just because of the recruiting, but if you can get the players. It's all about having players and there are a lot of good players in that state. I know, in the past, they've gone into Texas to recruit, of course now the Big 12 is so strong that that might be more of a challenge. To me, there's a lot of talent in that area so if they can keep the kids home that they're after and touch into Texas, that, to me, would be the one thing that might give them a chance to get back to a different competitive level."
You mentioned the schedule, you went to Oklahoma last week and you talked about Duke coming in on Monday. You could take those byes that the SEC builds into the schedule, but you opt to play out of conference games. Can you talk about your thinking behind that?
"I think we've always tried to put into place a nationally competitive schedule, outside of our own conference. I don't think that's changed. If I were looking ahead, say, two years ago, knowing that we were going to have all these freshmen, would I have wanted to change it. There's times now where this is a little bit more than we're comfortable with or can be as successful with, but to me, it's about playing the best programs and getting outside your own region and playing teams that are ranked in the top five or 10 in the country and it's a way for us to be challenged and learn from it and actually grow from it. So, I don't see that changing."
You could either play or you could practice (on the byes). Do you think the kids prefer to play?
"That's a no-brainer. That's all they want to do, they want to play. They don't want to practice. Coaches are the only ones who want to practice."
When you've looked at film and looked at the turnovers that they've committed in the games, have you noticed some trends here or are they coming in all different shapes and sizes?
"Well, sometimes I think we've got players that give into fatigue. To me, that's mental. It's not like our team isn't in shape. With (Assistant Athletics Director for Strength & Conditioning) Heather (Mason) and (Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine) Jenny (Moshak), our team is always going to be well-conditioned. It's the mind that gives in first, particularly for our freshmen. Against pressure sometimes we'll get into more of a panic-mode instead of maintaining our composure we'll get over anxious and just want to get rid of the ball in a hurry. With that said, I think that's where we have to be much more focused and we have to understand. I do give them the option to pull themselves in a game. If I go as hard as I can, as long as I can, and I know that coach says I can pull myself and then go back in. I have no problem with that and that's been an option, but I think they'd rather play fatigued than pull themselves and I kind of have to gauge that with my staff.
You've had different lineups and you've had kids playing multiple roles, too. Has that been a factor at all?
"I don't think so. With (Shekinna) Stricklen, I think she probably would prefer not to have the pressure of handling the ball so much but I think she's getting better at it. I told her in practice, I said, 'You've got to embrace this. You're a big-time freshman and I'm not thinking of you as a freshman, you're a player. So you've just got to take the reins of this team at times.' That was a challenge that I talked to her about yesterday and hopefully she's going to respond. I thought she looked a lot better in our workout."
Before you arrived at practice yesterday, (Assistant Coach) Daedra (Charles) was really giving it to the post players and talking to her afterwards, she said that you've asked her to really get her voice up with the players. Is Daedra, given what she accomplished and who she is, a very powerful voice for these players?
"Absolutely. I told Daedra, 'We need you. They can relate to you. You're not that far removed from the game and you've got the credentials that they've got to respect.' With that said, I just asked her to turn her voice up and challenge, and I think Daedra's done a great job with that part of it. And she tells it like it is, and I love that."
She said it's sort of similar to berating her nine-year-old right now, I guess you can relate to that.
"I don't think he's as complicated. I'm sure she probably feels it on both sides but I think we just have to get players focused and living in the moment."
What are some of the positives that you can get your hands around right now?
"I think the positives that we have are that we've been challenged the way we have. I think that's good. I think they have an understanding. They've experienced success and they've experienced failure. I do think they're learning and growing from it. I think that we've established a little bit better inside game and I think Kelley Cain, it's been a real positive to see her mature and take on a different role and responsibility. I feel that from our loss at Florida, I think Shekinna (Stricklen's) a lot more focused. I think our team is more focused. I've seen Alyssia Brewer give us some really nice minutes of play and consistency is important for her, but there is a great upside to what she can do. Alex (Fuller) has been a very positive leader for us and Angie (Bjorklund), I think, is trying to take on a big, big role. Overall (she's) doing a good job."
For you and your staff, it's one thing communicating disappointment, that's pretty clear. But how are you going about showing these kids that you still believe in them and that they can get better and go after the things that you want to go after this year?
"I think you can do it in film sessions which we've been talking about. I think they understand that our disappointment is that we know they're better than they're playing and we're expecting more from them. It's not something to beat players down, but to challenge players and show them the good things that they've got. That's very, very important. You never want to break their spirit. I think they understand. I don't think they're walking around thinking, 'The coaches are mad at us, they're just giving up on us.' No, we've just got to get better and they have to understand what it takes to get better."
Could you talk about the "Think Pink" game on Monday night against Duke?
"Well, I'm really excited about it because obviously we're raising, hopefully, a lot of money and awareness for cancer research. That's something very dear to my heart. Obviously, with the loss of (North Carolina State Head Coach Kay) Yow just recently, I think that everyone is rallying for a great cause and will continue to do so throughout the years. I'm excited about that game and expecting a big crowd and we've got about 13,000 t-shirts to hand out and sweaters on sale. I'm just glad that we can be one of the schools that can be a part of this. I do think it will be a big night in a lot of ways."
Are you guys going to wear pink uniforms on Monday?
"Yes. I haven't seen them, but I know (Director of Basketball Operations) Kathy (Harston) has been working on it with (adidas representative) Dan (Moye)."