March 18, 2009
"Well, I think after the SEC Tournament we had some time to think about what we wanted to do and give our players some time off, and also get back in the gym and get back to work. Really, I've been very encouraged with their attitudes and with the exception of only one day, I thought they were really focused and invested in what we wanted to do. All in all, I think it's been good. I'm sure they're glad to have today off and it gives us some time as a coaching staff to focus on our next opponent. Obviously, Ball State, I've had a chance to watch them and try to get prepared and think of the things we want to do to defend them. And then we've put in some wrinkles for ourselves and trying to get a little more efficient."
With having never lost in the first two rounds, how do you keep this from being a historic opportunity for Ball State?
"Well, I think that our approach is always one of taking it one game at a time, one possession at a time. Every time we take the floor, we typically, get everyone's best shot. It's even magnified when you go into the tournament because it's a one and done, you win or go home. I would expect Ball State to come out and play very, very hard and from watching them, they share the ball very well and play well together. My biggest concern now is that we get very familiar with what they like to run and personnel, and also focus on what we think we need to do to be successful."
What are some of the things that may worry you about Ball State?
"Obviously, I think that the balance they have. They have four players in double figures and have good balance offensively. They do a good job of pushing tempo and spacing. Their screening action is also very good. They're a team that seems to play very well together and I think that's why they've had the success and the balance from an offensive standpoint."
Does it bother you that you're facing a team on an 11-game winning streak?
"I think at this point in time, it's more about how you play in the tournament, it's a new season. For us, I thought we came off the SEC Tournament playing some of our best basketball, but we're still trying to get better. From the standpoint of, we finished with a loss as opposed to a win, and I think that's been a motivation as well for our team."
How do you keep a young team from looking at Tennessee's history and focusing on the present?
"Well, I think with our team and the fact that we've had 10 losses, it's not like we think we're going to walk into this game and be successful. We have to do a lot of good things in order to be successful in how we play. I think when we saw the selection show, for the first time our freshmen understood that it is a big deal. A very important part of our preparation is to focus on only one opponent, one possession at a time. I think it finally, hopefully, might've sunk in for them, in terms of what they have to do to be successful. You just don't show up and play. You show up and follow your game plan. You have to have discipline and teamwork to get it done. Defense and rebounding has been our focus, it always has been in this program, game in and game out, in particular, when you get into postseason because you don't always shoot the basketball as well. You hope you do, but if you have a poor shooting night, you have to have something to fall back on. That's why our emphasis in practice has been geared toward defense and board play."
What would you say to (Ball State) Coach (Kelly) Packard about the experience in the tournament as a coach?
"I think, obviously, they've had success this year, I would say that if anything else, keep your team loose and focused as well. I like for us to have that focus, but not be uptight. I think that just about every time we take the floor in the postseason, particularly with a young team like we have, my concern is that they too much pressure on themselves."
Do you think the Ball State players will thrive off of having not been in a spotlight of this magnitude or do you think it will get to them?
"No, I think that just because watching them play and how they play, they play with a lot of confidence. I think Ball State understands with how they play the game and the balance they have overall, I would expect them to come in and play well. You don't know how teams will start out. We may be throwing it up in the bleachers when we start the game. All you can do as a coach is try to work through any of the jitters and get your team to settle down and execute together."
How big of a component is just effort and can it help with the execution of this young team?
"Effort is always very important. I think the one thing that I've tried to emphasize to them is that is something we shouldn't have to coach. We can help them with the execution, but you have to bring the overall intensity level and your desire to compete on every possession. I don't have a clue how we'll respond because we are young. But I do think, if you look at our schedule and the games we've played, we've been tested in a lot of ways and we've grown in a lot of ways. We've also had a lot of growing pains. I think at this point right now, I do feel better about this team than I have at any other point in time this season. I do see a bit of change in that Kelley Cain has been pretty stable for us on the inside and Alyssia Brewer has stepped up and playing with a different mindset, I'm encouraged by that. With Angie (Bjorklund) and Shekinna (Stricklen) that gives us a threat from the guard spot. Overall, I think we are better, but we are also focused and ready to play."
Are you concerned with it being the first tournament for so many that it might create a fatigue level that may not be there under normal circumstances?
"That's always a concern. I could sit here at the house and drive myself nuts about how are we going to respond and who's going to show up. I think the thing for our coaches right now that is so important is that we bring a calmness and direct approach to how we want to do things. Also, I think there are times we may need to slow down and not play in a rush because, typically, we start pushing the ball up and down, we're prone to mistakes. The thing that I mentioned to our staff was to be aware if we want to slow down and work more in the half court, and we did some of those things yesterday and remind them that when we get over-anxious we can run some set plays to hopefully help them."
Do you think that as you go into the end of the season that you may have found a starting lineup that you like?
"I think so. Obviously, Glory (Johnson) has been struggling with the injury, especially to the left hand and then she jams her thumb. I'll be glad when she gets the cast off and (Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine) Jenny (Moshak) said she'd start the rehab right away. I think she can really make a difference for us from a defensive standpoint and a rebounding standpoint. I like her style. I like going with a bigger lineup. Overall, I think that should give us a bit of an advantage, just with the athleticism and being as long and rangy as we are, getting out in the passing lanes."
What're your impressions of the Mid-American Conference?
"Well, I haven't seen a lot of the teams play because when you're in your own season, you're locked into your own conference and your next opponent. I'm impressed with what I've seen on film. I think it's a league that competes really well. Just watching Ball State, the balance they have, they get up and down, they push tempo, just overall very impressed with how they play together and their toughness. I think they bring a lot of toughness to the floor."
If Ball State pushes the pace a little more than you want, is that a situation where Ball State may be able to claim an advantage?
"I think in our situation, I'm not as concerned as the transition as I am about what is going to happen in the half court. I say that, really, to say that I'm probably more concerned about us getting in a rush. As far as us defending them in the transition, we've been working a lot on it and hopefully we'll be able to have some success with it in terms of identifying the ball and picking it up early as we transition back to the defensive end. I think that'll be important, identifying the ball and matching up. They can obviously catch and shoot and play off the dribble. We really have to commit to our defense, transition wise and in the half court. That's key, that's where our emphasis is."
Is there one specific individual on Ball State's roster that you really want to put the clamps on?
"You look at a team that has great balance. Four players are scoring in double figures, so it's not like you just have one or two to defend. That's what we've been working on is having that commitment on the defensive end, and no one taking possessions off and really matching up. That's been the thing that has impressed me the most is their balance offensively and how they share the ball. They're very unselfish, but they also understand they have shooters on the floor all the time. I think that gives them a lot of confidence. They play loose and confident because of that."