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Lady Vols Media Monday In OKC

April 1, 2013

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The Lady Vols met with the media on Monday in Oklahoma City. Check out what head coach Holly Warlick and the players had to say.

COACH WARLICK: Obviously we are extremely excited to be here, and these young ladies have worked hard all year, and it's a great opportunity for them. And I think they look forward to the challenge.

Q. Meighan, just like we were all predicting, you guys are going to be playing Louisville tomorrow. We asked you a bunch of questions yesterday about Baylor and that's not who you're going to play. Can you talk about your feelings while you guys were watching that game and what it felt like to know you weren't going to have to go against Baylor?

Meighan Simmons: Honestly, I feel like we just had just got done playing because our adrenaline was flying from watching the game. Like I said to my teammates yesterday, it doesn't matter who we play, I mean, either way we would have had to play either team to get to the Final Four. But no matter who we are, it's just another team that's standing in front of us of getting to the Final Four and even possibly winning the national championship.

We just have to take one game at a time no matter what opponent we play and just go out there and play hard and play Tennessee basketball.

Q. Coach, obviously everyone was expecting a lot from Baylor and now that they're out of the tournament, now it looks like the field is wide open. I was just wondering what you thought about that.

COACH WARLICK: Well, I think the opportunity is there for both teams, and as Meighan said, this team has been really good about taking one game at a time, and that's been our focus. We really have not looked ahead for anyone. So our preparation today will be for Louisville. They have extraordinary game, and they're in the same spot we are. We'll prepare for Louisville as we would have prepared for Baylor, just understanding personnel, understanding concepts, and it's just a great opportunity for us.

This team has not been overly hyped and they have not been extremely low, even after our losses. I think they've understood when we've had a loss they've got to go back to the drawing board and get better. They're going to be focused, and I think they'll understand what needs to be done.

Q. Taber, about that, about not being too high or low, you had that real tough loss at Missouri and then a tough loss in the SEC tournament. Can you talk about how you were able to sort of regroup after tough losses this season and come back?

Taber Spani: Well, I think it's a testament to the fight and the competitiveness that we have on this team. I've said this ever since this team has been kind of brought together: I haven't been on a team so far here that has that fighting spirit, and we're so hungry, and I think that's helping fuel our passion to go out and be energetic and play every possession literally like it's our last because at this point you don't know, nothing is guaranteed, so I think the fact that Missouri, it was a tough loss, we didn't play very well but we learned from it, and Texas A & M was a heartbreaking loss for us, and we all were devastated but we learned from it.

I think every loss that we've had, I think the focus has been to get better from it and not to dwell on it, and I think we've done that and we're really finally meshing and coming together and starting to play the kind of defense that we pride ourselves on playing, and I think the fact that we're doing that at the right time is exciting for us.

Q. Ariel, I wanted to get your thoughts on when you look at Louisville's backcourt, what really strikes you about the Schimmels and Bria Smith and what really strikes you about how they play?

Ariel Massengale: I mean, they play hard. They can put the ball in the basket, they can get to the rim, they can shoot the three, so it's definitely going to be a challenge for us. I think in the past couple games we've done a good job of taking away other teams' strengths so we're going to be aware of personnel and try to contain Shoni Schimmel, she's been great, she's a great player, knows how to put the ball in the basket. But I think our coaching staff has a great plan for us to go out there and hopefully contain that tomorrow night.

Q. Holly, when you look at the way Louisville shot from beyond the arc yesterday, how do you guys plan to attack that and try to defend that?

COACH WARLICK: Well, it was fabulous. I mean, they shot the lights out. We're going to defend personnel, try to limit touches. We're going to defend by committee. We've done that all year. We're going to take a lot of pride in one on one defense, and as Taber said, we've worked a lot on that and we're going to mix up our defenses.

So our game plan is to try to limit their three point shooting. We played Creighton who was second in the nation on three point shots and we allowed them five, so we're well aware of their strengths, and obviously we're going to try to take them away.

Q. Holly, Kim talked about before playing that it was tough to figure out what defense Louisville was playing. Do you have any idea what you might face against them or are they difficult to scout?

COACH WARLICK: Yeah, I think they run just a whole plethora of a lot of things, and we're not going to try to spend a lot of time figuring out if it's a man, it's a zone. We're going to try to run offenses that we can run both. We've been doing that all year, and Ariel has been great at seeing things, and I'm allowing her to call an offense that she sees fit during the game.

We're aware of that. We have offenses that can go against both, and we don't want to slow our game up trying to figure out what Louisville what their defense is doing. We want to continue to attack, attacking the full court, attacking the half court.

Q. Kamiko, can you address, you guys have played some good three point shooting teams, Creighton is one, Missouri is another. When teams are like Louisville was yesterday, they weren't just Baylor was defending them and they were taking some shots that were just crazy, but they were making them. How do you deal with that both strategically and emotionally as a defender?

Kamiko Williams: I think we just make it a pride game. I know Coach Elzy just pulled some of us aside and challenged us to get in the guarding, and Holly, as well, and if we all just take it upon ourselves to lock up one on one and make sure our girl doesn't score and make it tough for the guards and much easier for the post players to do their job. I think it's just a pride thing that plays into it.

Q. Holly, what do you think it does for a sport when a team that seems unbeatable finally falls?

COACH WARLICK: Well, that's why you play the game. You just it's a game, and all bets are off. Nothing is guaranteed. So you always go into the game, or you should, thinking you're going to win. We've been on the Baylor side when Chamique Holdsclaw was a senior and beat us to go to a Final Four. Nothing is guaranteed, and if these young ladies understand that and you put in the time, things will happen. And as Michelle said, Baylor was doing a great job of defending the three. It was going in, and they were in a rhythm. It's just why you play the game. It's what's great about this game.

Q. Bashaara, Louisville was very physical yesterday. I know this is a physical game, but they were doing a lot to grind or they were disrupting her when she didn't have the ball. As a post player you've gotten used to that in college but can you talk about how you keep your cool when you're going against a team that does that?

Bashaara Graves: You've got to keep your emotion intact. You can't get emotional when people are battling and the refs are not calling it. You just keep your emotions and keep playing your game.

Q. Holly, I guess you can spin this either way. We're going to ask Louisville how they come back after such a big game and we'll ask you guys how you avoid not saying wow, Baylor is out of the picture. Do you think the fact that you guys have the experience you have is a big factor? It sounds like you guys are probably happy Baylor is gone but immediately said, hey, that doesn't mean we're in the Final Four yet.

COACH WARLICK: Well, I would not be truthful if I didn't say I was glad Baylor is out of the tournament. But these young ladies have kept things in perspective, and I think they understand what's ahead of them and what they need to get the job needs to get done. As I said, we've had lows and we've had highs, but this is a special group. There's a bond between them and our coaching staff that I haven't felt in a long, long time. And when you have that bond, they're not going to overlook anybody. They're not. They're going to go out and play as hard as they can. I don't care who it is, and that's what I love about them. They spend a lot of time together off the basketball court, and when you do that, you form a trust, and I think these young ladies have a great trust that they're going to go and be up for the game.

It's a great opportunity for them, and they understand that. But it doesn't matter who we play, and we're not going in with the attitude of we're just going to roll over Louisville. No, we have to play and we have to play together.

So I think they understand that.

Q. Holly, I know it's kind of difficult to evaluate when you're still in the middle of the season, but kind of looking back, what's been the biggest challenge in your first year as the head coach or maybe the biggest thing you've learned just being in this position versus where you had been for so many years before?

COACH WARLICK: Well, my biggest challenge is just my time away from basketball. Just doing the things outside of being on the court. When you're coaching when you love doing Xs and Os and being around these young women because that's what you love, and that's what I love, and the time away from them has probably been my biggest challenge.

Even if I do something these guys bring me back down to earth if something goes on. They give me quite a bit of a hard time, but then I turn around and give it back to them.

But yeah, I just think the time commitment and but I'll tell you, I have an unbelievable staff, and I don't feel like I have to go into a game or to a practice and I have to make all the decisions. There's no way as a coach, for me, that if I had to make all the decisions, if I had to sub I've got great assistants that do a lot of things, and sometimes I stand up there and I get the opportunity to call an offense and a defense. I have a lot of help.

Q. Holly, this doesn't have anything to do with tomorrow's game, but just historically you guys were every bit the giant, you'd won three in a row, you had the best player in the country, had taken everybody's best shot for four seasons and you lost that game, so emotionally devastating to watch. How as a coach do you sort of comfort those kids even though they've had all that success that they're going to feel this incredible disappointment in their last college game?

COACH WARLICK: Yeah, it is, I know how disappointed they are. We've been there. That should not take away the great year they've had, the great career that Brittney Griner has had, the standard she has set, the standard the whole team has set. It's tough, and I know it's tough for Kim, as well, but you've got to look at the big picture and understand where you've taken women's basketball. You've gotten the interest up. You've got to keep thinking about the positives and not the last game. It's hard to do. It's hard to do, and it'll be really difficult for Kim and the team to watch that last game, but you've got to watch it and understand what you did and learn from it.

But what a great run they had. We will not see a Brittney Griner time player probably for a long time, and obviously Sims. That's one of the best competitors in the game. So disappointing obviously for them to not go to the Final Four, but it is part of the game, and as you said, I've been there and we have felt that, and it's tough to go out that way as a senior. But they're going to continue to play a game, we're going to play the game tomorrow and there's going to be four people in the Final Four. It's just the nature of this of any sport.

Not always the best player plays for championships, and we've been on both ends. We've been on both ends. We've lost 10 games and won a national championship when the coaches are trying to figure out how we were going to just get our players to show up. Along with winning comes you've got to have a little luck, and it's about match ups, too.

Q. Holly, going back to that season opener against Chattanooga, did you come away from that game thinking, oh, this team will probably end up in the Elite 8 just needing one more win to go to the Final Four?

COACH WARLICK: I sure did. I thought we were on our way. No, I was quite frankly I was wondering what did I get myself into, and the first person I saw was Coach Summitt, and she just assured me things would get better, and she told me that she lost her first game, and I thought, well, you know, Coach Summitt lost her first game, I'm going to be okay.

The worst thing I did was went back to my hotel room and looked at the schedule, our remaining schedule, and I'm like, I just had to turn it over, and I had to just start focusing on Georgia Tech because that was our next opponent. Yeah, it was a little scary. It was a little scary. But we turned it around. But yeah, to lose your first game to an in state school, it didn't fare too well with a lot of myself and I'm sure a lot of fans. They were ready to get rid of me after the first game.

Q. Holly, just to follow up on that, what kind of changes did you make with the team going in after that loss?

COACH WARLICK: Well, we've been a we've tried to make defense and rebounding a priority, and I think we had a team meeting the next day, and probably reidentified roles and what our expectations of each young lady player.

I think that helped. And then we challenged them. We reminded them who they were representing, the University of Tennessee, and themselves, as well. We defined roles, and then we went to work. We took practice a little bit more serious. We were a little bit more focused. And we went and opened our next game, we opened up Georgia Tech's facility, their brand new facility. So I think that our practices probably leading up to that game were the best we've had thus far. We just tried to make sure they understand our expectations of them.

Q. Holly, what games this year do you think you have played the best defense?

COACH WARLICK: I thought North Carolina we played well. I thought Texas A & M we played well. Gosh. I mean, we played in spurts, but I thought yesterday I thought probably was our best defensive effort. We got aggressive, we got after the ball, and I think if you had to set an example of Tennessee basketball on the defensive end, I thought yesterday was a great example.

We have been working and working and working out since day one in the fall, so our defensive rebounding has been such a priority to where we've sometimes ignored our offense because we needed to get so much better defensively. I'd say Oklahoma was our best overall game.

Q. Did you look at Baylor yourself any?

COACH WARLICK: I looked at I actually looked at all three, but I mainly looked at Oklahoma because if we don't take care of them, we're obviously not going to advance. But all the coaches, yeah, we put in a lot of time with Baylor and a lot of time with Louisville. That's just the nature of our job, and that's what you do. I'm sure Dean is not I think he'll be okay that he did all that work and we're not using it.

But that's what you do. That's what you do. You just put in a lot of time and watch a lot of film, especially at tournament time. That's just part of our job and what we do.

Q. I'm sure that you've probably heard from a lot of people after your win, but did you hear from a lot of people after what happened in that game after? I'm curious to gauge the buzz that has been created by what Louisville did here yesterday.

COACH WARLICK: Well, I heard both, honestly. Excited about our win. A lot of text messages. A lot of people don't call me when I'm here. But a lot of text messaging during the game of the Louisville game saying can you believe what happened and those type of things. Absolutely. I think in general it's I'm sure that's what everybody is saying. Louisville had a great game plan, they stuck with it, and they finished the job.

I will say this: 16 threes and then Baylor had a chance the strength of Baylor, you've got to understand that they're still in the game they give up 16 threes and then they go ahead towards the end of the game. Baylor is an incredible team. They're just a phenomenal team, and it was Louisville's day and they did a great job and followed Jeff's game plan and made shots and won the game. So it was a tribute to both teams. Hard fought game with Baylor, but the perseverance of Louisville in finishing the job.

Q. What are your thoughts on Shoni Schimmel particularly? She's sort of a dynamic scorer when she really gets going and just seemed like she had almost the game of her life yesterday.

COACH WARLICK: Yeah, she is there's people who shoot the basketball, and there's people who score, and she's a scorer. You just hope she doesn't get in the she was in a zone yesterday, and I'm sure the shot that she shot over Griner was probably the number one play of ESPN top 10. She plays the game. She plays the game hard, and she wants the basketball, and so that's going to be a challenge for us. We can't let her get in the zone and she was in a big time zone yesterday.

Q. Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn't, but this group of girls having been to the Final Four and even at a program like Tennessee that's been there so many times, do you have a sense of what it would mean to get there?

COACH WARLICK: Well, this group it would be huge. I mean, we've three out of the last four years of Taber and Kamiko's career, they probably had the possibility of going against Baylor. I think it would be huge, huge for them. It's unique at Tennessee in we've created a monster because we it's great to win SEC championships, but our fans and everybody, if you don't go to the Final Four and win a national championship, you've had an okay year.

Now, that's crazy, and I know I was a part of helping build that, but that's crazy. And I think these young ladies understand the achievements they've done winning the regular season SEC and then what's ahead of them. Yeah, it would be a huge it would be huge for these young ladies to go to the Final Four. I'm not I mean, it would be a fantastic opportunity for them.

Q. You were just in a battle with Louisville of sorts in recruiting. I assume they were kind of primary team you were competing with to get Mercedes Russell, and what does that say about Louisville's program right there, that they're competing for the top players in the country?

COACH WARLICK: Well, I mean, I think they're one of the top teams in the country. I think they're in on a lot of kids, and we did go down to us and Louisville, and they recruited a kid they got. Recruiting is recruiting, and it's a battle, and I think it's who you need at the time and what the kid loves about their program and what they don't. I think Mercedes just saw an opportunity at Tennessee maybe better than she did at Louisville. I don't know, but I think we did both recruit her, and it went down.

But like I said, there's kids on their team, we looked at Bria Smith, and so there's kids that they've gotten that we didn't get a chance to get. So it's just part of recruiting and what you need and I guess how you fill your program.

Q. You talked about that '99 game, and there's obviously been big upsets in the women's tournament before, but considering the era we're in with ESPN, everybody knows where the games are, and then you have Brittney, such a transcendent player, almost like NASCAR people tune in to see the wrecks, last night people tuned in to see the giant fall. Did something like that almost need to happen to continue to push women's basketball forward?

COACH WARLICK: Well, I'm not going to say it's not going to hurt, but I think that people wanted to see Griner play, as well. I'm sure they tuned in last night because a lot of Baylor's games have not been very competitive. We went down to Baylor, and we were down 20 points before I could even put my hand up to call a time out. I'm sure that people didn't watch it closely and then they followed it on the ticker last night, they probably went, oh, they tuned it in and started watching. But it works both ways. I think that people enjoy to watch great basketball, and then I think Baylor is a great basketball team, and then they want to see the underdog win. So I think it's helped us both ways.

Q. You were talking about how much it would mean to go to the Final Four. People on the outside look at this team, it really has overachieved based on preseason, unlike a lot of other Tennessee teams. Do you still think the players, though, if they didn't make the Final Four, would they feel like they underachieved?

COACH WARLICK: Oh, I think so, most definitely. I mean, they kids think they're we were preseason ranked in the 20, 22, 24 in the polls, and they've got a chip on their shoulder, and I think they carried that chip throughout the whole year. And I think they don't see themselves as overachieved. I think they've seen themselves as a talented group coming together as one and playing together. Yeah, they'd most definitely be disappointed, but I don't think they've ever thought they're overachieving. I think they think that they're becoming they're getting better and they're becoming into their own and playing pretty good as a team.

They just had a chip on their shoulder all year, and we've played the underdog role. In the past, not a lot of times Tennessee has been playing the underdog role, and this team needed that. They needed that. They needed somebody to tell them, look, you're not really good right now and you have to work, and so they did. They went to work, and probably after the first loss they thought, you know what, we do, we need to get back to work and understand the importance of practice.

I've said this as a coach; you don't want to coach effort, and I have not had to coach effort with this team. I've actually been able to coach and teach. And so when you get a team like that, you've got something special. They play hard, and that's all I ask for them to do is play hard and play with a passion, and I think great things will happen because they are talented.

 

 

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