March 21, 2008
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb:
"It's hard to have a statement before we play and I always say that we are excited to be here. We get tired of saying that, but I can't tell you how much this team has come since December and since the beginning of the year. It really is a pleasure to be here. We've worked hard we've improved and I'm looking forward to getting started playing. Everybody wants to be playing in March it's a great time of year, but I think with a young team it's a totally different feeling than I have ever had and a team that I am just enjoying the season with and it keeps getting better, so we want to keep it going."
Your SID has already listed your next game after tomorrow's game as part of your schedule, is there a little bit of pressure associated with that?
"We're not reading media guides right now and that's irrelevant for my players. You have to understand that these kids are really young and they know they have an opportunity for them to come back in the future. This isn't a lose and your done for your career. I think it's a situation where they want to lead younger players and just work hard and not focus on what they had to focus on last year, which there was a lot of pressure. We really wanted to get to the final four and talked about it with the senior class for four years. We feel like we have over achieved this year by winning twelve games in the SEC and broke a school record and a lot of it was due to the fact that we didn't feel that pressure. I think that they are trying to make sure that they just pass that down."
Can you talk about turning your team over to a freshman point guard this year and talk about how she has progressed over the season?
"We did the same thing four years ago with Dee Davis, so I was used to doing that at Vanderbilt and did it four years later as well. I think again that she does get any credit and hence no pressure. At the same time as she has gotten better we have gotten better. The other thing that we have done is moved a lot from the two or three position over to the one. Jence can really push the ball and is very good in a half court set and very smart as a freshman and has a great knowledge of the game. There are no highs or lows and is very level headed. We have Jess Mooney, an up tempo player who comes off the bench, gives us tremendous speed and that's why I think it has made it a good combination."
How important does having a lot of underclassmen with experience affect you coming into the tournament?
"It's really important. I have been watching the men's games as much as possible in between preparation and I think that's one of the things you hear them talk about is in the second half, and you can see we had that experience that carried us through. I'm hoping that's something that helps us. It's definitely a different experience for girls to go to the NCAA and get a lot of media attention that they don't get a lot of during the year. I think that makes people play differently. That adds to the stress and pressure that they feel. It's not like the guys that get big crowds all the time and media attention. I think just to get them out of their comfort zone and get them at an NCAA whether they've played before or not. The whole point is to get their feet wet."
Why do you bring your 6'4' girl off of the bench and what exactly does she bring to the team?
"She brings offense and a huge presence in the post changes the game whether she scores or not. You can't play here with one player. When we decided to make some changes around Christmas time in December, one of those changes was to not start her bringing that offense off of the bench. We get added points coming off the bench and get a huge spark. We bring two players off the bench and I like to call it our starting seven. We get better of the bench and I am very pleased. It works really well either way because the two are getting experience."
Can you talk about what you have seen on tape from (Soyna) Rogers?
"Almost everybody shoots the three and that's something that match up wise we're very good at is our field goal defense percentage against the three point shot. We don't see that in the SEC. We had to go back and prepare from teams that we played in the pre-season like Iowa State, that shot the ball so well from behind the arc and what we did against them and compare them. I think as long as your kids are confident doing in what we need to take away, and that's what we have gotten good at is dictating and taking people out of their offense and that's what we will try to do with theirs. If you let them run their offense and let Rogers and her teammates get looks they are going to make them."
Guard Jennifer Risper:
What are the challenges of playing Montana?
"They are a great shooting team, anytime that is hard to guard, so we just been practicing, arrival and catch."
Have you ever been to Albuquerque?
"No I have never been. It reminds me of where Tina (Wirth) is from, Arizona. It's dry. My family is coming and Christina's is too. I'm excited."
Forward Christina Wirth:
Talk about this season being a growing experience.
"We have definitely grown a lot. We are pretty young, four freshmen and six sophomores. I think this has been a really good experience, learning how to lead and take on a lot, which has been good for us, we have both learned a lot from it. It has been something that has been great about our team by coming a long way. I think we have came a long way and different people have stepped up throughout the year and we understand our roles and what it takes to win."
You guys are 20-0 when leading at the half. Is that something that you guys make a point to do is come out strong?
"I think one of our goals is to come out strong in the first four minutes and how important that is, and come out with intensity. Just want to come out and always be aggressive."
What is different about this year being your third go around?
"It's different because we are so young. I am excited about this year because we are in a no pressure situation. Last year we had three seniors that were a core part of our team and I know they felt a lot of pressure and we wanted to win for them. I think this year since we are so young we are just going to just go out there give it our all and just have a fun time and not feel that much pressure. Just go out there and play hard and let things take care of themselves."
Montana Head Coach Robin Selvig:
"Well, we are certainly excited to be here. This is basically a team from last year that was 27-2 and lost a game and didn't get into the NCAA Tournament, so I'm very happy and excited for these ladies. They really did the job this year and were determined that we were going to be in the Big Dance. I like my team. We have an extremely talented opponent but we're looking forward to the challenge."
What kind of problems do you think Vanderbilt is going to present to you offensively and defensively?
"You are going to need a big list. They really have a good ball club. Melanie (Balcomb) is one heck of a coach. I think the thing that stands out to me moreso than what they do on the offensive end is what they do on the defensive end. No.1 how hard they play stands out to me. They seem to have great pride in their defense, and their intensity level is great. I think they have good quickness overall as a team, and that is something we are watching film on for them. It is sometimes hard for me to judge them because they are playing in the SEC, and we are seeing very quick, talented teams they are playing against.
Melanie has a system. I think it changes a little bit from year to year, but I think every kid in that program is sold on what they are supposed to be doing and as a result they are a difficult team to beat."
You said the other day you thought rebounding would play an important part in the game. Have you inserted any new drills in practice to step that up the last couple of days?
"No new drills, but we are certainly emphasizing it and that is often a thing as you go up levels, which any time you go play an SEC team I call that going up a level. You are talking about big, strong athletes and well-coached athletes and good players, so often times that separates us. The years we have had success in the NCAA, beat people or played some really good people close, we did a great job on the boards so that definitely has been a point of emphasis for us this week."
Can you talk about what this kind of atmosphere is going to add to the excitement that is already there?
"For me personally it is great. We have not played University of New Mexico so I have never been in The Pit. I have been doing this a long time, so it is kind of weird that we have never hooked up or we have never been in a tournament here. But the tradition and the history that is here, I love this city and their support for women's basketball. We have a lot of pride in our sport. Our fan support at our place is crazy. There are apparently more people in there (the Pit) and just as crazy. I think it is great. I think when you take athletes to the NCAAs, it is only right that there is a great atmosphere there and it will be that here. I think it adds to their experience and is something I know the people down here take great pride in."
Is there anything that makes this team unique or that stands out in your mind?
"This team had a great year last year and we weren't in (the tournament). For us, you have to win your conference tournament or you don't get in. We probably surprised people a little last year with the year we had, but it just took that one loss. Had we been in last year, I think we maybe would have been an eleven seed, but we didn't get in because they aren't taking two teams from our conference. I am particularly proud of this team that there was pressure on us to try to get the thing done and it wasn't easy. Our league got pretty competitive and so I am really proud. I think we felt a little pressure. I did anyway. So I am particularly excited that we are in the (tournament) and we have a chance to show what we can do."
Can you talk a little bit about the culture of girls' basketball in Montana and why you are able to succeed with bringing in Montana girls in large part?
"We have always had a nucleus of talented kids. For the amount of people in that state, it has produced a lot of outstanding women's basketball players. We have somebody on my staff that was a Kodak All-American that is a Montana girl. Women's basketball is a big deal there. I think it gets great community support and the little kids grow up wanting to be basketball players. It has been very good to me in terms of creating a lot of quality Division I basketball players."
Forward Johanna Closson:
Obviously a crazy travel day for you yesterday, today a little more normal of a day for you guys, has the reality of what's gone on started to settle in a little more today?
"Definitely. Yesterday was kind of a rough day, but we are all rested up now and it kind of started to hit once we pulled up to The Pit and get into all of this. We are really excited."
For those of us who may not know, can you tell us what made it so crazy getting here?
"Well we all had to get up around four o'clock and then we finally got on the plane and got there. Most of us didn't get our rooms till around three o'clock in the afternoon. It was just a tiring day and it made it a really long day for us."
What have you learned about Vanderbilt from looking at tapes?
"They are just a really balanced team looking at their numbers. Just seeing what conference they play in. They are just really balanced overall in rebounding, scoring and are a strong team. They did really well in the conference. They are a really great team."
Talk about the way you approached this time compared to your freshman season.
"I guess you just know what to expect and what kind of play it is. It is just a different level really and you just know how to handle it and it is nice to have that experience as a younger player. It is really exciting to come back my senior year to finish the career with the NCAAs."
Can you draw on anything you learned when you played in the tournament in 2005? Are there any mistakes you might have made that you feel that you might be able to pressure their younger players into making on the court tomorrow?
"I think the key is being mentally ready and really focused and know that you are coming here to compete and you can do really well if your team is ready to go. Not being intimidated I guess, just stepping on the court with confidence and respect for the other team."
Guard Mandy Morales:
If you could talk a little bit about your 3-point shooting because that was something that seemed to concern the Vanderbilt folks.
"Well, during our tournament, I guess I was shooting a little better than I was during our season and I felt it during the tournament and it just came to me. I have been practicing on that and hopefully it goes down in the game."
You talked last week about how it was your first chance to play in a championship game as a college player, for you and maybe talk a little bit about the other players on the team that are experiencing the NCAA tournament for the first time, what's going through your mind right now?
"We are really excited. Winning our conference championship, that was a first for me. Coming out here, it's just like a different world. Our team is excited. It's my first time, it's Johanna's second time, and everyone is just excited and pumped up. We will be ready tomorrow."
On your roster there are a lot of girls from the state of Montana, and you have had some success in the program with girls from the state of Montana. Can you talk about the quality of high school basketball in your state?
"There are a lot of girls that can play ball up there, in Montana, and Rob likes to recruit Montana and try to get all the players there. A lot people underestimate Montana girls but there are quality girls that can play ball."