Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb
Can you talk about the difficulty of adjusting to not having the team you thought you would have?
“Most of it is mental. I think we are a good team, we are unselfish. By this time of year we just want to win and everyone has accepted their role. And then when your second leading scorer, your leading rebounder and your biggest post presence leaves, you have to have players that have already bought on to what you are trying to do as a staff and our players have. We convinced Jennifer Risper that she had an advantage in the post and would be a great post player and she has accepted that role. Other people were convinced that they needed to step up. When one door closes on one player, like I told the players, another opens for someone else. I think we have been extra motivated, it has given us something to rally around and we haven’t had any adversity this year. When this happened it was time to see what they were made of and see what kind of courage and character they had and they have really blossomed with that opportunity.”
Are the teams too different to look back at last year’s Maryland game and say this is a revenge thing?
“I hope so. I hope they are a lot more different. I did watch last years game a few times and I am sure they (Maryland) have as well. We are very different. I think they are very different as well. I think they had two great players in the post that really hurt us and averaged a double-double inside. Now Toliver and Coleman are dominating this team and are much improved on the perimeter. They have new looks inside and a new supporting cast. I think they are very different, I think we are very different. I think losing Hannah (Tuomi) changed us quickly, made us a different player than we were last year. We don’t have the inside presence that we had so we are more guard oriented. It is more guard play than it was last year.”
Can you talk about the challenges that Marissa Coleman poses?
“She is very tough because she has such great size. Great shooting ability, strength and is smart. That is what I look for when I am watching players. I think she is an extremely smart player and I don’t think people talk about that enough. She is very skilled and the other thing is you have got to keep her off the boards. She can get 18 rebounds along with 20 points, and there are not a lot of guards that can do that. She is in a very special category.”
Can you talk a bit about Christina Wirth’s basketball intelligence?
“Christina’s basketball IQ is off the charts. I have coached a lot of players. Tina reads things now, what we do offensively there are a lot of reads and we spend a lot of time on if defense does this then we have a counter for everything. Tina, in her senior year, has really put it all together. She is coaching and leading her teammates, and now she is a lot more relaxed and is taking the pressure off of her offensively and now she is just fun to watch.”
Is this a one-year aberration in the SEC in the tournament or is this a sign that other conferences have caught up to you guys?
“I don’t know, I think there was a lot of turnaround this year in our conference when it came to the top two that have dominated for the last several years. You had two very powerful teams that made the Final Four and only four teams get there, and they were there consistently. We were top heavy. Us and Georgia, we filled out the rest of the consistent top four or five. I think there was a lot more balance this year. The conference was tougher top to bottom. I think this year, anybody could truly beat anybody, and I think our conference will be even better next year.”
What does it take to be so successful playing out of position?
“It is a little bit of a mental thing, focusing more on the advantages that I do have and not my disadvantages. I embrace the role and I think everything is easier when you want to do it. I am not going against myself; I have everyone backing me up. I really could care less how tall the opponent is, and it does not affect me in any way.”
How big was winning the SEC Tournament?
“Each team sets goals at the beginning of the year, obviously to win their conference or the conference tournament and we really missed some opportunities and had some losses that we should not have had. We saw that we did not make one of the goals that we had set and we could have made it and that made us that much more hungry for the tournament, knowing that we missed out on that opportunity and we are not going to miss out on another.”
How much do you replay the Maryland game from last year, or do you put it out of your mind?
“I think over the past year I have replayed it a few times. I haven’t actually watched it but I have a pretty good memory and can remember some of the plays and how the game started. I think it’s a good team, but at the same time, they are a very different Maryland team and we are a very different team as well and that presents much different matchups. I’m sure our coaches have watched it and hit the high points for us, but more than anything I am excited about this game and not focused on last year.”
How big was winning the SEC Tournament?
“I think it was huge. We lost the last two regular season conference games and I was proud of our team and the way responded and didn’t let the losses keep us down. We came out and we fought. I think a big thing was that was when we first started playing without Hannah (Tuomi) and started seeing Jennifer (Risper) in the post, so a lot of people had questions about us and I think to be honest, we were curious as well. I think people stepped up and we have been on a roll ever since then and people have embraced their roles and we are really clicking as a team.”
On reaching the Sweet 16:
“It’s definitely been a goal of ours for awhile. It’s nice to get back here, it’s kind of ironic that we’re playing the same team. We talked about how not everybody gets the chance to play the team that knocked them out of the tournament (last season). We’re really excited, we have a lot of momentum right now.”
On preparing for Maryland:
“Every team is different because of the personnel that they have, so you have to deal with different things. Our coach just tells us to play within ourselves and really focus on ourselves because it comes down to us. They have (Marissa) Coleman and (Kristi) Toliver, those are the keys that we’re focusing on but we’re not going to let other people beat us either. We’re going to make them take tough shots.”
On working well together as a team:
“Our last game we played really, really well against Kansas State. It was a different team than what we’ve played in the SEC. We have a lot of momentum and with each game we’re getting better defensively by playing a lot of junk defenses. I think we’re just doing really well looking at the game plan and executing the game plan. If we check off our key points for each game and dominate in those categories, we can pretty much get a win every time.”
On Coach Balcomb:
“She’s a winning coach. She teaches us how to win. We had a rough start just like any team. We’re not a young team any more, we had our bumps early on in the season. I think it was good for us, we’ve definitely moved past that.”
On Vanderbilt’s team dynamic:
“I think that every person that’s on the floor definitely can hurt you. We’re not one-dimensional or anything like that. I think that we have different people that can step up. If you look at all the games that we have played so far, we have had so many people that step up each game. All people have been role players and coach has a lot of people that can step into a role and dominate within that role. We’ve also had players that can step in when we need them, too. I feel that we are a tough matchup for anybody.”
On their game plan against Maryland
“We’re looking to do the same things we always do like pushing the ball and shutting down their best players, but not letting anyone else beat us either.”
On Vanderbilt’s team dynamic:
“A big difference for us is that we don’t have any true post players right now. We all have to be a part of the rebounding and defending. Everybody has to be ready to defend the post. We just focus as a team to help each other.”
Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese
“We’re very excited obviously to be here and be in the Sweet 16. Obviously to be in Raleigh, an area that we know extremely well, given our conference. And an opponent that we know very well, given the fact that we played Vanderbilt last year in the same round of the Sweet 16. We’re excited to be here, we’ve been working really hard, and we’re excited about the matchup for tomorrow.”
On last year’s Vanderbilt game tape:
“You always go back and look on film to see how the game unfolded. But we’re a different team and so is Vanderbilt. You always want to, at this time of year, go through as much film as possible.”
On where team is mentally:
“I think we’re coming into the tournament obviously playing some of our best basketball. I just love the fact that we’re clicking on all cylinders. I think a lot of people think that we’re doing a lot of special things with our seniors, but I think the exciting thing is how well everyone’s playing. Each and every player is stepping up and playing with a lot of confidence. Our young kids have gotten a lot of experience in these first two rounds. I think that’s a great thing that we’re playing so well as a team.”
On Barrett and Rodgers:
“I think obviously the ACC Tournament kind of was their coming-out party, in terms of what they are able to do for our team. Two kids that I think have really been special to watch. Two kids that came in (as) talented players last season but due to injuries their season was cut short and they had to red-shirt. Even though they’re freshmen this year, they’re truly like sophomores. I think they’ve really helped us in terms of establishing a bench, having depth, and they’re two great players, two great energy players coming off the bench and doing the things they’ve been able to do for us.”
On Vanderbilt's lack of size in post:
Now all of a sudden, you’re defending a perimeter player with a post player, so I think that’s where your matchup problems are. Defensively trying to match up, and for them, they’ve got to try to match up on us. It’s two different dynamics, and one is going to win
On Toliver and Coleman:
“Two things I can think of right away. On the court, they know where each other is at, every second, every minute of play that they’re out there. They’ll make plays that as a coach you don’t even see coming. They can make a pass knowing that they’re behind them at the opposite end of the floor. They just have kind of a sixth sense when they’re out on the floor with each other. The other component is their leadership in the locker room. It’s been fun as we have had our coaches’ shows just to hear their voices in the locker room at the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament what they’re doing, what they’re saying to our young kids to get them ready to go.”
On Louisville coach Jeff Walz:
During the season this time of year, in my little world right now I barely have enough time to talk to my husband. We’re kind of in our world of coaching right now. But I am really pleased and really proud of what Jeff’s been able to do at Louisville. Obviously he’s been able to take that program and take it to greater heights. Any time you have assistant coaches that are able to go on from our program and be very successful is an exciting thing. It’s great for Louisville, it’s great for their team and their program.”
On Jennifer Risper in the post and what have to change:
“It’s going to be a challenge to stay off the foul. She likes to get you in the area and then draw fouls, She might play with a chip on her shoulder because she is a 5’9” post player. It’s going to be a challenge for me tomorrow.”
On the growth of post player Lynetta Kizer:
“Everybody kept talking about filling the shoes of our past players, and they want to make a name for themselves. Lynetta came in and worked extremely hard. Kristi and I have been in her ear all season and our success is going to come down to them. It’s not just about us two, they’re part of our success as well.”
Do you see a change in the Vanderbilt team from last year?
“They’re very similar, but their post presence isn’t nearly as strong as it was last year. They’re smaller but they run the same stuff and the same style. It’s all about playing smart, taking care of the ball, and running through the motions. It’ll be a similar game plan, but hopefully we’ll be able to execute it like we did last year.”
On the game for guards:
“For us we don’t like to change anything offensively. We like to establish a post presence and expose the lack of bigness they have. They’re small and they like to run. Will it be a game for the guards? For me it’s always a game for the guards. I definitely think we’ll get our bigs involved often and early and see how that goes.”
On her relationship with Coleman:
“Our chemistry has been there since the beginning. It’s only continued to grow. It’s frightening how well we know each other’s game. Where we want the ball, when we want the ball, and anticipate the next play happening. It’s been a process and a growth, but I think it’s been there since day one.