McConnell-Miller Likes Improved Depth

Colorado women's basketball head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller met with members of the media in Oklahoma City on Wednesday as part of the Big 12 Media Days. The following are McConnell-Miller's comments from the session, where the second-year coach talks about the return of a healthy Kara Richards and improved team depth.

COACH McCONNELL-MILLER: It is exciting for me to be back in the state of Oklahoma, having spent six years at the University of Tulsa. It is always great to get back. Very excited that the tournament is being hosted here. I am definitely excited about this upcoming season, coming off last year, which was definitely not what any coach would want, but a real learning experience for myself and my team.

We have Jackie McFarland with us today. She is coming off a great year, had a great summer with us and preseason practices are going well. And I just think it is an exciting time for us. We definitely have a ways to go, but we are definitely making strides. It just feels good to have one year under my belt at the University of Colorado and in the Big 12.

Q. Kathy, just talk about having Kara Richards back and how that impacts everything with her on the court and letting Jackie go back to the four spot?
: At this point we were preparing with Kara. She is a great force in the paint. She has great size. She has great ability and really has a desire to be a great player. The off-season, the redshirt year for her with a fracture in the foot was a great year for her. She was out for a very short time, and I would say mid-January was back in practice full. So you think about being without her for a year, but we definitely had her in practice and had exposure to what her strengths were, where she needed to get better. And she was exposed to our season and what we are trying to accomplish.

It is always a lot easier to sit back and watch and really help and figure out if I was out there, what would I do. She has come back. She is injury-free. She is in great shape. She is stronger. She is quicker. And her desire is even more — is even stronger to compete in the Big 12 and be a force as a center in the Big 12.

The ability to move Jackie McFarland to the four spot, Jackie is the type of player that really likes the ball in her hands. It will allow her to face-up a little bit more. She will draw the smaller defenders and it is going to give Jackie a little more freedom. She was really taxed last year in so many ways. We required so much of her scoring, rebounding, minutes played. I told her not to foul. Don't get in any foul trouble, Jackie. Yet, I needed her to stop Courtney Paris or anyone that we asked her to stop.

To watch the two of them side by side has been really refreshing. When they go against each other, it is a great matchup, but we've really worked a lot with the two of them in the off-season and they are just a great combination. They are great friends on and off the floor.

Q. My question was actually about Kara as well. I guess, being gone and seeing things benefit you especially since she had a pretty good freshman year, but she probably needed to grow up some. Can that help her?
: I think she has matured so much off the floor and has become a leader for us. I do think it is hard, though, sometimes to get back into the swing of things. I think if anything is missing right now, it might and little bit of her timing as far as our offensive sets and where she needs to be. But that year off watching her on the bench, we took her on some road trips and to have her in practice, she was everybody's center, from Iowa State to Baylor. So she definitely matured in the off-year. I can only imagine her as a fifth-year senior. I'm very much looking forward to getting her on the floor and competing.

Again, she is just so much stronger than she was last year. The one thing that I found interesting last year was that she used to fall a lot. I was never really quite sure why she did that. But then we realized she probably wasn't as strong as she needed to be and she spent the entire season in the weight room. Everybody else is going two times. She is going three and four, really building up her body.

We haven't seen Kara get hit with the pads or get hit with anybody and go to the floor. She is definitely stronger. She has extended her range to about 15 feet and she is definitely more confident. And I think just the relationship that she has with Jackie off the floor, you can really see it on the floor now.

Q. Kathy, you have talked about the inside game. You have got a lot of youth in your guard play. Talk about how they have developed so far; what you have seen here early in the season.
: At least we have some guards. That's a good thing. There is no doubt that our strength is in our front line with Jasmina Ilic, Jackie McFarland and Kara Richards. They are experienced. They are very dedicated, very focused and three of our best leaders at this point. But I feel very blessed with some transfers and some incoming freshmen that we do have some options at the guard spot.

Bianca Smith right now I would say is probably playing the best of anybody. Just has an incredible jump shot, great range, and just has a lot of ability. She can play the point. She can play the two. She really prefers to play the two because she thinks she can shoot more at the two. But she really can play both positions, great leader.

With the incoming freshman in the transfers, practices have become so competitive to the point where sometimes we have to stop drills. It's exciting to see, but as a coach, you really feel good when you have some options and you know that you are really — your hands aren't tied. You are not strapped to do some things. We will be able to experiment. We will be able to do a lot more of what we like to do.

Susie Powers, the transfer from Notre Dame, she will see some time at the point guard, the off guard.

But I would say our three, four and five are definitely — I would say pretty much locked up. But our guards, it is really up in the air and practices are competitive because they know there are a lot of minutes to be played.

Q. Could you talk about just your guard play, how you feel that's come together. I know that's obviously an area of personal expertise for you. How do you feel you will do this year?
: I have got three players that could potentially play the point guard position. Bianca Smith, Susie Powers and Whitney Houston, and none of which have played it ever for me or within the last two years in college. So it is going to be a learning curve. And we start tomorrow with our point guard meetings in the office to really talk about our sets. There is a lot of times in practice where Jackie has got the hot hand or you need Kara on the block, and some of the decision-making really needs to improve. They definitely have the ability, but to be a point guard I think takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of studying the game. There have just been some situations where we look really good and then there are some days that we know we have got a ways to go. But there is no doubt that there will be a newcomer or freshman that's going to be controlling the ball for the majority of the year for us. So there is just a lot of learning to do.

I would say size-wise we are probably bigger than we were last year. We are definitely quicker. It is going to allow us on the defensive end to really do some different things. And I would say with Jasmina and Kara back and depending what we do with the guard, it will really lighten Jackie's load. She is not going to have to endure the scoring load she has endured in the past. Although she will probably get the touches that she needs. There is no doubt the strength is inside and we continuously get better at the guard spot.

Q. Kathy, 10 of your losses last year were by ten points or less. Talk about what your team takes away from that and what they can use to build on that this year.
: I think the lack of depth was key in that there were times that I had to really plead with Jackie and say, You know what? Maybe you can take off practice tomorrow if you just finish the game for us.

We really didn't have a lot of depth. There were times we looked at each other and just basically said, You are going to have to finish this game. You are going to have to kick it out. And there were so many games that we were in it up until four minutes, the four-minute media timeout in the second half. And teams just kept coming at us with stronger, with fresher legs and that's very difficult to deal with.

When Jackie is dealing with double coverage, triple coverage and we have nobody to kick out to, to hit a shot, that becomes just very taxing and I think they take away from it: Hey, we were in games, but they know we didn't win them. And we are just not a team that believes in moral victories. We felt good about what we did last year, but know that Colorado has got a ways to go to be able to compete night in and night out.

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