Question: "When you get in these tournaments, you often play a lot of unfamiliar teams. Is it an advantage that you've already played UC-Davis, your first match-up?"
Tara VanDerveer: "There is some familiarity in our bracket. There are several of those teams in our side of the bracket. Fresno is in our bracket, we played them. UCLA. We played Iowa last year. Gonzaga. Davis, we played last year. I think that does help. To me, it helps to see us play against them, to judge the quickness and size and see how we move—things that work, things that don't work. We've had great battles with Davis. We played them last year. It was a very tough game."
Question: "What specifically do they do well?"
VanDerveer: "They do two things—more than that, but specifically, the run the Princeton offense, and they run it really well. They come down, they play with great pace, they go backdoor, they fake backdoor and come off screens. They're a versatile team and they can all knock down the three. We played against a lot of the same players—I don't know who has graduated, but I know the system very well. They play a matchup zone that's challenging to play against, and I'm glad that we've played against it a couple of times. That will help us. It should probably help them, too, but I feel like we're different from last year."
Question: "What are some of the qualities of this team that you think can help them win a national championship?"
VanDerveer: "I think the first thing is that we have excellent leadership on this team. We have experience on this team. This is a team that is confident, but not over confident. They have played against excellent competition. They're not afraid of anyone in the bracket. They just know that we have to play well. They're a very close team. I think having Nneka and Chiney, and the relationship that they have, which is so positive, such a strong sisterhood, has spread to other people. We have a number of people on our team who don't have sisters, just brothers. We have a very strong sisterhood on this team. They're supportive of each other. I saw it in the game against UCLA. When Toni came in for Lindy, Lindy was the one cheering loudest for Toni. A lot of the time, when you have someone come out of a game, they get upset, or they have attitude, and we have none of that."
Question: "Going back to the UCLA game, there were some struggles in that game, does that pose a problem doing into the NCAA Tournament?"
VanDerveer: "I watched the games a couple of times, and I broke it down, and I really had no idea that UCLA would be in our bracket—honestly, I'm shocked about that. But I said that if a team gets you down and they play you close, other people are going to look at this. We didn't play against UCLA the way that we should have, and a lot of the mistakes that we made are very correctable. And those are things that we as coaches need to do. We learn a lot from video. This is a team that is a bright team, and if they look, we can point out that we weren't screening the zone as well, and weren't reading the right alignments, and that we turned it over sometimes, and didn't play the pick and roll the way we needed it to be.
Also, and this is not a criticism of it: this is the first time we've played in the Pac-10 with this type of schedule. So we played, then played again in the morning. We didn't have an on-court practice, didn't have our walkthrough. So we learned: if we don't have an on-court, we at least do a hotel walkthrough.
I think that this is easily correctable, and as soon as they're pointed out to the team, we'll be in great shape. If anything, it was things, as coaches, that we should have picked up better, and we didn't.
Question: "Last year, when you went into the tournament, Jayne was not at full strength. Do you feel more confident going into the tournament this year?"
VanDerveer: "Well last year at this time I didn't know Jayne's situation really. She had had a sprained ankle. We held her out extra. She did not play in the Cal game. She probably could have played in the Cal game, but we held her out. It wasn't a severely sprained ankle. But once she got back on it—and who knows why—after the Riverside game, she said, "I've got something else going on," and that's when I found out that she had a stress fracture. That changed things. At that point, there's nothing that you can do, but she wanted to play. Obviously, she was not as effective. We didn't have Sarah Boothe at that time. We had never really played without Jayne. But she was a warrior. She just didn't quite have the lift that she needed. It was really sad to see her last game. But she's a competitor. But at this point, we didn't really know what was going on."
Question: "You mentioned that you were surprised that UCLA was in your bracket."
VanDerveer: "I was."
Question: "What were some of the other surprises?"
VanDerveer: "I was surprised that Texas A&M was in Baylor's bracket. I was surprised that Notre Dame was a two. UCLA had beaten Notre Dame at Notre Dame. And had only lost to LSU and then to us. I was surprised that Xavier came out as a two again. I mean, been there, done that. I think as players and coaches, we're excited about playing, but sometimes the tournament brings new teams, new things. I was surprised it wasn't a little fresher."
Question: "Think they're more concerned about saving money?"
VanDerveer: "Well if you're concerned about saving money, send Xavier to Dayton. Make Notre Dame the three seed."
Question: "I mean in terms of keeping UCLA out here."
VanDerveer: "I bet you can get the same flight from LA to Dallas. I'm fine with it. I hope we can play them for a regional championship. I hope those are the two teams that are there. But I think it's really hard, for both ourselves, and Baylor, if it comes to that, to play a team four times. But you know what, in the Olympics, we'd play a team six to seven times."
Question: "All of the top seeds in the tournament have lost to one of the others. Is that a sign that there's parity amongst the top four? Do you see UConn as a favorite going into this tournament?"
VanDerveer: "I think it's a good sign. I think it's a good sign that the top teams all play each other during the regular season. All the games were on a home court, not a neutral court. I don't think you find that in men's basketball. It was the home team winning each game. For the most part, all of the games were really close, really competitive. I know our games, overtime with Tennessee, and 10, 12 or 14 points with UConn. They were all close games."
Question: "And what about UConn? Are they the favorite? The clear favorite?"
VanDerveer: "I think if it's a four horse race, there are some dark horses. I don't think that, in any way, there is a clear-cut favorite. I think last year, UConn was the clear-cut favorite, with Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Kalana Greene. They have a great team, but I think that it's going to be a very exciting tournament because there's not a clear-cut favorite. We're not a clear-cut favorite, Tennessee is not a clear-cut favorite, Baylor's not, and neither is Connecticut. There's a lot more right under there, whether it's Texas A&M, or Xavier, UCLA. I look at Iowa and Gonzaga. Gonzaga, we barely beat—we went down to the wire with them. They're a terrific team. Gonzaga is what, an eleven seed? They could easily work their way back to Spokane. They'll be very motivated."
Question: "That win that you had over UConn a few months ago, does that still give you confidence that you need? Do you still reflect back on it?"
VanDerveer: "I don't feel like we didn't get too high, which was good, because we didn't get too low after it. Our team had confidence going into that game. We had great fan support. This place was absolutely rocking for that game. But I don't feel like our team gets too excited. They know that we had to play well and we did play well and they're confident. They know what it takes to get to the Final Four. Also: we were in Spokane as the No. 2 seed, so they know that seeding is not all that. You have to play well, play together. Mel was on the team that didn't get out of Maples. We'll talk about all of that with our team. We haven't done that yet, because we had kids in finals, so we just wanted to get them a workout before they had to go study."
Question: "Toni, with the way she's come on, will you move her into the starting lineup?"
VanDerveer: "I like her coming off the bench. But I think that if I were someone in our starting lineup, I might try to focus on how to stay in the game longer. Lindy did a great job for us, but we need better defense, more aggressive defense, maybe some better decisions getting the ball inside. We have played a three-guard lineup before. Depending on who we're playing, be it Lindy, or whoever, other people know Toni can come off the bench. That was one of the reasons, at the beginning, that I didn't want to start Chiney. People would know, "Hey, she's coming in." I love having that sparkplug off the bench. So I would say that you'll see Toni fast, but right now I'm comfortable with our starting lineup. It's working, so why change it?"
Question: "Can you talk about the play of Chiney this year?"
VanDerveer: "I'm really excited about Chiney's improvement. She's got a ways to go. The best thing about Chiney is that she's a listener, she's very coachable, she's a hardworker, she's a competitor. She likes to play defense and she likes to rebound. We need her out there. She used to have what we called her "high school move." Now, she's working on getting college moves. She used to be able to score on people with one move. Now she's working on her counter moves, and her face-up moves, and moving away from the basket more. She's been a great addition to our team."
Question: "That's the same thing you said about Nneka when she first joined the team: that people know her move. Is she similar to Nneka?"
VanDerveer: "In a lot of ways, she's not. Nneka to me is more athletic, plays closer to the basket. Chiney is crafty. She's not as big and physical as Nneka. She doesn't jump as well as Nneka. But she plays more perimeter defense, she goes to the o-boards, and she just anticipates things better. And I think she has the benefit of playing with Nneka and learning from Nneka—she's really well adjusted. And if you remember, two years ago at this time, Nneka was playing some mean basketball. These were the games where she really broke out."
Question: "The 1990 and 1992 teams had at least two freshmen who really contributed. Does this team, with two freshmen in Toni and Chiney have qualities similar to the 1990 and 1992 teams?"
VanDerveer: "Well the 1990 team I can remember Val Whiting. Who would be your second?"
Question: "Molly [Goodenbour]."
VanDerveer: "Molly didn't play that much in 1990. I think Toni is contributing more than Molly did as a freshman. If she does as much as Molly did, I'd be ecstatic. Molly obviously took us to the Final Four and won in 1992. We do have some similarities. Jeanette goes like Jennifer [Azzi] went. We have that big three like we had in Val and Trisha Stevens and Julie Zeilstra."
Question: "And in 1992 you had Rachel [Hammer] and Kate [Paye]."
VanDerveer: "Rachel Hammer is kind of like Chiney. Chiney does a lot of similar things. I love the similarities between the 1990 and 1992 teams and this team, and I'd love that to continue."
Question: "What other similarities do you see?"
VanDerveer: "Both of those teams, and this team, have really good chemistry. They play hard, there were a lot of different people on the 92 team that contributed. The 90 team was a very experienced team. We had guards that pushed it. We looked to run. We rebounded well. Looking at the stats, this is a good rebounding team. This team is bigger, but a lot of people stepped up big for that team. I think the real key for our success will be Kayla. When we went to the Pac-10—and I said this to Lisa Leslie—I said that I really felt that Nneka would break out, and that I really felt Kayla coming along for the NCAA Tournament."
Question: "Do you feel that this team is the best you've had since 1992?"
VanDerveer: "You love all of the teams. If Candice walked through the door and had eligibility—sure. Jayne, sure. Ros, and her defense, I needed her last week against Darxia Morris and Doreena Campbell. But every team has their own personality. This is a great team. What I like, too, is that we were challenged, and how they responded to the challenge. It was not pretty against UCLA. I felt like they really had us on the ropes. We were really struggling to figure out what to do, and the clock was running down, and we just had people make plays. Toni came in and made these big plays. Jeanette made plays. Nneka made plays. I don't think you saw panic. Let's stay with it."
Question: "Did you do anything different in the second half?"
VanDerveer: "Defensively, we switched. Our defense, in the first half, was just embarrassing. I watched it and thought, "What are we doing?" But we went with what we do well. We switched well on the perimeter. And then offensively, we did something in the first half where we got a good shot and just went back to that. We did something that we call a "loop" play where we loop Kayla up and flattened out our guards. I felt that we had open shots on the baseline and we passed up those open shots in the first half. I said, "Come back to that" and get people like Jeanette and Toni down there who would take those shots. And then we got it inside a little bit better. We learned a lot. UCLA kind of gave us a gift. They'll help us get better."
Question: "You'll probably get zoned every time, then?"
VanDerveer: "We know Davis does that. That's what they do, they don't have to watch that. I really feel like we can attack a zone better than we did. Not many people have played a zone all year. We did some things well. UConn did it a little bit and we scored on them. I'm trying to think who has—if they did, it was very limited. Except for one team, who you know was going to do it, so you worked on it all week: Oregon State. We came out and we shot very well. How many threes did we have? I think Jeanette had six."
Question: "So that game was really a bonus. More than winning the championship, it gave you a lot of insight into what you had to do from here on out."
VanDerveer: "I think, again, that different teams in the Pac-10 have done that, when you play against a number of different styles. Arizona State gets up on you. If we play Kentucky, that's what they do. So we have that, and we can show our team: this is what works, this is what we need to work on. The zone is what Davis does. And we have tape on Xavier, which is great, we've played them a couple of times. I just think the competition that we've played all year, including the Pac-10, will really help us."
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