Women's Hoops: NCAA press conference

<i>After Friday's practice, <!--Default NodeId For Vanderbilt is 578,2005--><A HREF=http://vanderbilt.TheInsiders.com>Vanderbilt</A> Head Coach <!--Default NodeId For Melanie Balcomb is 660027,2002--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:660027]>Melanie Balcomb</A>, senior center <!--Default NodeId For Chantelle Anderson is 316786,2002--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:316786]>Chantelle Anderson</A>, senior point guard

Ashley McElhiney, and junior forward Jenni Benningfield answered questions from the press. First, Coach Balcomb was asked to make an opening comment.

Coach Balcomb: I think like everybody else this time of year, we're just happy to be here, and we're excited to be able to play at Old Dominion. The first thing I can say is that it's a beautiful arena, and we're really looking forward to getting started. I know we've had two weeks off, and we're just itching and eager to play right now.

The Press: How much more do you know about Liberty now than you knew at the beginning of the week?

Coach Balcomb: I think we know a lot just from watching tape, and we've had plenty of time to prepare. I think both teams have. I think they know a lot about us, and we know a lot about them on film, but until you play each other, you have no idea what's going to happen, but I think both teams are probably very well-prepared right now.

The Press: Chantelle and Mac, last year there was a lot of talk about being a Final Four team. With all that's happened, do you think that's a realistic expectation?

Chantelle: Definitely. I think that's a very realistic goal, and after seeing the way that we've been practicing for the past six practices -- we've had our best six practices of the year our last six practices, so I think we're just fortunate to be getting better at this time. You don't want to peak in January or February. You want to peak in March. I think we're playing our best basketball right now, and if we continue to play our game and continue to improve every day, then there's not a team that we can't play with and beat. Yeah, I do think that's a realistic goal and expectation.

The Press: Ashley, would you like to add to that?

Ashley Mac: I agree with Chantelle. I think a lot of people on the outside maybe doubted us and doubted whether we'd be back here, even in the tournament, especially the Final Four. But I think the team, the coaches and us as a whole, we've always believed that we have potential to go very far in this tournament. And like Chantelle says, we've been practicing really well. We've been excited to go into practice. We've had fun. Right now it's really fun to be out there. We're all enthusiastic and laughing and smiling, and it's been great the past six or seven practices.

The Press: Can you talk about having a new coach and how different it's been this season, and what she's brought and the transition.

Jenni: It's been an awesome transition. It's been very positive. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to practice and play a little bit this summer when we went over to Italy, and I think that definitely gave us an advantage going into the season of what both coaches and players could expect from each other and to expect for the season. And since day one, coaches have brought so many things to the table, and I think us as a team really took what they gave us. They can give us as many things as they want, but it's up to us to take it and execute it and do the things that they teach. It goes back to what Chantelle says -- everything's coming together. It's been a great several months of basketball, but now it's at the point where everything is starting to click, and it's just really really fun, and it's an awesome experience to be coached by the coaching staff that we have. The most important thing is it's fun to be on and off the court with them. So it's definitely been a good thing.

The Press: Chantelle, how do you size up with their post players [6'8 Katie Feenstra and 6'7 Maribeth Feenstra Anderson]?

Chantelle: It's going to be a great game in the post, I think, just because it's not too many women's games that you go to and see three players 6'6 and over on the court, possibly at the same time. I don't know whether they play at the same time or not, but-- I feel very confident about this matchup. And I know they do, too. They've gotten some awards and won their conference. But I think my game has really picked up at the end of the season. I'm playing a lot better. And I'm just confident. It's not a one-on-one game, anyway, it's a team game. We're going to play five-on-five, so it's going to be us five against their five. It's not going to be me against Katie, or whatever. But as far as the one-on-one matchup goes, I'm very confident about that.

The Press: Coach, a lot has been made about the matchup in the post. Can you talk about other matchups, like the guards?

Coach Balcomb: I look at it overall. It's such a team game that I don't look at personnel as far as matching up. We don't play a lot of man-to-man, so there's not going to be a lot of individual matchups out there, and they play a lot of zone. So I think as a team, I think you're seeing two different tempos, and it's going to be important, the tempo of the game. We like to push the ball, and we like to shoot the ball in transition as well as halfcourt, and I think it's going to be important that we control the tempo of the game. I think that's the biggest difference. I think both teams have good size, but we're hoping to run a fast paced tempo than they're probably hoping. So I think it's going to be a game of tempo. That's something that's really important as far as the matchup goes.

The Press: Chantelle, all that notwithstanding, when you get the ball in the low block and pivot and there's Katie at 6'8 waiting for you, what do you want to do? Will you have to adjust or change anything at all in deference to that sheer size?

Chantelle: I think you adjust to whoever you play, but at the same time, we play in the SEC, which IS the best conference in the nation. We face big post players all the time. Georgia has a 6'5 and a 6'6 post, and they play at the same time, so you're going up against those two. And they're extremely athletic, so they jump like they could be like 6'8 or whatever. So Tennessee has Ashley Robinson at 6'6, and she jumps out of the gym as well, so I think I'm used to playing against that all year. Not only this year, but my whole career I've played against tall post players. I don't think that's anything I haven't faced before, so,no, I'm not going to have to change my game too much.

The Press: Coach, you were talking about trying to dictate tempo, but in tournament play tempo tends to slow down to a halfcourt game. How do you dictate or how do you push the tempo?

Coach Balcomb: That's what we do. So our goal is going to be to play Vanderbilt basketball. In the past my teams have always been able to do that in the tournament, and I don't think the fact that-- We're taking the NCAA as three small tournaments, and we're taking this as one separate tournament, and we've concentrating on trying to win each game in this tournament. And we're trying to do what we do, and what we do best, and that's our primary focus And their primary focus is going to be to take us out of what we do, and we're going to be trying to take them out of what they do

The Press: Do ya'll think that the expectations last spring played into the lengthy coaching search?

Chantelle: I think that a lot of people were scared to take this job, possibly because there were such high expectations with our accomplishments last season and what was expected this season. And I think that speaks to what a competitor Coach Balcomb, and her coaching staff, really is. They didn't care about the expectations. They wanted that. And she, as a coach, was like, you know what? It's about us, and we're going to come in there and set our own goals -- of which going to the Final Four happens to be one of them. But she accepts that challenge, and I think that's probably good. That's definitely good. I mean, we don't want a coach that's going to step away from challenges. There are challenges every night in our league, and we needed somebody that was going to step up. I think a lot of people were scared of it.

Ashley Mac: Chantelle said it. Coach stepped up to the plate, and she was willing to take us and go with it. And so far, so good. It's been fun, and she, along with her coaching staff, they're very competitive, and you can tell that if you've ever been in practice with us. It's intense, and that's what basketball's supposed to be. But when you get them off the court, they're as laid back as you can get. And that's what makes a team: intensity on the floor, and laid back off the floor.

The Press: Coach, in previous years you would have been at home. What are your thoughts on the pre-determined sites format. Would you like to see it maintained?

Coach Balcomb: Well, obviously, in the situation we're in, I don't like it. That's kind of an obvious answer because we would be hosting as a 4 seed, and Vanderbilt is used to hosting and knowing that they have two more games on their home floor, and we have an extreme home court advantage with our gym, and it's known to be.

But at the same time, me, as a coach, it doesn't bother me at all. I think it's all how you go into it. It's all about attitude, and we're very positive right now. We're not a team that has played any particularly better at home than we have played on the road. Some of our best games have been on the road, and our players know that. I think we've had some good wins on the road, and I think that's going to affect teams more than are worried about how they play home and away.

I also think that it's something that is out of our control. When I got to Vanderbilt, we weren't hosting. I knew that when I came here, and our players knew. It's something you go into that you can't control, and you can't spend a lot of time worrying about. So I don't think that's anything that we've even talked about of focused on.

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