Women's Hoops: Florida postgame comments

After Vanderbilt's 84-73 victory over the Florida Gators on Sunday, head coach Melanie Balcomb, senior guard Abi Ramsey, senior forward Ashley Earley, and sophomore center Carla Thomas talked to the media.

The Press: Coach, the Kentucky win was nice to get off the skids, but then to come back and follow it up with today's win. Can you talk about moving in the right direction a little bit?

Coach Balcomb: I think you could tell my kids were more confident after that game at Kentucky. We subbed more, and the subs were ready to play, and it gave the other players a break.

I think also Ashley Earley had been just carrying the team on her back, and we weren't playing well enough as a team in their roles and what they give us, and we spent a lot of time watching film and explaining roles and strengths and weaknesses individually, and I think they've done a lot of thought and are working on those things.

Ashley the last two games hasn't had to carry the load . We've had Carla step up and be so much more aggressive offensively. Abi's stepped up both games and hit big three's and been more aggressive. And we've needed that. We need more of a balance than just counting on one player night in and night out, and I think they're all starting to give their strength when they get out on the floor and that's what we need them to do.

The Press: Can you talk about Abi? During that skid there has kind of been a focus on her not being ready to shoot, and she comes out tonight and hits 8 of 13.

Coach Balcomb: Abi - I've figured out how to motivate her. What's changed is when she's not low and ready to shoot, I yank her. I've done it the last two games. She comes out, she throws a towel. She knows exactly why she's coming out. What's nice is I'm able to put Caroline, Cherish, other 3-point shooters in the game, and she knows that. They're playing better, and I can afford to take her out now.

She knows why she's coming out. Next time she's low and ready, and she's come off the bench lookimg-- she's shooting it right off the bench after that. So I did that again tonight. She made eight 3's, and I didn't think she shot enough. She HAS to be a threat. She has to be low and ready to shoot it, and it hurts us if she doesn't. And if I have to convince her of that by taking her out, I'll continue to take her out, but she's-- even if she doesn't make it, she has to take it. It's really important for Carla and Ashley in the things we're running right now, because they're doing so well, and everybody's just packing it in on them.

The Press: Coach, it seems like that three she hit at the buzzer at halftime gave you guys a big lift.

Coach Balcomb: Yes. And that's actually the first time this year we've actually made a run going in at halftime. I felt really good about that, too. We were outscoring them, it was going back and forth, we couldn't stop them, they couldn't stop us. We were shooting 59% from the field, they were shooting 55. They were getting more second chance points than we were was the difference, the difference was offensive rebounding. and that was it,

It was going back and forth, and I told them, we can't just try to outscore this team. Last year we tried to outscore them, and we lost 83 to 90-something. And I told them, "We scored 83 points here last year and did not win," and that we had to play defense. So actually believe it or not, at halftime you probably didn't think that was the game plan. But the game plan was defense tonight. So they weren't actually executing my game plan at halftime, but to hit that shot going in at halftime gave us a lift, a very important lift that we needed mentally.

The Press: How did you limit them to 41% in the second half?

Coach Balcomb: Well, we got nine stops in a row. We got down by eight, and then we decided that we were going to have to play defense and pick up the pressure. We came out in the second half and even tried some junk defenses. I was willing to try anything. I'd have tried a clump and one, but there was no "one" to clump on. We would have tried any junk defense, and in fact we threw three difference defenses. They scored on all those, so we went back to our bread-and-butter, to our matchup and said, "Blank it, you've got to get back out there and you've gotta play it the way you play it against teams that aren't good.

We were passive. We weren't pressuring the basketball. We weren't forcing outside. We weren't forcing, period. We were hoping they wouldn't score on us. And we weren't dictating and being aggressive like we are against teams that aren't as good as Florida, so we needed to that and then check out. And we pressured the basketball on the right angles so then we got steals, Katie got a steal, Cherish got a steal, Abi got a deflection, Dee got a deflection, and that's all because we picked up our intensity on the ball and our angles on the ball.

And what was nice is at least at halftime I could tell them, these are things we can fix. It's your choice whether you fix it or not. If you fix these things, you know we can score, so obviously we didn't talk a lot about offense at halftime. But these are the things we need to fix on defense. If we make these changes, and you're willing to make these changes, we'll be fine, and they did that.

The Press: Going back to Abi for a second, was the hesitancy to shoot simply sometimes people want to be too unselfish.

Coach Balcomb: Yes. Absolutely. It's been a good problem, and that's why I haven't been yanking her to this point. I hadn't taken the stand that I finally took because I decided the team needed it now. It's too important now against these teams that scout us and have the people that they can pack it in on Ashley and Carla. And it was really hurting us. It got to the point where it was hurting us.

And Abi is in a great place right now, and that's why it was hard for me to do it, because Abi's gone from living and dying on her 3-point shot to not caring about it at all, just wanting to win. She's matured as a person, she's matured as a player, and she puts the team first and she knows where our strength is, by God, and she's going to get it to Ashley inside, and she's going to get it to Carla, where she's not thinking shot first, pass second. She's become a very very good passer, and she has the best post pass -- She's not just a shooter anymore; she's our best post passer, so she wants to get it-- She trusts Ashley Earley to the hilt. She thinks Ashley Earley can score on nine people in there at 5'10. So do I.

But she's got to, at some point, make other people play her so that will open up Ashley Earley, and tonight I think she really stepped up for Ashley instead of just thinking, "If I pass it to her all the time I'm stepping up for her; I'm being unselfish; I'm getting the ball to who-" and Ashley was second in the country in field goal percentage. Abi was like, I'm going to get it to her. That's great, but it got to the point where it was hurting us, because Abi wasn't shooter first, passer second, and she was a shooter first tonight, and it was fun to watch. But you saw she started off the game with like four assists. That was Abi making all those passes.

The Press: You did say last week, though that sometimes she just hasn't been able to shoot because teams have made a conscious decision to take the wings away.

Coach Balcomb: Well, I say a lot of nice things to protect my players. (General laughter.) I'll always defend her in front of you guys, but yeah, she can still get her shot off as you saw tonight, if she wants to. I don't care how good a defense. Yes, teams have done different things and face-guarded her and played her tighter than other teams have tonight. But Carla Thomas and Ashley Earley, just as good as they are right now, high low, they get her open, period. We don't really have to run a lot for her. And we do run a lot of things for her, and she was still not taking that shot. She wanted to get to the next option to get to Ashley and Carla. She's just being the ultimate team player, but it ended up-- It was becoming a negative. It's really exciting to see her change that. But, yeah, Florida did sag even more than some other people.

The Press: Is that going to be a standing policy the rest of the season - Shoot or you're coming out?

Coach Balcomb: I think it it's working, go with it.

The Press: Is there a specific number you want her to get or can she just shoot all night?

Coach Balcomb: She can shoot all night. Believe it or not, it's been that way for three years. I tell people all the time, I would love to play for me. They all have the green light. Cherish can shoot all she wants. Caroline can shoot all that-- and they don't look to shoot. I've never had a team-and I've had new assistant coaches going, have you ever had kids that you're begging to shoot like this? And, yeah, I think the more I tell them they can shoot, the less they shoot. I want to tell them to stop shooting, they'll probably all start shooting it. I don't know why. I encourage shooting. I love shooting the ball from 3, as long as you're low and ready and have your feet set, you can take it.

Your job is to be low, ready and have your feet set. That's what Abi Ramsey hadn't been doing, so she wasn't taking it. She has to do the work before the ball gets to her. And if you don't do that work, no, I don't want you taking it. I don't care how open you are, you're not going to make it. And so if they do the things we work on, and they work on that shot, and they make that shot in practice, they absolutely all can shoot it as much as they want. Absolutely.

The Press: Does it bother you when she does come out of the game and you do have to call a fair catch on the towel over there?

Coach Balcomb: No, I try to pretend I don't see it, I don't think she even knows I see it, but I've seen two towels. I knew it happened at the last game, and I saw it happen again, and I was like, we got her! She's going to come out shooting when I put her back in. I knew she would.

The Press: Two lineup decisions. After Carla went out with her fourth foul you went with a lineup that had nobody over 6 feet tall while ya'll make the big run. Then at the end of the game instead of having Caroline in, you had Katie.

Coach Balcomb: Defense. It's an easy decision. Katie Antony gives us defense, gives us check out, gives us physical play. They were very physical, very athletic, and we needed defense. Obviously we couldn't stop them, we could score. So once Katie did a good job out there at the post defensively, then at the end instead of going with Caroline - she gives us the 3 but doesn't give us the defense and the rebounding that Katie would give us, so I stayed with Katie at the other position. So Katie played the 2,3, 4 and 5 tonight, and she did what we needed her to do.

After Coach Balcomb left the room, senior guard Abi Ramsey, senior forward Ashley Earley, and sophomore center Carla Thomas entered the room for questions.

The Press: Abi, your coach says that you still do not shoot it enough.

Abi: Oh well, yeah, I guess it's kind of been all year that they've been getting onto me a little bit because I haven't been getting my footwork quick enough. They finally started being mean to me. I think at the Kentucky game they would just take me out if I didn't take a shot, they'd just take me out and it sort of hurt my feelings. (Laughs.) I guess tonight I knew. I looked at the basket a little bit more.

The Press: Have you been working on your towel throwing technique at all?

Abi: Oh, man. I didn't know if anyone noticed that. Yeah, she pulled me out fast, and I got mad and threw that towel.

The Press: Can you talk about the importance of this win because you guys were on a skid and went to Kentucky and got off the skid, but then to come home and solidify it and take more stuff in the right direction. What does that do for morale and getting things turned around?

Ashley: Right. The win at Kentucky was huge for us. We had been on a 3-game skid, and it wasn't a very pretty game but at that point in time, it was a W. This game was also significant because me and Abi have been here for four years now, and I can't really remember the last time we beat Florida, so it meant a lot, this win. And going into next week we have Mississippi State, and basically at this point in the season, it was either turn it around or you're done, pretty much. So we've made it a point to turn it around.

The Press: How much does it help you, Ashley and Carla, in the post when somebody is lighting it up from the outside? You were kind of emphatic about it.

Ashley: I love it. I love when Abi hits 3's and I come across halfcourt, and she's hopping around and we slap hands. It's awesome. It's awesome.

The Press: But it obviously opens things up for you.

Ashley: Oh yeah. It definitely does open things up, and if they don't adjust, Abi will just drop 30 like she did tonight, and that's fine with me. That's what we need. That's what we need, for Abi to come out and be aggressive and have a game like she did tonight, and maybe next time, they'll go out on her. And if they don't, maybe she'll drop 30 again.

The Press: Abi, did you realize, was it going through your head how many you were racking up, or was it one of those things you don't realize that you might make a new school record?

Abi: I knew that I was kind of feeling it, I guess, when we were down by 8 at that time in the second half, and I hit two in a row, but, yeah, I kind of got in a zone, and they were giving me the space to let it go, and I had the green light, so-I didn't know how many it was until after the game, but they were giving me open looks.

The Press: Kind of the feeling like you could throw it in the ocean and it was going in?

Abi: Yeah . . . . it was a good night, a good shooting night. I needed one.

The Press:When you broke the record for all time 3-pointers, that was in a loss. So I imagine it made it hard to celebrate. Breaking this record in a win today, is it easier to feel happy about it?

Abi: It's just always great to get a W. It's great to break a record, but that really doesn't matter. It feels really good to beat Florida. I've lost to them so many times, and I didn't want to lose again. We had just come back and we had just lost two at home in front of our crowd. It was just huge to have a great game like that in front of our fans.

The Press: Abi, it wasn't quite "Jordanesque" when you were hitting all those 3's but what thoughts were going through your head when you were running back down the floor? Liike, I can't believe this is happening . . or?

Abi: I was thinking, man, I'm real tired. (General laughter.) I mean, really, it was just "get back on defense". I think we got like nine stops when I was hitting shots pretty well, and that was just huge. So the big thing was, try to get the rebound. I think they out-rebounded us on offense the first half, so as long I played some defense, I didn't think about offense, and everything was flowing pretty well.

Ashley: I think Abi's an awesome defender, and I think what she did tonight was focus a lot on her defense, and she got some offense off her defense. She got a lot of confidence and went down to the other end and started knocking some 3's down.

The Press: Abi, I guess you're a little torn when you're in that situation. You're real tired, but you're also on a roll offensively. You don't exactly want to come out.

Abi: It was the first time in a game where I was just heaving at about half court, but I think coach knew that, and we were able to switch up some defenses to where I wasn't guarding the ball from one end to the other, and I was able to move back to the bottom. It's just mental toughness, and that's something we work on every day in practice, and all these other girls - Ashley played 39 minutes, too, and battled with those posts for rebounds and got some big deflections and rebounds in the end, so it really was a team effort.

The Press: Carla, when you picked up your 4th foul, you had to leave the game with your team behind, but they were able to pick you up and go on to win the game. Can you talk about how you felt during that time?

Carla: I was excited. Going into the second half [the focus] was getting stops and rebounding, and we made the changes, and like Abi said, we did get nine stops in a row, and we made a row. We stepped up when we needed, and everyone stepped up, the bench included. It was a great feeling to see that.

The Press; Ashley, when you all went on that roll, once Carla came off the floor, there was nobody was out there taller than 5'10. Just talk about what you all were able to do without any big people out there.

Ashley: I think Katie was playing the four at that time. When Katie comes in, she brings a lot of different aspects to the game than me or Carla, the high low. Katie's a better passer than any of us posts because she's a guard, and she can pressure the ball a little bit more. She brought a lot of aggression there. She got some big steals for us at the 4-spot, and I'm one who doesn't think height really means anything. I'm a 5'10 post player in the SEC, I don't really notice it or think about it too much, and luckily Katie is also one of those people, she really doesn't care. She just digs down and gets stops, and she was really good when she came in.

The Press: Abi, does being pulled out make you mad where you really want to come back in and shoot? How do you respond to it?

Abi: Oh yeah. It made me real mad. I knew there was a play where I had an open shot, and as soon as I didn't shoot it, she jerked me out, and I threw that towel,and when I came back in, I knew that was her whole point, to make me shoot. So, yeah, she knows what to do to get me fired up.

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