Coach Balcomb: I'd like to say that -- When we hold someone to 64 points, I'm pleased with that defensive effort, and that's something we were talking about and concentrating on obviously. Even in our last three wins, we've been giving up too many points, so I'd like to say it's the stops we got down the stretch, but um (chuckles ruefully) we didn't get one big stop until the very last play, and we didn't do a good job checking out when we needed to in those stops, so I think overall we really started to do a better job executing on offense.
I want to give them a lot of credit. What they did defensively made us hesitant. They did some really good things to us. I'd rather not say what so nobody else joins that, but then again, it was a TV game, so I'm sure everybody's going to watch it.
But they did- they switched up a lot of things and did a lot of things, and then we hesitated on offense too much. And we had a lot of mental breakdowns that I haven't seen for awhile. It definitely wasn't our A-game tonight. The positive is in February, you need W's and to be able to win and not play so well is important also.
The Press: What did you expect them to do on that last possession when they had the ball?
Coach Balcomb: I expected them to get the ball to Brackett and let Brackett create. So I put Abi on her and had Abi try to deny her the basketball to keep the ball out of Brackett's hands because every time Louden drove, she looks for Brackett. One of the good things we did at halftime, Brackett had 16 of their 31 at half, and in the second half, she only finished with 20. So if I do the math right, that's only four points in the second half. I didn't go to Vanderbilt, but I can do the math. (Laughter.) I'm a state school girl.
But I think that was really important because Louden does such a great job penetrating. We couldn't keep her in front of us like we wanted to, and every time she drove, she was looking for Brackett, and we did a better job of finding her and staying with her, and that shut down a lot of things.
The Press: Just staying with Brackett?
Coach Balcomb: Just staying with Brackett, 'cause she was playing so well, and we also made her put it on the floor. We didn't want to give up any more 3's and made her dribble.
The Press: Coach, can you comment on your bench play tonight? Your bench outscored theirs 19-2.
Coach Balcomb: My staff and I were just talking about it. I thought we got great minutes out of Katie, and great minutes out of Cherish. Cherish hit some big buckets again down the stretch. Katie did a really nice job of what we've been working on -- her being a high post passer, and her driving from the high post, shooting from the high post, and passing up there and getting the ball to Ashley and Carla, and it really helps us because Carla wasn't hitting the elbow shot, and neither was Ashley, so they were sagging off and doubling the low post, and they can't do that when Katie's up there, and you basically put a guard at the post post. So that really was a tough matchup for them even though they had such a huge height advantage.
The Press: Coach, you mentioned that this wasn't your A-game.When you come out of a game like that where you didn't shoot as well as you have, didn't rebound well and still get a win out of it, talk about what that would do to help your confidence?
Coach Balcomb: Like you're saying, it is a confidence-builder knowing you can beat-- this is a quality team, Auburn, and I think they've been playing really well. They've improved a lot since the last time we played them. Nell's doing a good job, and they're starting to learn her system. I knew this would be a tough game, and, like you said, not to play as well as we've been playing and still be able to come out with a win. I don't think that's going to hurt us; I think that's going to help our confidence that we know we don't have to play our best game We played tight tonight on offense, and now we can go to Tennessee and just play loose. This was a must-win must-need game, and our kids knew that, so you don't play as loose.
The Press: Why did you consider this a must-win game?
Coach Balcomb: Because you've gotta win the games at home in this conference and you've got to steal some on the road, and we just stole one on the road and then you come home and you can't-- In this conference down the stretch in February, you've got to take care of your home games. The other thing I'm really pleased with although we didn't shoot the ball well and we didn't play smart tonight, we made some poor decisions, yet we only turned the ball over eight times, and if I'm correct, that might have been our lowest all season. They pressure the ball and they did a good job down there. I know three times they took the ball right out of our hands down there, so I was pleased with the fact that they didn't get a lot of steals off us like they did down there.
Coach Balcomb left, and then senior captains Ashley Earley and Abi Ramsey entered the room for questions.
The Press: Abi, on the last play, what did you do to keep the ball out of Brackett's hands?
Abi: Well, most of the game we stuck with our two defenses, our bread-and-butter, our zone, and we knew on that last play that they were going to try to go to Brackett, so we just went five, our man defense, and switched everything and basically just face-guarded her. We knew she couldn't touch the ball and make someone else have to take that last shot, and I think in the end it was like #1, and we know that's not one of their go-tos.
The Press: Were you on Bracket on that play?
Abi: I was on Brackett, just denied her as hard as I could..
The Press: Kind of a collective sign of relief after that one in that you didn't play particularly well relative to the last 3 games?
Ashley: Yeah. It's good to know that we don't necessarily have to play our best game to get the win. A lot of times you have to just be able to play hard and be able to win. You always see those teams where you watch the game and you're like, 'How did they win the game?' and they just pulled it out, they just had the heart to win, and it's good to see that we had that tonight. I think we got beat in pretty much every category except the turnovers, and that's good to see that we could still win the game.
The Press: So you feel like people watching this game were asking that about y'all?
Ashley: I don't know what other people are thinking. (Laughs.) I don't know.
The Press: Ashley, what kinds of things do you do to counteract the height advantage of UA in the low post?
Ashley: I don't really think I did a good job of that tonight, but you kind of have to go around. When I'm 5'10 and you go up against a 6'5 girl, you've got to go around. You can go up over the top or you're going to get blocked. You just have to be smarter. You have to use counter moves. If one move doesn't work, you've got to use another one.
Abi: Ashley's so strong, too. I don't know if anyone really realizes it. She's very versatile and uses her body well down there in the post. She's deceivingly very very strong.
The Press: Abi, talk about y'all's bench play tonight?
Abi: It's great to be able to give Dee a rest, Erica come in there. Cherish Stringfield made some huge shots tonight, and Katie Antony--- it's just been a great boost for our team right now, especially coming to the long stretch of the season and being able to play-- We rotated nine players tonight. That's just something we haven't had earlier in the season, and this is the time of the year when it starts to put a wear on you and everyone has aches and is getting tired.
Ashley: Talking about our bench, they've been an awesome job as of late. I think that's something that we didn't have at the beginning of the season. We'd just get tired out. Other teams would rotate with a ten-man rotation, and we'd be playing five people 40 minutes. And that's something that we have different. That's a positive going into Sunday's game. I think it's really going to make an impact.
The Press: Have you all not been able to win games when you've not been playing well?
Ashley: I think it's a matter of just being scrappy, getting the loose balls, making the big play when it's time.
Abi: I definitely agree. When we needed a stop tonight, I think in the past, especially last year, when it came down to that last play, we just couldn't come up with that ball, and tonight was just huge for us because even though it was sloppy, to finish on that little positive.
The Press: As the leaders on this team, how important is Sunday's game? Is it just another game, or is it a little more than that?
Ashley: I think it's bigger than that, not necessarily because it's UT. I think it would be a big game for us if it were LSU. We haven't played a lot of ranked teams this year, and Tennessee is one of those ranked teams, and getting a win in Knoxville would be big for post-season play.
* * * *
Photos copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for VandyMania.com.