Women's Hoops: Coaches and players talk

On Sunday, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, senior forward Ashley Earley, and sophomore guard Dee Davis answered questions from the media at the NCAA tournament in Seattle, Washington. Here's what they had to say.

The Press: Ashley, can you talk about the matchup - Kendra wecker, you're kind of similar size, kind of different styles games and both of you find ways to get it done.

Ashley: Obviously I know she's a great player. I'm really excited about the matchup. I'm really excited about the game. I feel like it's going to be a great game for us.

The Press: For either of the players, what defensive problems do you feel like they pose differently than someone else that you might have played this year?

Ashley: We haven't really gone into practice today. We've watched a little bit of film but we haven't really haven't gotten our scouting report. I guess we'll find that out in practice.

The Press: Ashley, if I understand your story right, you came in as a guard and had to learn how to be a forward. Wecker was a forward and has had to learn a lot of guard skills. Can you talk about making that transition at the division 1 level that both of you guys have make.

Ashley: Right. I just feel like it involves a lot of trust in your coaching staff. For me personally, I was a guard and I had to learn to be a post player in the SEC, which if you don't trust your coaches, it can be very intimidating, but I trusted their style and what they were teaching would be effective, so here I am now, I guess.

The Press: Dee, every year the SEC performs extremely well in the NCAA tournament based on the kind of tests that you get during the regular season. Can you talk about how your team developed through the regular season, especially the way you guys got better and better through the course of the SEC season?

Dee: During the season we do get better and better as the season goes because we get to grow closer as a team, and we learn each others' styles more, like you know what your teammate is going to do, and it makes it easier for you. Just team bonding, basically, just to grow stronger as a team throughout the season . .

The Press: For either one of you, it's 8:30 local, which would be 10:30 by your clock and the Wildcats' clock. Does the late start bother you, or what are you going to do to kill time until game time comes?

Ashley: We've been here for several days, so I feel like I'm pretty much adjusted. I think probably everyone else is, too. We have a lot of downtime during the day to rest up, to take naps, or whatever you need.

The Press: In the games that are going to be played tomorrow, there are some dynamic posts in both of them. In your specific game, there's Wecker and Ashley and Thomas. Can you talk about the posts that are at this venue and specifically the battle between your tomorrow?

Coach Balcomb: Well, I think Ashley Earley has shown to be one of the best posts in the country, but I think she showed her versatility yesterday, not just on the low block but at the high post, and I think Carla Thomas does the same thing. I think we present a lot of tough matchups for people because both of them can play high post and low post, and they're interchangeable.

I think that's what makes Wecker so good, is she's so versatile, she can play inside at the low block, she plays also very well at the midpost and faces up, and then she's got a great faceup game from three. She can really draw the defense out, even farther than Carla. Ashley has about 15 foot range, Carla has about 17, and then Kendra Wecker has 3-point range. What's so neat about the three post players in our game that you'll see is the versatility of those post players which is going to allow them to be very good professional players, and they'll be able to go on to the next level because of that versatility.

The Press: What is your attention level to Laurie Koehn?

Coach Balcomb: Great attention level. I think she's obviously one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, and we have to do a good job with her, and not let her-- She's averaging taking nine 3's a game. We don't want to even let her take nine 3's. I know she can shoot it. She comes off screens very well, they set a lot of screens for her, but she's also opportunistic. Any time they get an offensive rebound, they're looking for her. They'll kick out to her, and she'll just bring it down, and she has tremendous range. The minute she gets across halfcourt,. you better be ready to guard her and have a hand in it and try to make her put the basketball on the floor and know where she is at all times.

The Press: What other problems do they pose for you all from a defensive standpoint relative to other teams that you've seen this year?

Coach Balcomb: I think they pose a problem in their ability to shoot the 3-point shot. They have more than just Koehn at the three. They have other 3-pointer shooters in Coggins and Dietz and Wecker. They have so many 3-point shooters, and obviously we play a lot of matchup zone, so we really have to do a good job of knowing where the shooters are and being out on the shooters.because of the multiple shooters. Most teams have that one shooter on the perimeter, and I think they really do a good job of spreading the floor. They do a lot of four out and not using the post that much, but then when they do, they have Wecker on the inside so you can't get consumed with her and forget about the shooters .

The Press: Melanie, the Kansas State people were saying that they have been able to compete in the Big 12 and even win the championship last year despite not being as talented as a lot of people they've played. That sounds similar to the Vanderbilt situation. I was just wondering do you see kind of a mirror of each other, these programs competing in these power leagues and doing very well, despite not having as much talent as some of the other teams?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, definitely, I've always looked at Kansas State and had a lot of respect for what their coaches have done there because I think they play as a true team, and like I always say, talent wins games in November, December, and January, and teams win games in March, and Kansas State's always playing in March and playing well in their conference tournament and upsetting teams, and we've been able to do the same thing against more talented teams. I think Deb Patterson has done a great job with getting them to gel as a team.

As you heard, our players believe in team chemistry. That's what we teach. That's what we think our strength is, is being able to have that balance and have unselfish play and be tough to guard as a team. I think Kansas State is very similar, and I've always looked at them to be. They're not as athletic as a lot of teams they play against in the Big 12, not as big and those are two common themes that we have against SEC teams. We're not as athletic, and we're not as big. Yet down the stretch we seem to win games in our conference.

The Press: Coach, can you talk about what Dee has brought to you, not just a playmaker but a scorer and a clutch scorer in a lot of games this year?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I think Dee has developed into one of the few players-- Speaking of talent, I think we're talented, don't get me wrong, but I don't think we have a lot of players that can create a shot for themselves. Our offenses have to create shots for them.And we have one player in Dee now that is developing where she create a shot for herself, and she can create shots for other people, and she can also hit clutch shots. That is something that is very important to a program in March and in the NCAA tournament. I think you have to have guards that can do that.

The Press: Coach, your power down low can create foul trouble for other teams. How important has that been for you throughout the season to be able to get a lot of frontcourts into foul trouble and then take advantage of that?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, we try to do two things. We try to attack in transition and wear people down in the post. Our posts seem to score a lot more in the second half than in the first because we want to constantly push the basketball, and Dee is very good at pushing the ball and always on the attack and when you just run, we don't get to pound it in so much until the second half in transition because the post defenders are worn down from running so much, and we get a better opportunity down the stretch to do that and also to get people in foul trouble because we're attacking and we're trying to get the ball right in to the posts right out of transition.

The Press: I'd like to follow up on that Vanderbilt-Kansas State analogy. What are the key things that the programs like that have to do, like a few things that you feel like that you've got to do to be able to compete in these leagues despite being at a talent disavantage. What are the fundamental things?

Coach Balcomb: Well, in my system, I'm not sure what she does, but she gets similar results obviously. What you heard Ashley Earley - she's been our program three years and I call her a "program player", which means she's sold, she's bought on and now she's selling other players, younger players in the program like Dee and Carla. I think the key to my success has been unselfish play and to get that team play, and what Ashley Earley shows you is that.she always puts the team first before herself. To get that, your players are taking not the first shot, they're taking the best shot.

And to get all those things you have to get a belief system. You have to get your players to buy on. If they don't buy on, they usually leave the program. So sometimes you end up with maybe nine players on the trip, but you have all these kids at the end who have bought on. They're all on the same page. My team right now, it's just great to be around them, and our team chemistry is excellent, on and off the court because they've all bought on, or they wouldn't still be here to be a part of what we're doing.

Ashley Earley bought on three years ago because she saw the success of Jenni Benningfield and what we did with her, and she's seen it with other people, and then Jenni Benningfield helped her to buy on. So I just call it a belief system, and I think you have to establish that to get players to be a part of the team. These players come out of high school highly touted and sometimes very selfish and everything's revolved around them, and now they have to put the team first, and they revolve around the team. And that's hard for some kids to adjust to as All-Americans out of high school. And it's my job to get them to adjust to that.

The Press: Coach, do you have any thought that two teams from the central time zone are going to be playing a game with a tipoff at 10:30?

Coach Balcomb: No, I'm just so sick of-My family's from the east coast. The game was 10:30 last night, and they got the Stanford game and they didn't put it on and they weren't real happy, but, no, you don't have any control over those things and I don't spend my time worrying over things I can't control. I don't make those decisions, and I can't get upset about them. For some reason in the SEC tournament, we've been playing the 9:15 game every night, and we got that slot last year and won it in four games in four days with 9:15 game until the last game every night. So it was ironic. I just smiled and laughed and said now we're in the last game slot, and it just got pushed back to 8:15 which is 10:15 our time, and I just keep chalking it off to "that's been our time slot" and that's been successful for us, . so I try to look at the positive and put a spin on it for my players. That's kind of my job.

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