Women's Hoops: Ole Miss postgame comments

After Vanderbilt's win over Ole Miss, coach Melanie Balcomb, Dee Davis, Caroline Williams and Carla Thomas spoke with the media.

The Press: Melanie, I think you said you would only play Dee in an emergency. Were three straight losses and a halftime deficit an emergency?

Coach Balcomb: Yes. At halftime there was definitely an emergency. The big thing was -- the doctors aren't going to be real happy with me -- but she could play; it was a matter of how much that will hurt her the rest of the season if we could have kept her out until the next game on Thursday, which would have been more time. So I'm disappointed that we had to go to her, but I'm glad it made a difference, and she did a great job attacking and leading and doing the things that I asked her to do.

The Press: Is she that important to the team that you have to risk the rest of the season?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, she's real important to the team because we really haven't had a backup point guard since she's been here so she plays 40 minutes a game. Cherish just started playing some point this year, and Holly just started playing some point two weeks ago, so we don't have much experience behind her, and so I think that at that position, where they have the ball in their hands 90% of the time, their leadership and their confidence is very important to our team.

The Press: But is the risk worth the reward, playing her today?

Coach Balcomb: It's guesswork. It's really guesswork. The doctors can't guarantee you one way or the other. We thought her knee would be fine, and it hasn't been, so we tried to hold her as long as we could. But if we don't win this game, at home against a team that's 1-4 in the league, what are you going to save her for, because at the end of the year it's not going to matter. It's kind of like when somebody gets in foul trouble in the first half. As long as you're doing well, you save them, but if the other team gets a big lead, what are you saving them for? You're going to lose the game; you've got to put them in. So we're looking at our conference schedule and where we're at, trying to look at the big picture in trying to make decisions.

The Press: How did her knee feel after the game?

Coach Balcomb: I don't know yet; I just talked to the team in general.

The Press: Was it just a matter of Dee playing the second half? Or what did you tell them at halftime?

Coach Balcomb: Well, I think we got more aggressive, and that's what we're trying to do. We're too passive on defense, and we're trying to get more aggressive and go for it instead of trying not to lose in the second half. We've had a lot of leads, and then we lose it in the second half because we lay not to lose instead of two win. So it wasn't necessarily a bad thing to me that we were down at halftime because we've been a better team when we're down. We play more free, we play more aggressive, and we play to win. So it could have been an advantage for us that we were down. But we've struggled in the second half, and tonight we were a better team in the second half, and I'm much rather be a good team in the second half than a good team in the first half.

The Press: Differences in rebounding in the two halves -- they outrebounded you 22 to 13 in the first half, and you outrebounded them 21 to 15 in the second half. What was the difference? Was it a matter of energy?

Coach Balcomb: I think we did a better job of keeping people in front until the very end of the game. The last couple of minutes they just kept going to the basket, forcing us to rotate, and what we wanted to do was keep them in front so we wouldn't have to rotate, and when there's no rotation, the post doesn't have to come off, and then you don't have the guard trying to check out. And what's why you see attacking teams get so many offensive rebounds, and you saw us attack more and get some offensive rebounds right away because of Dee gong to the basket. So a lot of it was keeping them from attacking and us attacking them.

The Press: Was it almost a desperation -- "we absolutely had to win this game today"?

Coach Balcomb: I think when you're in a conference and where you're where we're at, when you're at home, you need to win your games at home, and so at this point in the season at the end of January, you're going into the second half in February, you gotta take care of business at home, and I think that was really important. Also the fact that we had lost three straight, we needed to get back to winning. I think that's a really important thing, we needed to get our confidence back.

The Press: Going into the game, what were your keys to the game?

Coach Balcomb: Transition D, checkout and, the third one was -- I can't remember. Their big thing is that they're good in transition because you get Armintie Price in the open floor, and we wanted to slow them down. That's why you saw us pressing, really just to slow the basketball down in transition off makes. And checking out because that's such a big part. They attack and then they get -- you saw them even in the first half, every offensive board they got they put back. The third thing we wanted to do was keep them off the free throw line because that's the third place they get a lot of points.

The Press: You guys had more makes than their takes. How important was that?

Coach Balcomb: I don't really look at makes versus takes. You look at free throws, how many you take, and this has been a problem with our team all year. We don't get to the free throw line enough because we don't attack enough, and we don't offensive rebound enough, which is where they get their points. We don't. We're almost polar opposite teams. We are #1 in free throw percentage, but 11th in getting there in amount of free throws. That's something that you really look at. And the other thing was taking care of the basketball because the fourth place they get points is off their defense, and that's Armintie Price stepping into the passing lanes, so I think that was the other key that I forgot is taking care of the ball, because they didn't get any steal the ball, get down and get a run out. We made them play five on five on offense.

The Press: Melanie, for how ever much Dee is able to play the rest of the year, is she going to have to play through pain for the rest of the season, then maybe have surgery after the season. Is that the plan, and she'll just have to deal with the discomfort?

Coach Balcomb: I can't predict what's going to happen with her knee. I wish I could. It's been so day-to-day and week-to-week. I have no idea how it's going to be after playing a half, and after having it drained. I have no idea what it's going to do. More things could happen as the year goes on. It shifts, and then she could out for a while again. You can't predict what's going to happen. It's pretty much a day to day thing. And that's tough on the other players and on us as a team.

The Press: Carla had 14 points in the second half. How important was she?

Coach Balcomb: I thought the two people that really played harder, played more aggressive and made a big difference were Cherish Stringfield and Carla Thomas. They worked a lot harder in practice and really put it in another gear. Cherish made big plays for us, and Carla made big plays for us. Cherish is trying to back up and do things for us at the point, and then went in at the 2 and hit a big 3 and I think was more aggressive defensively. And Carla wanting the ball in the low post and getting fouled down there and getting to the free throw line really helped us a lot.

Coach Balcomb left, and junior guards Caroline Williams and Dee Davis and junior post Carla Thomas entered for questions.

The Press: Dee, what did coach tell you before you went into the game after halftime?

Dee: She asked me if I was all right, first of all, and then she said, I need you to attack; I need you to go out there and play hard and give me what you've got right now.

The Press: How are you feeling?

Dee: I'm all right. I feel good that I was able to get out there and contribute and help the team win.

The Press: Do you feel any soreness?

Dee: I'm fine.

The Press: You were grimacing out there--

Dee: I came down wrong on my leg one time, but other than that, I played through it. It's fine.

The Press: Caroline, Melanie said that this was an emergency situation at halftime, having lost three straight and being down in this game, and she said that we had to stick Dee back in there because we couldn't lose this game. How did that play into the second half?

Caroline: Dee's our leader on the floor, and it was an emergency situation. We can't go down four in a row. When Dee steps on the court, it's just a complete change in the ball game. She attacks, and she gets us under control. Not to take anything away from Holly and Cherish, but that's just not their first role. They do a good job, too, but Dee just knows how to control us, and it's just a confidence that we all feel with her with the ball, and it really showed in the second half.

The Press: Carla, talk about the difference in rebounding in the first half and the second half and also your ability to score down low.

Carla: I think our rebounding was huge because that was the difference in the game. Coach told us before hand that it was going to be huge, that we had to win the rebounding edge, and Nicole Jules came up with some huge rebounds that we needed to get control of the ball and get possessions, and it helped a lot.

The Press: Dee, is this going to be a game-by-game situation for you for the rest of the season, or at least for the near future? What do you think is going to happen?

Dee: It's hard to say. I'm going to be out there as much as I can. I want to be out there for my teammates regardless of how I'm feeling, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to stay on the floor.

The Press: Caroline, what was going on in the first half? They scored eight straight, then you all went on a 12-1 run or something like that. The runs kept going back and forth. What was your take on that?

Caroline: In the beginning we just came out flat, and we missed some shots that we normally make in the beginning that usually boost us through the first half. We've usually been playing a really good first half and not so good second half. But it's just the way it happened this time. I don't know really what it was it. It was like we were a little bit slow out there and were missing some shots, but we bounced back and I'm proud of us for doing that. We started hitting some shots, and if somebody wasn't hitting some shots, we got it back on defense, but in the second half, I think we settled down a little bit more.

The Press: Was there a sense at halftime that it was desperation that you can't lose four in a row so you can't lose another game? Can you talk about that?

Caroline: It is. This was a must win for us. We said it at halftime, "We are not walking out of this gym with a loss; everybody do everything in your power to get a W today because we have to have it." And I think every person on the team stepped up when they were in there, whether it was Rachel rebounding, Carla getting the ball down low, or Dee attacking, we all added something in the second half to where we were not going to come out of there with a loss.

The Press: What have you worked on in practice since the loss in Baton Rouge?

Caroline: Basically effort and just hard work, because we know we have the talent in the room to play with anybody, but we've been getting by with beating some teams in the beginning where we didn't have to put ourselves out there. So this week we just completely worked on effort skills like rebounding and defense, hustling your butt off to get to where you need to be to help the team out,, and I think that showed today, a complete difference in our effort.

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