Vanderbilt-UNC-Charlotte press conference

<i>After Vanderbilt's 66-43 victory over UNC-Charlotte, the coaches and players met the press to talk about today's game. Since the Nashville press didn't go to Texas, Coach Balcomb and the players also talked about Saturday's loss at Texas Christian.</i>

The Press: Coach, did you feel like you were any better offensively tonight than you were against TCU?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I thought we were very much better prepared for the physical play and the athleticism that we saw. It was very similar to TCU, and we prepared at practice. We did a much better job preparing ourselves for that kind of play.

The Press: Coach, do you think your team was helped by the emotional hurly burly of the first few minutes?

Coach Balcomb: I know I was. (Chuckles.) Yeah, I think we worked hard at showing what we were made of after a tough loss at TCU, and I think mentally, we came into the game with a tougher mentality, but then when the first couple of calls didn't go our way, you could say to be politically correct, then we really got to where we need to be. Nice people finish last, and we're trying to get meaner and madder and tougher mentally because I have some of the nicest girls in the world. But that has to change when they cross the line. And I think that we showed that we are capable of doing that today.

The Press: Could you talk about Abi Ramsey's play tonight?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, in practice we've noticed a change over the last couple of weeks. She's much more aggressive and verbal, and she's gaining confidence every day with that. And we really need that because we've been seeing so much zone, and when she can hit those three's, it's really opening up the inside. We're just really pleased with her intensity level and her aggressiveness and her confidence that she's building.

The Press: How concerned are you about the turnovers?

Coach Balcomb: I'm okay with that because I know in the last minute and fifty we had a bunch of those. I think that team was good defensively. They had eleven players. They played them all the time. They picked us up early. They were aggressive. I think the way we run we're going to have some turnovers, so that wouldn't be my biggest concern. My biggest concern at halftime was 10 offensive boards. They finished with 16 offensive boards, and us five, so I think we need to do a better job rebounding against teams like this. That's their strength -- second and third shots. Their best offense wasn't their first shot; it was their second or third, and we need to do a better job checking out on the boards.

The Press: You mentioned that they played a lot of players. Coming up over this stretch of five games in ten days, that's going to be critiical for this team.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, five games in ten days; four games in seven days. I feel like it's an NBA schedule right now for us. And I feel bad because it's break, and the girls don't have any time. But I think we've gotta be smart, and we've gotta take breaks when we can. I think our subs are working on getting in more, and I would like to be a little deeper at this point, but it just hasn't happened. We just have to be smart with what we do.

The Press: Revisiting Abi, she's become more than just a zone buster, hasn't she?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, actually defensively -- and we saw that in spurts early in the season. Abi's very capable defensively. I know she rebounded for us tonight. It's just a sense of overall confidence, and if you just look at her, you can see the difference in her as a player now and even two weeks ago. I don't how many assists she had tonight, but she has been one of our best post passers in practice every day. She just hadn't really gotten it into the game situation, and she's starting to carry it over into the games now, taking the next step.

The Press: Coach, as far as the defensive mentality on the road. How do you ratchet that up? TCU shot reasonably well --

Coach Balcomb: They shot very well.

The Press: -- and Charlotte didn't shoot very well. What do you do to continue the defensive aggressiveness on the road?

Coach Balcomb: I think, again, it's a mentality of toughness that we've been talking about and working on, and I think that TCU exploited that, and we need to learn from it and make changes, and that's something we've been working really hard it. I don't think it's the opponent as much as us, and fixing us -- coming out with a different attitude that we came out with at the start of the game, then after things didn't go well, and then even at halftime. I think we came out with a very good mentality at halftime. We're going to have to prepare ourselves the same way mentally on the road. Definitely. We've already started talking about that.

The Press: Was today a case of you playing well defensively or Charlotte not playing well offensively?

Coach Balcomb: It was a combination. One of the things I thought we did a really nice job of was, a much better job than we did at TCU, was our traps. We've been working really hard at those, and at TCU, we didn't do a good job, and they split a lot of our traps and then hit open shooters. And in this case, we forced them into a lot of turnovers with the traps. They had 25 turnovers, and I think the traps really got them out of sync and stopped them from running some of the things they wanted to run in their offense. And we didn't do that against TCU. Yes, TCU is a much better shooting team. They have a lot better shooters also than Charlotte.

The Press: You were better offensively today than at TCU, but overall, how would you rate the offensive performance today?

Coach Balcomb: The toughest part about TCU -- I know we played Charlotte today, and everyone is talking about TCU because you weren't there -- The toughest part about TCU, I'll be honest with you, we were 7-1, that's eight games, plus two exhibition games, if I do my math right, that was 10 games. TCU is an incredibly good man-to-man defensive team -- extremely physical, athletic, strong, okay?

So they played us man -- the first team, with a new coach, new system, on the road against a very good team. If you look at their schedule, they hadn't played one bad team out of all their games. Their record does not reflect what that team is, and we knew going in that was a very very good team. They'd almost beaten Oklahoma at home, and they played at Purdue, at Arkansas, at Texas. This is a serious team. What happened that was the first time we ran our man-to-man offense, and they manned us all game. We watched game film three hours yesterday, and Ashley McElhiney, the first thing she said after she watched it, the first words out of her mouth were, "It looked like our first game." And against man-to-man, that WAS our first game.

And you don't want to do it on the road, and when the first seven calls go against you, and they have a big crowd, and they're a good team -- that put us in a very tough situation. So we were more prepared for UNC-Charlotte today. One of them is because we just went against man-to-man, and Charlotte, that's their strength, and we played very well when they went man. We forced them to go zone most of the game. And we're comfortable against the zone, because we've played 11 games now seeing zone. It's a comfort level. It was not the time I wanted to see the first man-to-man, nor from the team I wanted to see it from if I had to choose. Does that make sense?

Coach Balcomb leaves, and senior center Chantelle Anderson, junior forward Jenni Benningfield, and sophomore guard Abi Ramsey entered.

The Press: Chantelle, one of the first things coach said when she came is that she's trying to make you all tougher, meaner, are you playing with more of a chip on your shoulder?

Chantelle: Well, I nearly knocked someone out, I hope that's proof -- no, I think we came out with more of an attitude today, like you said, a chip on our shoulder, they're walking in to our gym, we're not going to let them disrespect us, and we need to play with that every game, and we haven't been. And I think we did that today.

The Press: Did you almost knock someone out?

Chantelle: Oh no, I hit her, but she was in my space. I'll have to watch film to see whether I really threw an elbow or not, but I don't think I did, but I don't know. But yeah, my elbow hurts. I hope she's okay.

The Press: Can you describe what tonight's team was like compared to the team you played at TCU?

Chantelle: This team was pretty physical, and they pressured us, and we handled it very well tonight. And we got physical right back. We bumped cutters, we got low in traps, protected the ball, made passes out, we did all of that, and basically it was exactly the opposite than at TCU. They were physical, they bumped us, and we handled it exactly the opposite way we handled it today. We folded in traps, we folded under pressure, we didn't cut to get open, we didn't post strong. We didn't do a lot of stuff that we did today. I think we were really happy when we got to scout for this game because they were almost identical to TCU, so we were like, okay, well this will be a good two games to just get better and learn from what happens.

The Press: Abi, can you talk having the team in the midst of this five games in 10 days stretch during the semester break. As a student and as an athlete, can you talk about this stretch and do you enjoy all the games in that stretch?

Abi: Well, it's less practice time. (Players laugh.) I think it's good for us because we don't have class right now. So we're focused. It's a time we need to be focused. Everything's dedicated to basketball. Like the loss at Texas, yeah, that was bad, but we had time to immediately pick it up and have the opportunity to have a game two days later and know what we're made of. So even though it's tough and we're really worn down and this is our break, the time we should be getting a rest, it's really the time to know what we're made of.

The Press: Abi, can you talk about coming in and the spark you gave the team immediately with the 3-pointer. I guess it came at a time when they really needed it.

Abi: Well, I know for me as well as for most of the team, my focus tonight was mostly defense because we have been known as a soft team which is the thing we hate the most. I think also I'd been sitting on the bench; I was ready for the game, but when the foul to Chantelle came and everybody on the bench went crazy, I think that was what woke me up and made me ready to play. That's my job, as someone coming off the bench to see what's gone wrong on the floor to have a chance to come in there and already know waht to do. The ones that are out there don't really have the opportunity to talk with the coaches, so I'm learning while they're out there.

The Press: So do you feel like you have a little bit of advantage over the starters?

Abi: I don't want to be like "yeah" -- (players laugh) -- but yeah, mainly because I'm right there with the coaches I get to see it happen and talk to them right as the play is going on, and then when you're actually out there, you don't have the opportunity to step over there and talk to the coach.

Chantelle: : Sometimes you see stuff better when you are on the bench, because you can see holes, you can see where their defense is breaking down, whereas when you're on the court, sometimes it's moving so fast you sometimes don't realize that.

The Press: You don't want that vantage point too often.

Chantelle: No, I don't. No, no. Hopefully I don't have to get two fouls early every game to piss my team off, but --

Jenni: Let's not do that. We got your back, but let's not try to do that. (Players laugh)

The Press: Speaking of that, Jenni you had a double double, can you talk about your play today?
Jenni: Well, I didn't know that. Okay. No, that really doesn't mean anything to me. For me, this game was another growth spurt for this team. With the whole Texas game, it's been eating us sick, it's been eating us alive, the last 48 hours, I can't even tell you. We've been really focused. Our focus tonight was to come in, it's our house, we're going to show them who's boss, and to really do the things we know how to do, to be the team that we know how to be. Stats, whatever. Points? My teammates got me in a place where I could use my strengths. Defense, like Abi said, defense was the main focus for all of us, because we didn't play any in Texas. We didn't play up to our caliber. Really. That's just what it's all about, and I'm just really proud of the team. Stats don't really matter. We got the "W".

Chantelle: She was ripping down the boards though. (Chantelle demonstrates how Jenni pulls down the boards.)) Yeah. You have to give her that.

Jenni: I was really proud to see the way we reacted. We felt bad for Charlotte, just because we knew how mad we were. We were about to blow up. Just in practice yesterday, throughout practice we were so aggressive and went at each other, we knew we were ready for this game. That's what we've got to learn to do every day.

The Press: So now how do you take that focus on the road? No one can come in "our house", because now you're leaving "our house".

Jenni: No -- Every game you learn from, win or lose. With the whole Purdue and Texas games, both of those we lost, and we did not play up to our potential. Those two games are in the back of our minds, and we know how that feels and how upset we were at each other and at ourselves because we didn't play the way we know how. And when we go on the road, we've got to use that as a challenge and know that we can't let that happen again. We're a good team; we just need to come out and play every night, no matter where it is. And that's something we've got to learn to do every game, every day, especially in practice, bringing what we do in practice, picking it up a notch and bringing it to the game.

The Press: Jenni, speaking of road games, the next one is special for you.

Jenni: Yep. Going to Louisville, yep. It's going to be nice. A lot of friends and family are going to be there. I know the Louisville team pretty well. I've played with them and hung out with them in the summer. It's going to be a fun game. I'm looking forward to it because I know we're as focused now after the game as we were before the game, and we're going to be ... here on out. So it's going to be a good game. I'm looking forward to it.

The Press: Can you tell us anything about the Louisiville team?

Jenni: Louisville definitely has a point guard who was leading the nation in assists. Her name is Sara Nord, a very good point guard. But I have all the confidence in the world in our guards. Our guards hav been playing awesome. Last year we took it at them and beat them pretty good. They have a little bit of quckness. It doesn't even really matter, to be honest, what they have and what they do because if we play like we know how, we're going to be fine.

The Vandy players left, and UNC-Charlotte Coach Katie Meier took her turn.

Coach Meier: We were real concerned about the first five minutes of the game, trying to establish our game plan and that type of thing, and obviously things went our way, and we were pretty excited. But I have to compliment Vanderbilt because -- and I said this to Chantelle Anderson out in the hallway -- You're a super player, but you really kept your composure, you need to be complimented on that, we did everything we could to try to make you lose it, and you didn't. That's a kid who's obviously got a lot of pressure on her this year; she's thinking about her future, her scoring average. I know it's hard for someone who's being double-teamed all the time to keep it together and stay calm. I think the story of the game is that one team kept their composure and the other team didn't.

The Press: Coach, how did you feel like Vandy would react coming off TCU?

Coach Meier: Well, there are two things. You don't want to wake a sleeping giant, so I had some regret when I saw that score, because I was like, gosh, I'd like to catch them fat and happy on New Year's Eve. That would have been nice. I know Melanie well enough to know that they weren't going to be fat and happy. I think Melanie's a great coach, and I've watched her coaching style for years. There are certain coaches that I really respect that I've watched over the years, and she's one of them. And she's tough. And I knew they would come back. On the flip side, we were hoping there would be a little bit of doubt, and a little bit of yips in their shots. We were wishing they'd have the yips, and unfortunately we had them. And we're a really good shooting team, and that was a really poor performance, especially in the first half going 0 for 11 from the 3. I was kinda hoping Vanderbilt would have a little doubt in their shots and choke and falter a little bit, but they stepped up. They were pretty confident.

The Press: Coach, what postiives did you see in your team tonight?

Coach Meier: This is the first time I've really been stressed to answer that. I really feel like our defensive game plan was pretty impressive. We obviously don't have a lot of size. We are typically a man-to-man team, so you're asking us to change a lot. And I do feel very good about that. Our tallest starter -- we lie, she isn't even 6'2. But we didn't have a lot of size, and I felt like we did a great job in the paint defensively tonight, just a tremendous job. So I'm real pleased with that. I'll have to stop there.

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