Women's Hoops: Arkansas press conference

<i>After Vanderbilt's 76-59 victory over the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks, the Vanderbilt and Arkansas coaches and players met the press. First, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb answered questions.</i>

The Press: You had no 3-point shots, and your field goal percentage set a record. Was that part of the plan?

Coach Balcomb: Basically the reason our field goal percentage was like it was was because of their defense. We either turned it over, or we scored and were wide open when we scored. We knew going in that if we handled the pressure that we would get easy looks, that if we handled the initial pressure on the ball on our guards on the traps, then we would get those easy shots that we got. I just told them when they got it, not to freak out that they were that open. Because they do such a great job pressuring, denying, you get through that initial part, they take so many chances that in the back if you can get the ball inside and you can go deep on them, then you're going to get those easy looks. And sometimes people miss those because they're so surprised they're so open because they've banged and physicalled the whole time. So we either had an assist to us, to an assist to them, and I was hoping we wouldn't have so many assists to them.

The biggest rec I think would be to win a game of this magnitude and have 24 turnovers. If you look at how many times they scored, we held them to 59, but how many of those points were one on none? If you take away our assists to them, five on five, you can cut those numbers in half. I think we did a great job. We wanted to play five on five with them defensively. That was our goal, not to let them have those easy one on none layups.

The Press: With the turnovers Hillary and Erica had, how would you classify their on-court performance?

Coach Balcomb: I'm really just proud of how they handled it. You've got a walk-on that's never seen pressure like that in her life, right out of high school with no experience much all season and was pressed and trapped and pressed and trapped by some of the best athletes in the country. And she wore down, is what happened. I was nervous about putting Hillary at the point because Hillary had four fouls at that point, and Hillary was doing a good job being strong at doing the things she does well for us at the guard position and rebounding. So it was a tough call, but we had to go to Hillary and thank God that Hillary kept herself in the game. Erica was just worn down physicallly. When Hillary came in, I think she did a great job. I know it probably doesn't look that way, but when you've never had that pressure on you and been in that position, that's the first time in the game when you've been running the offense, I think that was a good effort.

The Press: i think at some point in the first half, you had both Hillary and Jenni on the bench with 2 fouls and you decided to come back with them?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah. Philosophically, I usually keep them out if I can if we have a lead, but with this team and the pressure, both Hillary and Jenni are two of our more physical, stronger players and were handling the pressure well, and I made that decision that I felt like we had to keep our lead, we couldn't let them make run early, and I just took my chances and really talked to them about being smart and not getting that third foul.

The Press: Can you talk about the combination of defenses that you used to keep Shameka and India quiet in the first half?

Coach Balcomb: We really packed it in. We packed it in on everybody but their shooters, and India, we played her as a shooter, and we really focused on the personnel all week and decided who we were going to do what to, and that they had to know personnel, and I think that was the best thing. We executed our game plan better defensively than we have all year. We played two different zones and switched those up, so they were really unsure of which defense we were in at times, I think, and then that helped us inside for rebounding. We wanted to limit the penetration. What they like to do is penetrate in and kick out for their shots, and penetrate in and shoot and make you rotate up and crash the boards, and I thought we did a good job rebounding to out-rebound this team was really key. I thought if played five-on-five defensively and limited them to one chance that we would have a chance to win the game.

The Press: Like the Kentucky game, free throws were pivotal. You had twice as many free throws, what do you attribute that to?

Coach Balcomb: We've been telling and telling our team not to shoot so many three's and to drive as far as our guards and get the ball inside, but they pressured us. They force you to drive. So you've got no optionhey force you to drive, and I thought Tia and Hillary getting to the foul line more than they ever have. Those guys driving to the basket trying to -- and Jenni trying to drive, even Chantelle had faced up and driven a few time. We knew they would have to drive with confidence and drive to score because that's what they're going to make you do, put it on the floor. They're not going to give you the three.

The Press: Did it shock you to find that you didn't even attempt a three?
Coach Balcomb: No, because of the pressure and what they were trying to do to us it didn't surprise me at all. What surprised me is that we shot the ball 72% from the field and 69 from the free throw line. That's probably another record. That's not a good one. I think we had a couple of bad records in this game, too.

The Press: Did it seem to you that neither team was into it the first few minutes of the game, maybe the crowd was down because of the weather, or just good defense?

Coach Balcomb: To be honest, I think we came out pretty good. I think we scored the first two possesions, and I thought we were ready to play. I think when you play a sagging zone like that on a team that wants to drive all the time, it made them stand up and be stagnant right away, which is what we wanted.

The Press: Coach, with about 5 minutes left it was a 16-point ball game. When do you start wtaching the clock and trying to eat into that?

Coach Balcomb: We did, but it was so difficult because they were just going to come out you with two and three people and trap and try to steal the ball, so it becomes very difficult to hold onto the ball. If you don't lose the ball, if you make a pass or two out of the trap, you're going to have wide open shots. So we continued to score, but to alleviate the pressure from the presses, every time out, I had to keep telling them to continue to attack. When we didn't attack, that's when we were giving them the assists for their baskets. So it's kind of different from most games. Most games you would want to pull back and take your time. Every time we tried to do that, we were unsuccessful because we had to hold the ball longer, we had to dribble longer, execute more. That's when they were going to trap and strip us, so we really tried to keep attacking and keep scoring -- which is not Basketball 101, but against that kind of pressure defense, you have to do that. You can't become too timid. It was our game plan all night to be aggressive and attack and go for it, and you don't want your team to then pull back and become hesitant and play not to lose. We wanted to keep playing to win. So we took a lot of chances, threw a lot of long bombs and continued to do that.

The Press: What's up with the long balls? Is that something you just pulled out tonight?

Coach Balcomb: I've always done that. You've got to alleviate the pressure at some point, and they just kep coming after us, and we weren't handling it. With a great point guard, with Ashley, you don't run it so much, you try to do it here and there when you think you can beat people on it. But we really had to do it a lot more than I normally do it. You have to beat the initial pressure and in the back, if you can handle it again where there's the pressure half-court pressure defense, you get easier points on the other end.

Coach Balcomb left the interview room, then Arkansas Head Coach Gary Blair took his turn at the microphone.

The Press: Coach, Shameka pulled up lame on the first possession and did it affect her the rest of the game?

Coach Blair: No, Vanderbilt affected us most of the game. The injury-- she sprained the other ankle. At shootaround today, she turned her ankle pretty good, and we weren't sure if she was going to go. First play of the game was a set play. We had her pinned, and Instead of scoring on the easy side, she tried to reverse to the other side, missed the shot and turned it, but I thought she came back like a trooper and kept us in the game in the second half. So it's all Vanderbilt. It wasn't the ankle. She's not going to make excuses, and we're not either.

The Press: There was a play in the second half where India had a wide open layup and missed it. Does that kind of sum up the night for you?

Coach Blair: The key to the second half was, when we got it to 48-43, I believe, we were stealing the ball and getting fouled and making one out of two free throws, stealing the ball, missing the layup. Harper came in, missed a wide open layup, tried to do a French twist instead of just walking in and shooting. It's just something that when you play chaotic at the second half, knowing that we were playing on emotion, not great basketball ability because they took us out of everything we wanted to do. The only way to get back in was through the press and to gamble a little and if we could have gotten over the head, perhaps they wouldn't have ran their offense so good. But then we made a couple of fouls, or had a couple of fouls called, and they made their free throws. They got their second wind and handled us.

One of the key plays of the ball game I thought right before the half when Shameka steals the ball, goes in, and supposedly -- of course everybody has a better angle than me because I'm down there in the end zone where they kick field goals down there, but if she didn't get her with her body, then you're not growing a beard over there (nodding at a reporter). BUt the kid blocked the ball. She got her from behind with a block, but we wanted the body foul. But that would have given us an emotional lift right before half, and sometimes that's what happens. Then in the second half, give them credit, you shoot 72%, you're going to win the ball games.

I thought their little walkon did as good as she could in there. Forget Hager's stats. She kicked us every time on the free throw lane, cutting across, beating out man. Every time, Hager beat her man. And that's ridiculous. We got beat every play by one kid coming across. Benningfield and Anderson played like they are all-SEC performers, which they are. It was unusual not playing against Ashley in there. We's played her so many times, but she was doing a good job cheering her team at the end. But maybe that's good for Vanderbilt. Now they know they can win, because they're not going to have her next year. But they've sure got a good one coming in to replace her.

The Press: Would you have changed your approach if Ashley was playing tonight?

Coach Blair: No. I didn't like how we pressed to start the game. We had to get behind before our press got good. You've got to find your man, pick up your man. It wasn't that their press breaker was that good; we lost our man a couple of times on long bombs. That's going to happen when you're a pressing team. You're going to get beat a couple of times, but you can't let that fear get into you, that they're going to score a layup. What you've got to do is force turnovers, take them out of their offense. When they did run their offense, they ran it a whole better than we ran ours.

The Press: So you all didn't necessarily do anything different in the second half defensively?

Coach Blair: We played for a little bit of pride, and the pressure was a whole lot better. But obviously, we didn't guard the high low. That was the key to the ball game. What's that thing they say at our place? "It's a simple game. Pass it here. Catch it here. Throw it here. Score." Our rude crew behind our bench gets into a chant. And that's what it was. It was simple what Vanderbilt was doing. You stop the high low by not giving them the high. That's the bottom line. You put enough ball pressure on the high where they don't get it there. We didn't do it. I mean, we got some mind-boggling stats. How would you like to have one offensive rebound by your five starters, and a total of six rebounds by your starters? Well, there isn't a whole lot of rebounds to get if they're putting the ball in the basket.

But there's a lot of good teams in this league, and I tried to get my freshmen to experience what the road was all about. But believe it or not, my two freshmen off the bench, along with Cara Wright, probably played as good as Shameka. Rochelle Vaughn, Sarah Pfeifer, and Cara Wright played extremely good coming off the bench for young kids. I've just got to get my older kids who are supposed to be veterans hooked up a little bit better because we're going to see 40 minutes of zone against Auburn coming up. So sometimes you go on the road in this league and eat humble pie --and that's what we did.

Coach Blair then left, and Arkansas senior guard India Lewis, junior forward Shameka Christon, and freshman forward Sarah Pfeifer took the stand.

The Press: Shameka, I'm a little uncleara. Did you hurt the same ankle you did in the shootaround?

Shameka: No. I hurt the other one. Shootaround left, game right.

The Press: Was it a matter of having trouble shooting the ball in the first half?

Shameka: Most definitely. We didn't shoot to well in the first half, but at the same time, they really did a great job of executing their offense, especially using their post players.

The Press: It looked like you guys struggled against the zone. Was ut anything in particular?

Shameka: I think that our shots just weren't falling because we got all the open looks that we're used to having. They just didn't fall for us.

India: They did a pretty good job chasing me around. Every shot I took was contested. But once again, if we would have hit a couple of the inside shots, that probably would have gave us confidence to hit our outside shots. it just didn't happen tonight.

The Press: India, did you all consciously come after 11 any harder than you would have Ashley McElhiney?

India: No, not at all. . . . That was our plan to press them from the beginning. . . . (inaudible) more in the second half and we were trapping the ball and doing everything we could to get back into the game. But that's just how we play. That's our style. If it would have been her out there, we probably would have been doing the same exact thing to her.

The Press: Sara, you came in early and had 6 quick points. Would you like to have stayed in longer?

Sarah: I was there to help us out to give us a quick start, and then he put Shameka back in. We needed her.

The Press: The zone that they played, had you seen that on tape, or was it a little bit different tonight?

India: No, we've seen it on tape. We did.

Shameka: We worked on it in practice. Once again, in practice we hit the same shots that we had tonight. Tonight they just didn't fall. And I think that kind of got next to a lot people on the team, and they're ready to go back and get in the gym tonight even with 7:30 classes in the morning. It's just a tough break.

India: Yeah, if you're shooting what they shot for the game, that makes it a lot easier to go play defense. When you're hitting everything you take, you get energy from everywhere to play defense, and I think that's what they had tonight. They were feeding off their offense, and that was giving them more energy to play on the defensive end. . . .

The Press: Does a lot of your pressing come off made shots? Maybe you didn't have as many chances to press?

India: Well, that's true. There were dead balls, too. We just couldn't get going. It was one of those things. We just had a slow start. Everyone was just a couple of steps slower, including myself and it showed tonight. It showed on the scoreboard bigtime.

Shameka: And it caught up with us. We've done it a couple of times this year where we had a slow start, but we were able to pull through. I think in the second half we were trying to really get after them and press and pressure trying to get back in it. But, like I said, Vanderbilt did a great job with their inside game.

The Arkansas players left, then Vanderbilt junior forward Jenni Benningfield, senior center Chantelle Anderson, and freshman point guard Erica Grimaldi wrapped up the press conference.

The Press: Jenni, you had 24 against Kentucky, 28 tonight, does that mean 32 at LSU?

Jenni: Hey, I hope so. I won't complain. Gosh, man, that'd be nice.

The Press: What's wrong with your hand?

Jenni: My wrist is sore, it's from charges and stuff over the last couple of games. It's fine.

The Press: Did that feel like an extended layup drill?

Jenni: No, no, we had to work for it. We knew what we had to come out and do, what roles we had to come out and do. Everybody just gave every thing they could, and we came out with the win. This goes back to the very beginning of the season when we had our first meeting, and we had our goals, and to beat Arkansas was one of our goals, and we were able to cross that goal out tonight. That's a huge confidence booster. And the way everybody stepped up, including Erica, with all the pressure she had, that was incredible. Like coach said coming in here tonight, be happy about it, but tomorrow we've gotta work, we've got LSU on Sunday. We can't be satisifed with it, we have to get ready for the next game.

The Press: Erica, talk about the pressure in first half and maintaining your composure and then in the second half, what happened?

Erica: They switched up who was guarding me in the second half, and then they started doing it run and jump. So in the first half, it was just man on man, and so if I beat my player, it was just like "start the offense". In the second half, it was like a trap, so I was doing some freshman mistakes, turning the ball over, and luckily Hillary came in and did an awesome job. It was like 5 when I went out. Hillary came in, and we got back up by like 20. So she came in and got the job done.

The Press: Erica, could you talk about your first college start? 20 minutes in the first half?

Erica: It felt great. It's like a dream come true to be here in the first place and to be out here with Chantelle and Benni and knowing that I have the best point guard who's hurt. It's something that you think about in your dreams, so I was just trying to live it up, and I really wanted to beat this team. And I know WE really wanted to beat this team.

The Press: Chantelle, four steals, could you talk about your zone defenses and how it worked for you?

Chantelle: Well, we put in a new zone. We put in a 3-2 zone defense. And I think a couple came in that, and a couple came in our normal matchup. Today I felt so different. It was like everything was like in slow motion to me. I was seeing things ahead of time. It was just a great feeling. The only other time I can remember was in the Kentucky game, and that's the only other time I've felt like that all year. So hopefully I can keep it up and continue. But I just think our defense was moving as one. When I went to one side, Jenni was right there, like we were all on a string. That's how it's supposed to work, and it just worked how it was supposed to work today. We were all talking, moving as one. It was awesome. It was a great feeling to be out there with all these.

The Press: So are you more pleased with your defense or your 76 points against the #8 team in the country?

Chantelle: I think more our defensive, because that's something we had been struggling with. And we executed our offense, but we won because of our defense. This team can put up some points. They have Dana Cherry, they have Shameka Christon-- they can score. India Lewis, they can all score. So I was just really happy with our defense, and I think the team as a whole is more pleased with our defense than our offense.

Jenni: I'm going to add to that. With defense, rebounding. We've been doing so many checkout drills in the past two weeks. The Arkansas coach told us that in their starting five they had one offensive board and six total for the whole game. Still that's something we need to work on, but I think that was an awesome job as far as on the defensive end, keeping them off the boards and preventing them from getting easy baskets. They still got theirs, but we definitely made a better effort at that tonight, so I think that was definitely a good thing.

The Press: What "out"? What did you say?

Jenni: Check out.

Chantelle: Where you put this clear thing over the basket, so no shots go in.

Jenni: It's called the bubble.

Chantelle: We've been killing each other.

Erica: Understatement right there. (Laugher)

Chantelle: It's about time we checked somebody else out.

The Press: How big is this game for you? Being able to get to 2-2, how big is that?

Chantelle: Jenni talked about a confidence booster. I think that's exactly what it is. It gave us things to improve on, but we saw our hard work pay off today. We've been working really hard in practice. And I think everybody came together, rallied around Mac, and were like, we have to step it up and work that much harder for Erica, for Hillary, for the people that aren't used to running the position. And then when Mac gets back, it's going to be that much better. But I just think that it's a huge confidence booster. We have 24 hours to celebrate this and be happy with ourselves about tonight. Then we have to get right back to practice and keep working this hard and with this intensity because we have a very tough game AT LSU, so I don't think -- I just think it's a confidence booster.

The Press: You just beat the team that beat LSU.

Chantelle: But you know what? That doesn't mean anything in the SEC. We were at home, and they were away.

Jenni: One game at a time.

Chantelle: Exactly. I'm not even looking at that. I'm sure we'll watch a lot of film of that game, but they play with the same defensive scheme as Arkansas. They pressure the guards, but if you can get past their first line of pressure, then it's relieved a little bit. So hopefully, we have confidence now because we just handled Arkansas' pressure.

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VandyMania photos of Melanie Balcomb, Gary Blair, Shameka Christon, India Lewis, Jenni Benningfield, Erica Grimaldi and Chantelle Anderson by Micah Miller. Photo of VU players at bottom by Whitney D.

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