Women's Hoops: Auburn press conference

<I>After Vanderbilt's 67-66 come-from-behind victory at Auburn, the Vanderbilt and Auburn players and coaches talked with the press. First, Auburn sophomore guard Natasha Brackett, junior forward Le'Coe Willingham, and Auburn Head Coach Joe Ciampi answered questions. </i>

The Press: Natasha, is this the hardest loss you've had to deal with?

Natasha: (Can't say anything; just nods head.)

The Press: Le'Coe, can you talk about the last play? The last shot?

Le'Coe: Basically, we kinda knew that they wanted to dump it down into Anderson, but they had all their shooters on the floor, so we weren't able to give help down on the inside, and they got the ball down into her.

The Press: Did you have a decent shot there at the end?

Le'Coe: An all-right look, but it didn't go in.

The Press: Coach, do you want to make some comments?

Coach Ciampi: First of all, I'm heart-broken for this team, the way they played, how hard they played, just the situation. I thought we had great focus and a great defensive plan. Give credit to Vanderbilt for finding ways to score and getting those key shots when they needed to, and they knocked down the free throws when they had to at the end. It's just a situation where we didn't finish them off when we could have, and they fought back and fought back, and they got an opportunity.

The Press: Joe, after you were up by 21 with 10 minutes left, they scored 15 points on free throws, was there something happening with the fouls under the basket?

Coach Ciampi: Well, we got ourselves in foul trouble, they got the bonus awful early, and that was the self-discipline you have to possess in terms of staying in the game. Don't run the clock off, don't give them an opportunity to go to the fre throw line, which we did, and then for some reason for 30 minutes we did a great job on their 3-point shooters. They were 2 for 10 the first half, and then they go 4 for 8 the second half. We gave them standing 3's, which for 30 minutes, I thought we did a great job, and all of a sudden, we just broke down. When they knocked some of those 3's down, they got in a position where they got some energy and they came back at us. They hit all their free throws at the end, and we missed two. That hurts. That hurts.

The Press: Can you talk about the first half, what you did to put some distance between you? Did you see something in Vanderbilt's defense?

Coach Ciampi: I thought we did a great job offensively of finding the gaps and having some good ball movement, and just making great plays and getting the ball to our shooters. Then all of a sudden when we got the lead, we lost that self-discipline to keep going at them the way we had. We were trying to shoot over Anderson, and you don't shoot over Anderson. Anderson's a great ball player. You've got to find a way to be in the position where you look for the gaps, you take the gaps and you go from there. We stopped getting into those gaps on dribble drives and kick outs.

The Press: Coach, how do you get mentally prepared for the next game?

Coach Ciampi: That's a good question. Right now, just like a great win, we tell them to enjoy it tonight and then from there, you've got to come back ready at 12:30 tomorrow. We've got to refocus tomorrow, and that's my job. But I'll find a way. This is too good of a team not to find a way.

The Press: Coach, is this one of the more disappointing losses you've had in a while?

Coach Ciampi: Every loss is disappointing in the SEC, especially when you have an opportunity to win. You'd have to ask the players that. I feel bad for them, this is their team; I'm along for the ride, and they worked so hard in preparing and getting ready, it's just a matter of re-focusing now. We did some things that were under our control defensively that we shouldn't have done, and we have to correct those, and we have to get better at them. No matter what the score is, we have to stay focused in what we have to carry out.

The Auburn contingent left the room, and Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb took her turn behind the microphone.

The Press: Can you talk about the difference in the first ten minutes and the rest of the game?

Coach Balcomb: I don't even think it was the first ten minutes. I think the whole first half -- and I told them at halftime that it was the worst half I'd seen our Vanderbilt team play since I've been here. It was almost like we had an over-confidence on offense and just got away from our offenses and were starting to do everything on our own and were taking shots that aren't even in our offense. And also we acted like our offense was going to be so good that we wouldn't have to play defense. So everything was on our offense.

And they did a great job of playing us personnel-wise, who to sag off of, who to pressure, who to stay behind, who not to, who to double on. They were very very prepared for us defensively. So then what happened was we ended up at halftime talking about that, and going back to-- and I think still the first ten minutes of the second half, they got their lead right back and I didn't think that we made the adjustments until the last ten minutes of the game. And the last ten minutes of the game, we started doing what we had done to improve each game, which we had been doing until we got here.

As Coach Balcomb was talking, senior point guard Ashley McElhiney, senior center Chantelle Anderson, and junior forward Jenni Benningfield entered the room. It was requested that Ashley Mac answer questions first so that she could go to the training room for treatment of her ankle.

The Press: Ash, can you talk about the big 3 there at the end?

The Press: Finally it went in. I guess that's all that matters. Coach just told me to keep shooting. I did. I listened, and it went in when it counted.

The Press: Ashley, when you came in, what was your mindset and of the team at that point?

Ashley Mac: We really didn't know what was happening. We weren't doing anything offensively or defensively, um --

Coach Balcomb: Very flat.

Ashley Mac: Yeah. We came out with no emotion. Just nothing. Like Coach said, we were flat. We had no intensity. On the road you're supposed to more enthused, more into the game than you are at home. We didn't come out like that. We only played probably llike that 5 minutes of the game, and that's when we played as a team, and it was a team effort to get the win.

The Press: How's the ankle?

Ashley Mac: Good.

Chantelle: She played 36 minutes on it.

Coach Balcomb: It looked great to me. It was great to have her out there.

With no further questions for her, Ashley Mac left the room.

The Press: Chantelle, can you talk about what Auburn was doing the defensively, that resulted in you getting to the free throw line late in the game?

Chantelle: Well, I know they were doubling, and my coaches have been yelling at me to go baseline for I don't know how long, and I just won't listen, I don't know why. I just haven't been doing it. I keep trying to go middle. I mean, have I been going middle for three years? I don't know, it just seems so natural, and I have to condition myself to go baseline, so they were doubling from the middle, and I kept trying to go middle. It was turnovers, it was forced shots, and I don't know where my head was at. And then we started to make our run, and I started to get to the free throw line and get more shots, it was more high-low and they can't double us easily. Like when you post in the middle, the double can't come from anywhere. So we started taking advantage of that more.

The Press: Chantelle, did you have some personal turning point in the game, some point at which you became more focused?

Chantelle: I don't really know. I wish I did, so maybe I could something, whatever triggered it, every time. I know there was a point when I did start to play a lot better, more active, stronger, and that's when stuff started going right. But I don't know exactly. I think when I went in the final time, I started being more active immediately, and when I got to the free throw line, I was like, okay, and starting to get into the game slowly, because I wasn't in it until then. At all.

The Press: Confidence is a word that's been thrown around the program a lot this year. You came back from 21 points down with 10 minutes left, if that doesn't give you confidence--

Coach Balcomb: We're hoping to use that for the future.

The Press: I know you don't want to get down 21, but this has got to be one of the ultimate confidence builders.

Chantelle: Oh, definitely. I mean, we're on the road. You look at something that happened earlier in the season when we were at TCU on the road. We were down, it was a similar situation. We were down a big margin, and we kinda just laid down and played out the game, and we never came back. We didn't have the character and the heart at that point in the season to come back from such a large deficit. And tonight we showed that we have improved in that area. I don't think even when we were down, we didn't believe that we were totally out of it. And so we showed confidence, we showed character and heart. And I think that was definitely the difference in the game. Gosh, I would have hated to see if we had played for the whole game, but that's nice to see, especially when we have something earlier in the season to compare it to that was a similar situation.

The Press: Jenni or Chantelle, can you talk about that last 40 seconds of the game after Ashley Mac hit the 3, and you had to get a defensive stop at the other end?

Chantelle: Um, what happened-- (Everybody talking together.) do you remember what happened, Jenni? -- (Somebody says "tie ball".)Oh yeah, and then I dove on the floor or something--it was jump ball or something. (Somebody says, "Yep", "Dove on the floor", "jump ball".)) It was jump ball, and it was our ball. I ended up on the floor. Maybe I fell. (Laughs.)

Coach Balcomb: It was loose ball in the middle of the paint, and you came up--(Everybody still talking at once.)

Chantelle: No, 'cause I was going for the ball. Really. I don't know. It was a tie-up, because I remember--

Coach Balcomb: Somebody tipped it--

Chantelle: Yeah--

Coach Balcomb: --in the middle and somebody tipped it from behind, Hillary or somebody--

Chantelle: -- and I tried to go get it, and then it was a tie-up, and then-- I ended up getting it.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, she got the loose ball.

Chantelle: It was our possession, I guess, and we went-- (Laughter breaks out again.) God, I don't know. (More laughter.) Ohmigosh, I don't remember.

Jenni: I think the thing is, I remember everybody just stepped up and no one gave up on each other. I remember looking at the bench and seeing it was going crazy, knowing that we had this chance, this opportunity to win the game, and to see everybody so excited. That gave us that much more confidence going into the play we were running.

The Press: Did you ever have a doubt that you would be able to pull it out?

Chantelle: Well, when it's in the first half, and it's 23-2-- (Laughter erupts again.)

Jenni: -- it's going to be a long night. Long night.

Chantelle: It's going to be a long night, BUT-- I still knew that we could come back. Like you're thinking, ohmigosh, okay. Okay. Something crazy has to happen.

Jenni: Something to get you back on track.

Chantelle: Exactly. When we started coming out and chipping away at the lead, I was like okay, okay. We can do this. We got this. I just kept saying, we can do this. And then when we got it down-- when we cut the lead to four points, finally, and they went to the free throw line and it went back up to six, but when we cut it to four, I was like, "We are winning this game for sure. There is no way they are going to win this game." That's when I knew for sure.

The Press: How about you, Jenni?

Jenni: Along the same terms as her. In the first half, we're down 21 and we cut it down to 10 at halftime. We knew that we could come back. We just knew-- there were things in the game, back up to 15 early in the second half, and back up to 21, but it goes along with what I said before, the coaches never gave up on us, and everybody on the court, and off the court, really stuck with it. It was hard night, but to come out with a win like that on the road, that does a lot for us. It really does.

The Press: You talked about getting down 23-2 then cutting it to 10 at the half. Then they come out and score 6 points--

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, my halftime talk really worked. . . . (Self-deprecating laugh, and general laughter erupts again.) They always say to you, "What did you say to them at halftime?" because I've come back before with teams, down 19, 20, whatever. And it's always, "What did you say at halftime?" like I did some miracle thing that I said. And this team, I haven't figured them out yet. I said all that, and then I told them what I thought of the effort and how poor it was, and then we go back, and they play worse -- they proved me right again! So I really couldn't really figure out why they all of a sudden got on the run that they did.

The best part of it was that-- my whole problem at halftime was that we weren't playing as a team. And the effort wasn't there defensively. We were trying to live off our offense. In the second half, our defense created our offense. Our defensive intensity, our pressure, our pressing, and our rebounding, all that created so much offense. Chantelle was running the floor, getting fouled. We started creating opportunities, where they now had to get tired and guard us. And then at the end of the game, when we decided to get our act together, everybody did something. Hillary hit that big 3 to start it off, and got a huge offensive rebound. Huge offensive rebound. Abi stepped up and hit a couple of big 3's. Mac hits that humongous 3. Chantelle makes the winning basket. Jenni steps up and plays, I can't even tell you how much better defensively than she had moved the whole time. She made post moves at the end of the game, she made some really really nice post moves when we got it in that she didn't attempt in the first half-- it was the step back. (Jenni says, "Yeah".)
So all of a sudden, every part of our game was there at the same time. Our 3's were going, our running game was going, and our high-low game was going. And we were making our free throws. (Chantelle says, "Finally!") But it was like-- it was so neat. If you want a comeback to happen, you don't want somebody to have to then personally bring you back. And Tia Battle kept us in the game until she fouled out. Her effort was one of the best efforts I've ever seen her-- that's why I kept her in there till she had five. I couldn't afford to take her out. I was going to play her till she dropped, because her effort kept us in that game till halftime. And her enthusiasm on the bench, and her leadership. So everybody had a huge part. The bench never quit on us. It was so nice, because everything I had said at halftime was that we got selfish, we started not playing as a team, and look at the disaster. Then it was so nice in the second half when we made that comeback, everybody had a hand in it. Everybody had a piece of it. And that's what's you dream about happening as a coach. And them seeing that.

The Press: Well, can you do it without getting down 21?

Coach Balcomb: Well, if I had it my way, we wouldn't have ever been down 21. But-- I thought we were down 25, somebody said. (The Press says, "21".) 21? 25 sounds better. It's like a fish story. It keeps getting bigger. By tomorrow, we were down 35.

The Press: Is that the biggest comeback you've coached?

Coach Balcomb: I really don't know. I had a really good comeback with a team in the A-10 tournament. I know we were down 19, so I think 21 might have beaten it. And we had to go overtime to win that one, and I know it was an awesome game. It was televised, and a reporter told me it was the best comeback she had ever seen. It's just a thrill when you see your team come back and show the heart that they did tonight. It makes me sleep a lot better tonight, knowing they have that heart.

Chantelle: A better ride home! (Laughter.)

Jenni: We were about to be watching film on the bus.

Coach Balcomb: We were about to be doing a lot of things. (Laughter) I was not happy.

The Press: So were you already making plans for tomorrow?

Coach Balcomb: Oh yeah. I was very upset at their effort at halftime. They know that. That's the worst first half we've played as a Vanderbilt team since I've been here. And we had been getting better and better each game, and that's why I was so frustrated. I really thought we had gone over the hump. I thought we had really started to do what we were looking to do, and especially with getting Ashley back.

The Press: So that was the worst first half. What about the second half?

Coach Balcomb: Last ten minutes, I'm thrilled with the last ten minutes.

Chantelle: Yeah, the first half of the second half was about as bad.

Coach Balcomb: Ten minutes where we put the defense and the offense together, and that's just exciting. It's exciting to see what the possibilities are, if we can do that for 40 minutes, which we're going to have to do against the best teams.

* * * * *

VandyMania.com Top Stories