Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I told my team right after-- that's what I told them at the end of the game. That was my postgame talk. I felt like this was the first game that Georgia had to match our intensity defensively. Every night we've said, "We've got to match this team's intensity; we've got to match this team's level of physical play." They had to match ours tonight. I felt like this was the first game that we were prepared mentally, and the mental game we really handled well. We were very very mentally tough tonight. They were very very physical from the tip, denying, pressuring the ball out of our hands.
And it was ugly. It was one of the ugliest first halves I've seen. But I felt like we handled ourselves extremely well. We held our composure extremely well, and we were very mentally tough. And our hustle plays on defense, there were always two or three people hustling and diving on the floor. That defensive intensity and hustle really made a huge difference in the game tonight, I felt.
The Press: Was that the kind of play that led to the winning points?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, we didn't plan it that way. What we had tried to do was to try to get to the point where our defense was creating better offensive-- they were very physical defensively, and they were denying and pressuring, stepping in passing lanes, so we weren't executing well, weren't shooting the ball well because of all that. They were taking a lot away.
So what we wanted to do was to create more turnovers defensively so that we could get those transition baskets that we got, like with Tia, and being able to kick the ball up and our posts posting right out of transition and getting some 3's out of transition and getting some layups. We didn't hit the 3's, but we got what we wanted from our defense to create those opportunities that we weren't getting five on five. We didn't want to play five on five on offense.
The Press: With Thomas and Braxton in there, did you worry about the high low not working for you?
Coach Balcomb: No, not really because I don't focus on the other team. I was more worried about defending their high low with Thomas and Braxton. I think that's a big part of their game also. I thought this was a great matchup. I think they a great point guard; I think we have a great point guard. I think they have a great high low; I think we have a great high low. So I thought going into this game it was a very very good matchup as far as what they had to take away from us, maybe it was different, but the players, position-wise, a lot of things were similar, and I know their point was a key, and their high low was a key, and our point was a key and our high low was a key.
The Press: Having said that, were you looking to get something from somewhere else since those negated each other?
Coach Balcomb: Y'know, I'm always thinking on the positive end. I didn't think they would negate us, and we would still be able to go high low. I was hoping that they would still have to double if we could get the ball in to Chantelle or Jenni, which people are doing -- and they're starting to work really well together, passing to each other -- that's what I was hoping. I also thought we might have to kick out a little more than we did, but we threw some ball fakes, and they ran back out, and then we went one on one. It's just another example of how I felt like we held our composure when we caught the ball inside. We slowed down, and that's all we kept telling them in the first half was to slow-- they were forcing us to go real fast, which was causing us to turn the ball over, so I thought we did a better job of slowing down, especially in the post.
The Press: Can you talk about what Tia gave you in the second half?
Coach Balcomb: She gave us the ability to drive, which is what they were giving us, and she gave us the ability to run in transition and get up the floor.
The Press: After starting out slowly in the SEC, where did the turnaround come for this team?
Coach Balcomb: Again, I think we've played well since our first two losses. The first loss at Mississippi State was a tough loss for us on the road. First game in the SEC with a new coach, new team, new transition. And, to be honest with you, I didn't expect to win right away with all that said. And then South Carolina was a really odd circumstance here with all the snow that day. There were about 50 people in the stands, and Chantelle didn't even make shoot around and was stuck at her home. I think we were all out of sync, and I wore a sweatsuit because I couldn't go home, and everything was really wierd and out of sync, and we played poorly, and South Carolina's a very good team, and it put us 0-2.
And I think after that point, we really have improved every single game and gotten better. Our only two other losses are to LSU and TN, which are ranked whatever in the country -- I don't know, it doesn't matter, right now they're at the top -- and we were in both of those games and had opportunities. But we've just tried to be focused on one game at a time and getting better each game. And our players are getting more comfortable with their roles and more comfortable with what we're doing and gaining confidence in a game situation.
The Press: Can you talk to the other two losses being to TN and LSU --
Coach Balcomb: (Interrupting.)We've still got to play them again-- I'm starting to know what you're going to say. (Laughter.)
The Press: Go ahead.
Coach Balcomb: No, all I'm going to say is that we can't look past our next game. We have a break here, and then we play Florida at Florida, and we're just learning how to win on the road, and that's been another struggle for us, so we're not looking past anything or looking at who we have to play or who other teams have to play. We have to take care of ourselves.
The Press: Was there any doubt in your mind that Abi was going to hit those free throws?
Coach Balcomb: No. Abi is a tremendous free throw shooter. I wish she would go to the free throw line more. I was really glad Abi was at the free throw line. She doesn't go enough because she doesn't drive a lot.
The Press: There are a lot of talented players in this league, but if people were going to vote for SEC player of the year, I could see myself casting a vote for Jenni Benningfield. Can you talk about what she means to your team?
Coach Balcomb: I think Jenni's really stepped up tremendously. Everybody keeps comparing her to Zuzi, which I think is a huge compliment. I thought Zuzi was very under-rated just because she wasn't athletic and looked a little awkward. But Zuzi was very smart, Zuzi was a great passer, Zuzi was a great complement to Chantelle so you couldn't double. Jenni is all that this year, and she went from being a guard to doing all that in one season. Her growth, her ability to learn and be coachable is phenomenal. That is what I could tell you. She's reading the defense. She's using her body. She's getting better every night at what we're doing. I mean, she had a lot of changes, not just changing with the whole system, but she had to change positions, too. And I think she's a smart basketball player right now.
The Press: How much do you attribute to being mentally tough, with Georgia being a younger team?
Coach Balcomb: I just think the game is very mental, and I think I can see in our kids' eyes-- you asked me about Abi and those free throws. Abi Ramsey is so focused as of late that she scares us how focused she is. That's how zeroed in and focused some of these kids are getting. You can almost see it in their eyes. That's why I was so confident with her. I see it in Jenni's eyes. As we do better at the things we're doing and end up with a W, you see them start to glow with confidence, and that's part of what's fun to coach, y'know, to see them grow. And we're growing, and it's a process. We still have a lot of growing to do, by the way. A lot.
The Press: How big is it to be 7-4 and in fourth place by yourself? You're assured you'll finish above .500 no matter what happens from here on out.
Coach Balcomb: I didn't know that until you said that. I can honestly tell you that I have tried not to focus on what our record is in the league. I try to focus on game by game. We don't know the SEC teams. We're doing a ton of scouting. Someone mentioned the other day to me the possibility of where we could end up, and I just told everybody to stop and not even to talk about it in front of me. I just said, "Stop". And they were all like, "Well, my boyfriend said we could be . . ", and I said, "I don't even want to talk about it; I don't want to hear it." I have honestly stayed away from all that. We play Florida next. I've got to start watching film on Florida.
The Press: Coach, I just wanted to ask you about fan support today. Could you hear how loud it got?
Coach Balcomb: It was incredible. This is the loudest I've felt. It's probably not the biggest crowd, but I felt that the crowd was very very loud. I've had an ear infection on and off all season, and it came back tonight, and I think it's because of the crowd. I had a crackle in one ear all night every time it got really loud. . . . and that's good -- the crowd was that loud. It was a tremendous crowd, and our marketing crew has done a tremendous job getting those people in here today. I don't know what their promotion was, but Owen and his staff got people in the seats, and I think they enjoyed it, and I hope they come back.
VandyMania photos by Micah Miller.