Coach Gunter: Too much Vanderbilt. I thought Coach Balcomb had an excellent game plan. I thought she had her kids ready to play. We haven't had an answer for Chantelle for four years, and we didn't have an answer for her today.
I thought they played extremely well. I think the thing that hurt us the most was our turnovers. We can't turn the ball over 21 times against a good team and expect to win.
The other thing I look at is that we get to the free throw line 7 times; they go 24. That has nothing to do with the officiating. It happens to be that Vanderbilt was much more aggressive than we were. We weren't aggressive; we didn't attack, so therefore, you stand around and take the perimeter shots and they don't drop, and you don't get to the foul line. . . .
So I just congratulate them on a fine game plan and a great win. But the thing I enjoyed the most was the national anthem. That was the highlight of my day.
The Press: It's always tough on Senior Day, especially one with the impact that those two seniors have had.
Coach Gunter: They're two great players. They would have played great if it hadn't been senior night. They've had a brilliant career here, and they've brought a lot of happiness to Memorial Gymnasium, no question about it. They're quality players and quality young people. And I'm glad they're graduating. (Laughter.)
The Press: How much difference did having McElhiney have on your game plan?
Coach Gunter: Some, but not a great deal. She's a great player. We didn't attack or press as much as we did at our place because Ashley wasn't there, but she was here today. She does for Vanderbilt much what Johnson does for us. They make it go. And I think when she's on the floor, you've got to keep pressure on her, you can't let her have great and open looks, because she'll just beat you to death if you do that. She's huge, I don't think there's any question about it. If you look at what Vanderbilt did the time she was out and when she's in, she's the thing that makes the engine run. I'm not putting any of them down, they all do a great job -- Abi, all of them. I think Benningfield and Chantelle just have a great rapport with each other, and you throw Ashley into the mix--and the rest of the cast, they do an excellent job as well.
The Press: Coach, did you expect to have as much trouble with their zone as you had?
Coach Gunter: We had a lot of trouble with it, there's not much question about that, but then if you don't attack a zone, if you stand around, if you look to try to do something without penetrating or attacking, zones are great, they're very very successful. And that's what happened. For whatever reason we chose not to try to step inside. We'd much rather take a 10-foot jumper.
The Press: Did you feel like the kids were ready to play?
Coach Gunter: No. I thought the first five minutes, . . . Vanderbilt set a tone, and I don't think we responded to it. I think we did a nice job the latter part of the first half coming back, and then we broke down in about a 28-second period and gave up either four or six points, bang bang bang. Instead of going into halftime 4 up, you go in 2 down and then we never got it back. But give the credit to Vanderbilt. They came ready to play. It meant something to them, and they were after it. They played really really well. They had answers, and they made plays. We had no answers, and we didn't make plays. Consequently, they won and we lost.
The Press: For example, like Ramsey's two steals in the backcourt before you got going?
Coach Gunter: Absolutely. That's a matter of just-- more credit to her, and then that's just a matter of us not being in tune with what's going on. That's a lack of concentration and just not being ready.
The Press: Coach, do you feel like the fact that you're assured of being second regardless of the outcome of the game played into that?
Coach Gunter: No, we already had that. I was thinking more of a #1 seed in the NCAA. We were playing a game that's on TV, and the committee was looking at it. No, I knew coming in we already had the #2 seed. There was nothing about that. You go into the tournament ready to play, you can make things better when you go to the tournament, but I think what we're looking at, and the thing that meant the most to Vanderbilt today, was the fact that that win is going to help them -- that's a huge win for them when you're thinking NCAA.
The Press: Do you feel like they would give 2 SEC teams #1 seeds? They've never done that.
Coach Gunter: Sure. I'm glad you qualified that because I was about to say, yeah, I think it could happen. But those committees year in and year out absolutely blow me away. I do not even attempt to try to guess or figure how they're going to look at things. And we all know in the past -- we know what happened last year with Vanderbilt and Tennessee. It's amazing. So you brought me back to reality. Whatever made me think that two SEC teams might get a #1 seed? You keep hoping against hope that one of these days it's going to happen.
The Press: Do you feel like you have to win the tournament to get a #1 seed?
Coach Gunter: No, no, no. I don't think we have to win the tournament. If we go in and we play well -- I'm sitting here and I'm really down for the obvious reason. But I'd take 24 and 3. That's where we are right now. It's not like it's the end of the world. I'd like to go in and win the tournament. Period. I think that everybody that goes in-- when you look at our conference, almost anybody can. There are probably eight teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the SEC tournament. I really mean that. That proverbial "any given day". But for what happens down the road when Selection Sunday comes-- I have no idea.
The Press: Do you think a performance like today has weight over 27 games, like you said, they're watching today?
Coach Gunter: Probably not. Quite frankly, probably not. But you never know. You and I have talked all year. You just try to win the next game, period. It doesn't matter who it is or what the situation is. You just try to win the next game. Right now we have to try to win the next game in the SEC tournament. That's the only way you can survive. You don't look back; there's no sense in looking back. It's over. You just look ahead. Thank you all.
Coach Gunter left the room, and Vanderbilt senior center Chantelle Anderson, senior point guard Ashley McElhiney, junior forward Jenni Benningfield, and sophomore guard Abi Ramsey took their places at the table for questions.
The Press: So you were determined to walk off that floor as victors today?
Chantelle: Yes. It wasn't really discussed, but you kind of just knew that there was an energy and an intensity about the team that they wanted us to walk off the floor with a win, too, and they knew that it meant a lot to us.
The Press: What kind of memories were swirling around?
Ashley Mac: A lot. It's kind of hard to separate them. We have a lot of good memories here. It's kind of sad -- this is an awesome place to play. The fan support is great, and we'll never get this back, and it's sad, but it's also-- it's not sad like we're going to sit here and dwell on it, but it's sad that we're not going to be in this type of environment again in these types of situations.
The Press: Could you keep your emotions in check and just concentrate on the game, was it hard to do that?
Ashley Mac: No, it wasn't really senior day until after the game. Chantelle and I, along with the rest of team, we wanted to win. LSU is a great team. We went to Tennessee and didn't play well, we wanted to come in today with a new start and play well and get momentum going into the tournament hopefully. We did that, and I didn't have any trouble focusing on the game at all.
Chantelle: Before the game, I could tell I was going like a million miles an hour, and I was like "oh gosh." I told my coach, "Now if I go out there, and I start trippin', take me out and put me back in in like a minute." And she was like, "How about you get your head right right now?" I was like, "Okay, okay, I'm trying." But once the game started, it was just like I switched gears, and it was just great. There were a couple of times during the game where I looked around, and I saw all the fans, and I heard them cheering, and I was like, "This is awesome!" But that was the extent of that. It really wasn't that difficult.
The Press: The emotions when Ashley came out, I heard you saying something, like you had a little bet--
Chantelle: (Laughs.) Yeah, well, everyone was like, "I know Chantelle is going to be an emotional mess." (Laughs.) I think our teammates might have had a bet. (Looks at teammates inquiringly.)
Jenni: No. (They all laugh.)
Ashley Mac: Chantelle really shows her emotions, which is not a bad thing, and a lot of times I hold back around people I'm not really comfortable with. My teammates, they know me . . . so it was kind of like an unsaid bet. When I walked out there, Chantelle was like, "You cried first" (mimicking Chantelle; Chantelle laughs).
Chantelle: Yeah. Actually, I kind of lied because I started tearing up the last 20 seconds when Mac was dribbling the ball, but I didn't cry. It wasn't full out crying.
The Press: Ashley, on top of everything else, you had to find more significance because you didn't get LSU this time around.
Ashley Mac: Well, we almost won down there, and we didn't play well at all. We didn't a 3-pointer, and we had so many turnovers. I just wanted to come out, take care of the ball, and do what I do, which is lead the team. I did that, the team did it, and we came out on top.
The Press: What does this win do for you as far as going into the tournament?
Chantelle: It's a great confidence builder. We've said all along-- a few games ago we said we were really starting to gel, and that we were really starting to play well together and finding our strengths in the new system, find our offensive rhythm, find our defensive rhythm, and I just think that we've been building on that. I think this was a great example of what we can do when everyone on our team comes to play. Everyone came to play today. It was a total team effort, team win, and that was awesome. If we can get that team effort every game, then we could be scary, and if we get it for 40 minutes every game, it could be scary. I think it gives us a lot of confidence for what we can do in the tournament. I think we're really excited about it.
The Press: Chantelle, when you're playing the game, I don't know if you've had time to notice this, there are so many kids out there wearing #21, trying to emulate you, do you think about that and the legacy you're leaving here?
Chantelle: It's cool. I never thought in a million years that I would get any of this stuff. I just wanted to come to college and hope I wasn't one of those good high school players that disappeared in college. I just wanted to make sure I was good. So seeing all that just-- it's nice to see. No, I don't really see it during games, but I'll see it before the game, or I'll see it after the game, when they're like, "Can you sign my jersey?" and I'm like, "Hey, that's my number!" So I mean, it's cool. It's very flattering.
The Press: Abi, you had 5 steals today, did you decide that the ball was yours?
Abi: Well, I couldn't hit a 3, so I thought, "What else can I do out here?" (General laughter.) I don't know, it's happened a lot lately. It's just suddenly (someone whispers "sneaky"), especially in our defense, though, I finally feel comfortable in the position where I feel like I know it, so it's so easy, you know where the next pass is going. And I am kind of sneaky, though. (Players laugh; Chantelle says, "Yup".) I like to get those when they're taking it out, but--
Chantelle: Didn't you have like three of those today?
Abi: Two or three, yeah.
The Press: Jenni, how much did you want to win today for these two over hear? How much did play into it?
Jenni: Well, I know before the game, coach was like, "We need everybody to be ready to play today and be there for them because this is a big day for them." We wanted to show something for them, and to be there for them. Just playing this game -- my whole initial thought going into this game was really to give something back to them because they've given me so much knowledge and so many things over the past three years that I've known them, and it's been great, so I just wanted to give them something back because they've been incredible on and off the court. They're my teammates, but they're also my best friends and sisters. I'm going to miss them. And like they said, we're not done yet.
Chantelle: We need to keep winning so we can play a long time.
The Press: It's going to be different for you guys now because it's a one and done--
Chantelle: (In a mock whisper.) Don't talk about that!
The Press: -- is that going to --
Chantelle: Well, I was in denial until today. (Laughs.) I don't know about Mac. I think everyone was, though. (Looks at Mac, who says, "You got it", encouraging Chantelle to continue.) It's kind of a wierd feeling, because every tournament you play, it's like one and done, now it's like one and your whole career is over, and I don't even want to-- I just want to keep playing. I just want to keep playing, and I will do whatever it takes to keep playing because I don't want it to end. It's funny, you sit there and you're like, "I can hardly wait to be a senior," and then it's here, and you're like, "No, stop!" I don't know, I said before the game, "I don't even want to play this game," and the reason I said that is because once we play it, then it's overwith, you know? And then we don't get to play here any more. So I'm like, "Pause time." But it is a wierd feeling.
The Press: Jenni, it's senior night. Was that any part of getting the bad taste out of your mind from Thursday night?
Jenni: That's kind of been on my mind since Thursday. Obviously I was not happy with the way I played on Thursday. I felt like I wasn't there for the team and let them down, so it's been kind of eating me alive since Thursday, so I was just trying to learn from that game and never let it happen again, and just do the things that I know how to do, and use my strengths and not back away from any team. It seemed to work a little bit better tonight than it did Thursday, so I'm going to try to keep that going and not go backwards and keep stepping forwards.
The Press: Jenni, as you were going out to high five Chantelle when the starting lineup was announced like you've been doing in every game you've started here, did it occur to you that this would be the last time you'd be doing it in Memorial Gym?
Jenni: You know, that's funny you said that because right before we did that, I kind of almost started crying-- everything's been leading up to Senior Day, and I'm like, "Okay, it's Senior Day," but it really hit me at that instant because of the little things that we do before games with people. (Chantelle says, "Yeah.") I mean, me and Ashley have a hand clap now, and me and Chantelle do that jump high five, and just little things that you-- not necessarily take for granted, but it's like you're going to miss those little things, and yeah -- it almost hit me, I had to get my mind right before I went out there because I kind of got upset because, you know-- because it's been great. They've been incredible to play with. It kind of affected me for a second.
The Press: Sue Gunter said that she was glad that you're graduating. I guess a lot of people in the SEC feel that way.
Chantelle: Probably. I'd like to hope so. And she's a very classy lady. She's a great coach, and she's amazing. She came up to both of us before our shootaround as they were walking out and said, "I probably won't get a chance to say this to you, but I'm very proud of you, and you've made this place a very hard place to play for me for the past four years, and I'm glad you're graduating." You're right. That is the biggest compliment a coach from another team can say to you -- "Love playing you, but glad you're gone."
The Vanderbilt players left, and Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb entered the room for her turn.
The Press: Was this more about senior day or going into the NCAAs on a roll?
Coach Balcomb: I think it was more about trying to go into the SEC on a positive note. I think Senior Day was definitely a positive motivation for our players to send Chantelle and Ashley out of here with a great game and a win. I just think we had a lot of positive motivation in our favor: Being home, being Senior Night, and being a team that we had lost to the last time. So we had a lot going for us.
Our kids were very very up for this game and had a lot of energy, and I thought our effort, our hustle-- I just thought every play we out-hustled them, and that really made a difference. We didn't do anything great; we didn't shoot the ball great; we didn't do anything great. It's just all the effort skills we did very very well, which was defense and rebounding. This is a team that has a +7 margin rebounding, and we actually out-rebounded them. That's been one of our knocks all year is that we don't out-rebound people. So all the effort skills I thought were there.
The Press: How good does this look to the NCAA selection committee?
Coach Balcomb: I hope real good. I think it's a case of LSU's had a tremendous year, being so highly ranked all season, being so consistent all season, makes this win very good. At this time of year, winning five straight and then only losing to Tennessee and then still beating LSU, that means we won our last six out of seven, and I think they care very much how you finish. And I think we're peaking at the right time. I think, overall, that this is the best game that we've played so far.
The Press: The players do a good job of balancing their emotions; Chantelle said it wasn't going to be Senior Day until after the game.
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, and I was nervous about even talking about it in the locker room. I just said, "Everybody, this is for the seniors this game, and everybody's got to give their best effort for them," just to give them a little motivation, but didn't want to talk about it too much, didn't want them to get sad.
It's a very emotional time for two players that have given so much to the university, and the university has given them a lot. It's been a great marriage between the two. They both love it here; they're both very very happy here and very successful here on and off the court. So I knew that it would be a very emotional time for both of them, and if I could put that off until after the game, that was my goal. I wanted the parents to have time and them to have time to be emotional and enjoy it and not worry about hurry up because it's rude to LSU or-- you know what I mean? You don't ever want to rush something like that, so I think their focus was very very good. I thought Chantelle and Ashley were extremely focused on the game itself.
The Press: Coach, Gunter said she loves to see them graduate. You don't.
Coach Balcomb: No, I'm on the opposite end of that. All I did was hug them and tell them, "You're not done yet" and "keep playing." That's something that my staff and I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching them. I feel blessed to have been to come in here, even though it's been only a year, I feel blessed to have been able to coach two special people, not just great players. They're fun to coach, and I could never say a bad word about either one of them in this whole season or year. They're so supportive of everything we're trying to do. They're team players; they're unselfish. They carry themselves so classy, and they don't-- they're just unassuming superstars that I've ever met. Coming in here, you don't know any of that. You don't know their personalities. You just know on tape that they're good players. But you don't know what they'd be like to deal with as coaches, and it's been nothing but a pleasure to coach them.
The Press: Back to the game, once you got up 20-12 and then you had a long dry spell.
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, offensively, we had a long dry spell. I don't know what happened as much as I felt that we had a lull offensively, and weren't executing. Even though when we had good shots, we just didn't them them. Between Ashley Mac and Abi, who are our best 3-point shooters, we went 2 for 11. So we didn't shoot the ball that well. We turned up our defense and created-- I know Tia had a big steal and bucket when we needed it during that dry spell. Abi had five steals again tonight. The defense stepped up and created those opportunities to be easier on offense, and that really helped us when we needed it.
The Press: Vandy went to the free throw line 24 times, while LSU only did 7 times. Was that something that you talked about, being aggressive on offense and not fouling them on defense when they attacked?
Coach Balcomb: No, that's the defenses that both teams play. They play a very aggressive, deny, physical man-to-man defense. We play a zone, so naturally-- we played a zone, and we really packed it in against them. We didn't even play our aggressive zone, so we weren't going to foul a lot. We wanted to force them into shooting where they didn't want to shoot, which was from the outside, and I think we did a good job of doing that. That's basically -- not so much "don't foul" and "attack" -- we always want to attack. Also we really wanted to attack them inside because we knew that they didn't have the height to guard us inside, and we had been successful at LSU going inside.
The Press: Coach Gunter said there's 8 teams that have a legitimate chance to win the SEC tournament. Do you think it's that wide open?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I think it's that wide open. This is my first year in the SEC, so I'm not sure how people go at it once in the SEC [tourney] but I expect it to be even more challenging than it was during the season, because teams now, their seasons are going to end, some of them, if it's over and don't want that, and I expect it to be a dogfight. And I think there are so many good teams that are so equal, and a lot of it's going to have to do with who's playing well at the time.
The Press: Coach, you're finished with your first regular season in the SEC. How was it compared to what you expected coming in?
Coach Balcomb: I thought it would be good, and it is good. I love the challenge of the conference. I couldn't be happier being able to coach in a conference where there are now six teams ranked in the Top 25. As a coach, that's just a dream. You want to coach against the best coaches and the best players, and to be able to compete at that level our first year here, that makes work very exciting. It's not boring, I'll tell you that.
The Press: I know you're not one to look ahead, so I'll do it for you. There's not a team on your side of the bracket that you haven't beaten. Does that make you feel a little bit better?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, you're right, I'm not going to look past whoever we play first when we find out. But again I think it's so much anybody can win any night in this conference that you can't really look at the draw. I think the players will look at the draw more than us. I think it's very important that we have confidence. If I had a choice, I'd rather play somebody -- just knowing my players and my team and knowing that we need that confidence -- for them, I would rather play somebody that we've beaten so our kids know that it's something that we can do.