"I don't think any surprises. The Big Ten once again is very, very strong, quality coaches, and some tremendous basketball players. And, you know, you look at how the Big Ten has fared against some of the upper-ranked teams, and, to have as many as we do at this current moment in the Top 25 is very impressive. And as strong as it's (the Big Ten) been, it is once again." [Five Big Ten teams are in the latest polls]
How do you prepare your freshmen? I know you said a couple weeks ago that you kind of look at your season as being three seasons, the preseason, the Big Ten season, and the postseason. But how do you prepare, you know, six, in essence, five, six new players for the Big Ten? I mean, they've done extremely well in the non-conference part of the season, but, boy, the Big Ten is a whole new ball game, I guess you could say.
"I think youth, excitement, and the unknown is the way we've been going all year. And I'm not going to put any undue pressure on our freshmen or anybody else on our team necessarily for the Big Ten season. We just have to continue to strive to get better. Our team returned from the break last night in tremendous condition. I was very proud of them. We went hard for three hours. We're doing two practices today. There's no question about it, but it's the game (Thursday) and the exciting Big Ten season, the challenge of the Big Ten season. It's not (me or the staff) putting any other pressure on our freshmen.
"And in a way, I think there's an advantage because they don't know, and sometimes when you don't know you don't know any better. So let's just go play, doesn't matter what it says on the team's jersey that we play on Thursday. It's another opportunity for us to continue to get better and in this case the reward is to pick up a Big Ten win right away and stay undefeated at home. So there are some goals in mind, yet to put any extra pressure on the young people, there's no pressure; because they don't know. I love that. I love that youth and the unknown. That plays to our advantage in this case."
Entering the Big Ten season, just can you talk a little bit about, you know, evaluate your team in terms of what you like so far and maybe what you don't like as much?
"Well, I like the fact that we can score. We had a little trouble with that last year, and we're putting some serious big numbers up there. And obviously your next question might follow with the fact that we gave up 91 at our last game. I'm excited by the fact that we're distributing the basketball to a lot of people. We're doing a pretty decent job on the offensive end, both, rebounding, taking care of the ball pretty well and scoring in an up-tempo game. I still want our defense to be better.
"There's no doubt about it, our perimeter defense, our interior defense (are not the best). We're changing things up, so we're asking our team to take on a lot of new things from a standpoint of defensive schemes. But we have to do that this year. We're small inside. We've got depth on the perimeter so we can do some things both in the full court and the half court, zone and man-to-man. And by wrinkling all those things in, the more repetition, the better we're going to get. (We will) continue our emphasis on rebounding. But right now the defensive end is the end that poses continued improvement. We need to continue to improve in that area. The scoring will come, and our scoring a lot of times will come from the defensive efforts."
Is everybody healthy? How do you guys look coming in?
"Apparently, Ashley gave notice that I can make a comment. Ashley Josephson broke her nose the day before Christmas [actually Dec. 22], before our practice, and she's doing well. She's day to day, but she's gone through a full practice, will wear probably a low-profile shield. But she's really a tough kid. Ashley is a tremendously tough kid. I'm very proud of that. And it demonstrates a lot about her personality, her character. She's not flinched, she's not used it as an excuse.
"You know, she's got some black eyes and a little extra mascara going on right now, but she looks good and she's very tough. And I really don't think she's missed a beat. So we'll protect that nose with, you know, I haven't seen it (the mask) yet, but it's a low-profile, I'm trying to think if it matched or is similar to what Sue Bird wore in the WNBA championships, along those lines. It'll be less disruptive. But still, you have plexiglas on your face. There will be a little bit of an obstacle. But Ashley's tough and she'll overcome it. Other than that, we're healthy and back and getting after it."
Have you seen on your last few games . . . paying a little extra attention to Jolene Anderson, or does your system allow her to shake free every once in awhile?
"Well, the thing about Jolene Anderson; I think probably a great description of Jolene is the way she finished the game against Santa Clara. She had a wide-open lay-up off a steal, stopped, turned around, and handed it off to Janese Banks. She will, if she draws double teams, (dish) and she has her entire life. I think she drew attention when she was in kindergarten, and that's the kind, what a great respect to her. She doesn't flinch. That doesn't bother her. She'll find open players. She's a tremendous passer, a great rebounder. Her defense has turned it up a notch.
"And if they're going to play extra people on Jolene Anderson then we'll have to find ways to get other people the ball. So, yeah, you've seen that, but the way we are in open transition, it's hard to key just on her. And I like that. And that's because other people have stepped up. And I've already mentioned Banks, she's really stepped up. Steph Rich is playing tremendously well, lots of poise and keeping things under control. And we're rotating five post players in there and getting them some shots. So I've been pleased."
What have you seen about Purdue this year? They're young like you.
"They're young, but there's great tradition of success and excellence, and I have a very high respect and regard for Kristy Curry. I mean, she is, certainly has been at the highest level and has reached the pinnacle of where we all want to go. Her big three: Erin Lawless obviously is playing tremendously well, Heikes inside is a force inside, and obviously Katie Gearlds. Gearlds is running some point for them, as well as off guard. She was obviously very highly regarded as a freshman and did tremendously well last year. So that's their big three.
"Not to make light of any other players, but they've got a great leader, three great players, and, you know, they're off to a decent start. They play again tomorrow against South Dakota State, and then they come into Madison. So I like the fact that we have this entire week to prepare for them. We're excited about being at home. That four-game road, I'm still tired from that four-game road swing, and now to play two Big Ten games within a reasonable distance hopefully bodes well for us. And, again, I really hope that we can keep things going."