"Very dangerous. Very dangerous. They play their system very well. They play a 2-3 match-up zone. They will tweak the zone depending on who they're playing. For instance, against Ohio State they shaded people to Jessica Davenport, they doubled the post. If it's a guard-oriented team, obviously with us, they are probably shade to Jolene Anderson, Steph Rich in matching things up.
"I think what is mistaken [perception] in their half-court defense is that it extends to full court. They're very active in their full-court defense. They run some half-court traps. But it all falls back into their match-up [zone]. Compare them a little bit to an Iowa State. Iowa State plays a similar type of defense where they will tweak things depending on who they're playing, but they play their system very well. Their defense is their best offense.
"Against them last year, and I really don't like to look back on what went well and what didn't go well, last year they pressed us from the time we stepped in the gym to the time we were off and they scored 33 points in transition. And that's something that obviously we have to address. But, if you look back on our games this past week, we've improved steadily. Our game with Penn State was a demonstration of our ability to give effort and play hard and, have a thought of winning that game against this very strong conference. Michigan State's defense is as good as it gets. They lead the Big Ten in nearly every defensive category. And we're going to have to find some ways to score."
There was some improvement on Saturday against Penn State in your defense. But if you're looking at Minnesota, if you do have some problems on defense against Michigan State, will you rotate and try to find the right combination like you did against Minnesota?
"Without a doubt. I mean, I rotated everybody off the bench trying to find the right answers. And, you know, Janel McCarville's not the only player on that team. I think that was demonstrated with their game yesterday. She played eight minutes and they beat a ranked team by 40. You know, this conference is very strong and we'll make the adjustments as need be, and hopefully we can find the fire in our eyes. I liked the look of our kids' eyes in the Penn State game. We had much (more) fiery, confident attitude, in particular on defense, and that rallied us in the second half and put us in a position to make a late run."
What about [Kristin] Haynie and [Liz] Shimek at guards? Once again you're coming up against a pretty tough guard tandem. Anything in particular that worries you or concerns you about them?
"Their whole starting five averages double figures. It's not just Shimek and Haynie. I think Lindsay Bowen is one of the best. She's a strong physical guard, blue collar. And I think as you read their media guide, which I'm sure you'll do, you'll see that they define what it means to be a Spartan and how to play and how to fight and play with pride. They've got it going. They've got young players that have surrounded Liz Shimek and Kristin Haynie. And Kelli Roehrig inside and Lindsay Bowen, I think, are fantastic.
"And now they changed their lineup yesterday for the Iowa game, and, they'll play six or seven people, but they're very solid. Can't key on one person. We just have to be gritty and give effort. We're certainly going in there with a fearless attitude and put ourselves in a great position on the defensive end by just scrambling and trying to get loose balls and get some things going for us. We're working very hard also offensively in, again, building confidence, finding good shots, and playing more with an inside-outside attack."
As you mentioned, the team showed a lot of effort in that second half on Saturday. Is that something that you think is going to be able to carry some momentum, especially going into two road games? I mean, were they pretty fired up coming into practice today? I mean, how did they look today?
"It's, again, every opportunity we have to go on the court, it's an audition for the show on the next day, and the next curtain call is when we play Michigan State. And our players know that. They know that they have a chance to contribute in whatever way they can. But we also talked a lot about playing to each other's strengths. Put Danielle Ward in a position where she can be successful, put Jolene Anderson in a position where her feet are set, put Steph Rich in a position where she can just catch and shoot the thing. There's little things that we talked about. It's teaching, staying together, but always controlling the things we can control. And we can control how hard we play, and I'm seeing that and our team is really buying into that. And if we play hard and we give effort, we've got a chance. And, you know, this schedule doesn't get any easier. We have a very, very difficult schedule. The Big Ten, I think, in women's basketball is stronger than it was last year. And, you know,it raises the bar for us. And we're in a conference where to get better you play these teams. And our freshmen, the baptism by fire that they're getting right now is certainly going to pay dividends this year and in the future."
So after a very busy six-day stretch that starts with a win and ends with a national-TV loss, it doesn't sound like you have the feeling that your team took a step back at all despite the two losses. What kind of grade, or how would you assess that?
"I'm very proud of our team. I'm proud of our team. The best thing is how they responded from Minnesota to Penn State. Minnesota, we flat-out got beat. I mean, that team is playing very well right now. They're very strong defensively. And with a little, short turnaround, we played Thursday and then an 11:00 a.m. tip on national TV, our team responded very well.
"Friday was, you know, tired, we had to put a scout in and watch film, and fortunately without classes right now we occupied their entire time prior to that game. We came in with a very confident look on our face and an improved basketball team, and that's all you can ask of these kids right now, keep getting better.
"And when you have [Janese] Banks and Anderson, two freshmen, going against Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom, two senior guards in the conference that have been in the Final Four and a national spotlight, I tell you, they didn't back down. We kept competing. We thought the whole game we were going to win the game, even with 36 seconds left, we're down by seven, and we're still chipping away and finding some ways. So I liked that look. We're competitive. If we play like we played on Saturday and continue to, you know, put that driving force or killer instinct forward, we're going to knock somebody off, and, you know, the sooner the better for me."
You mentioned a few times how good the conference is. There's seven teams ahead of you and all of them except one have at least 10 wins, and Illinois's been pretty good, Penn State obviously. But where does Michigan State and Illinois fit in?
"Michigan State is, well, they go to UConn and win by 20, that's a pretty good indication of how good they are. UConn, Tennessee, you hear the big names every year. What I think is very, very encouraging is the parity in women's basketball from top to bottom across the country. LSU was beat again, and I think Duke will probably take over the No. 1 spot. Hopefully one of these days we're in one of those top spots, but I look at that as an encouraging force in seeing that it's not the same teams all the time.
"And Michigan State is very solid. Michigan State was picked by me and by a lot of the coaches in the conference to win the Big Ten this year. They and Ohio State tied for my votes. And they've certainly not let that down at all. But it's another challenge for us to go on the road and to a great environment. We've just got to get off that bus with all we've got and just lay it out there, you know, bring our lunch pail and the whole dinner package and take it at them."