Third Round · Tennessee vs. Maryland
KFC Yum! Center · Louisville, Ky.
Saturday, March 29
PREGAME PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Maryland
Brenda Frese, Maryland Head Coach:
Even though this is our third-straight year in the Sweet 16, it's something that we never take for granted. Obviously it's extremely hard to be able to get here. When you look at the four teams that are here, what you see is a lot of programs in women's basketball with a ton of history and a lot of success.
Tennessee being our next opponent is right there at the top tied with Connecticut with the most national championships, a program with incredible tradition. We haven't played them since 2005, but we've seen many of their players out on the recruiting trails.
Holly has done a terrific job. I can't say enough, in terms of the right person for the job. Tennessee is really an extremely athletic team with a ton of depth.
I think you'll see with both teams a lot of similar tendencies. Both teams want to rebound extremely hard. Both teams are very up-tempo and have a lot of depth. Both teams are led, I think it's ironic, by the ACC/SEC Player of the Year and both have freshmen point guards leading the way. As far as I know I don't think anyone is picking us to be able to win this game, so we're just going to come out and obviously play extremely loose. I love where our team is at, how we're playing, playing some of our best basketball at the moment."
On if there's anything they can learn from the last two Sweet 16 appearances they can apply to today:
"You know, first and foremost, I think it's important for your team, especially when you talk about your young players that we have on our squad in terms of being able to experience these moments and to be able to get to a Sweet 16, and if you're fortunate to be able to advance. I think the biggest thing we've talked about to our team is minimizing distractions. You have a lot going on, a lot more media requests, and so for us just really narrowing the focus to us and really preparing for our moment and what we can do."
On what defenses teams have tried to guard Alyssa Thomas:
"Yeah, obviously I'm sure it's by committee. It's a whole team. You can imagine with Alyssa in her four years, she's seen everything. She's seen man, zone, box-and-one, two players running at her, teams game plan to be ultra-physical, just anything and everything you can expect in her career she's seen. Hopefully I would think at this stage that she would be ready for it."
On how this year's freshmen have contributed:
"Yeah, you know, I think when they came in in the summer, we saw a really special group in terms of the freshmen, how quickly they were able to pick up on our plays and different things out there. But when you talk about Lexie (Brown) and Brionna (Jones) starting for us as freshmen and giving us an inside-outside presence, and then you talk about Shatori Walker-Kimbrough coming off the bench and being second in scoring on our team. So all three are really dynamic, have had a huge impact on this team, and obviously we're thrilled for their future, what they're going to be able to be asked after Alyssa (Thomas) graduates, to be able to bring to the table."
On if there a different approach depending on if you're an underdog or the favorite heading into a game:
"There really isn't. I think it's more based on your team's mentality in terms of how do they handle being the underdog, how do they handle it in terms of the different seeds. You know, I think really every team is unique, and it's really in terms of how they are able to handle what expectations are placed on them."
On the significance of seeing Simmons and Thomas on the same floor:
"Yeah, you know, like I spoke of earlier, pretty neat dynamic when you talk about the ACC Player of the Year and the SEC Player of the Year in two powerful conferences. Obviously what each one of them has meant to their respective programs, what they've brought to the table in their four years, obviously from both ends their ability to score the basketball, the ability to be able to get others involved, and I mean, obviously two incredible players that are seniors, that one is going to be able to advance and the other one's senior season will be complete."
On the fans and environment Tennessee presents:
"Yeah, you think there will be a few fans here? (laughter) No, we're excited about it. You embrace it. You want to play in front of fans instead of an empty arena. From our end, yesterday we piped in 'Rocky Top' and allowed our players to -- some of them hadn't even heard 'Rocky Top,' so to be able to get used to it, and then of course our Maryland fight song so they would know back and forth what this is going to look like.
Our conference prepares us for tough environments. Our staff I think does a really good job in terms of just preparing them for what this is going to be like, and obviously if you're in the Sweet 16 and you're not prepared for this moment, then you'll probably be going home. Our kids fully know what it's going to look like and feel like."
On if the Maryland players knew what Rocky Top was:
"It was on a loop, but I heard later through some quotes that I saw that even our senior Alicia DeVaughn wasn't even sure. But she was used to -- we've done this before in terms of different teams that we face.
But I guess you liken it, as well, to last year when we played UConn up in Bridgeport, and that was definitely filled with a lot of Connecticut fans. So the fact that our team has experienced this before I think is key.
On if she envisioned Alyssa Thomas being this versatile when she recruited her:
"Well, you know, it's one of the best recruiting stories, probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in recruiting. A lot of staffs went out to USA Basketball and followed a lot of players, and I decided to go up to a local Battle of the Baltimore Tournament to be able to go check out this Alyssa Thomas that we had heard great things about. You know, from the minute I saw her in the lay-up line and you saw those big shoulders and her size and her strength and her speed, we did envision one day her name and her number being up in the rafters.
I think kind of the greatest thing about Alyssa, though, is how humble she has stayed throughout all of it and just how she's never satisfied with her game. She's always wanting to get better, wanting to improve, and really the versatility that she has, has played every single position in her four years and has done anything that we've asked her to for this program."
On if there is any one thing that really stands out that continues to impress her about Thomas:
"Well, first of all, I'm going to petition the NCAA to get her a fifth year and to be able to bring her back. You know, I mean, when you see plays we'll see in practice and then in games where she'll rebound the ball and throw it the length of the floor on a dime, like the basketball is like a dime -- a nickel or a dime in her hand, she's just so strong. You saw her get it off the glass, and I liken her in our transition game to LeBron (James). Like who would want to step in and take a charge off of that, and with her speed and power coming down the floor in transition, I'm not sure there's another player in the country that can come at that pace that she's able to do.
Just so many things that she's able to do that you have to appreciate that we've been given in these last four years."
On the mentality of the team given the particular makeup of veterans and freshmen:
"Well, you know, I'm excited by the fact that I really feel like we are playing some of our best basketball, and I think it's a group that is really confident and really believes in each other, and I think when you look at our last game with Texas and you see Alyssa scoreless in the first half, which I can't ever remember happening in her career, our team didn't miss a beat. They weren't concerned. There wasn't any kind of anxiety. Earlier in the season there would have been that case.
I do like the fact that I feel like we are peaking at the right time, and we're really playing for each other."
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland Guard
On the number of people in any one game that can cover her and how she has adapted to that and sometimes being double- or triple-teamed:
"I expect it. But with the team that we have and the scorers that we have, it makes it hard to just focus on one person."
On what their reaction was to Rocky Top being played in practice this week:
"I think it was the first time any of us heard that song, and just like they said, they were just simulating what it's going to be like."
On if there is anything she can take from the last two Sweet 16 trips that can be applied to this time around, particularly being able to beat A & M two years ago?
"Yeah, it takes a team effort. You've got to come out from the start and play your best game, and most importantly stick together. Hopefully good things come out of it."
On if teams have been more physical with her as the season's gone on:
"Absolutely. They try to be extremely physical, try to take me out of my game, and just really eliminate me from moving around out there."
Lexie Brown, Maryland Guard
On what their reaction was to Rocky Top being played in practice this week:
"Well, yeah, of course I was the first one to be like why is this music playing? She was just trying to simulate the type of environment we're going to be in tomorrow just with a lot of noise and a lot of Tennessee fans."
Laurin Mincy, Maryland Guard
On what their reaction was to Rocky Top being played in practice this week:
"It was obviously very different. But Coach B was just getting us prepared. Tennessee is going to have a lot of fans here, so we just have to be ready and keep the noise off."
On how important defense is:
"I think just defense is -- just play your part. I always look forward to guarding the best player on the team, and I think we're just going to come out and it's going to be a team effort on defense and also on the rebounding battle."
Holly Warlick, Tennessee Head Coach
"Well, excited to be here. Just looking forward to seeing all the teams play, obviously. Our first‑ and second‑round games were challenging, but figured out a way to win and now we're here."Q. Coach, just kind of give me your general impressions of Maryland, what you've known about them, what the scouting reports have revealed about them and what kind of challenges you feel like you'll face?
HOLLY WARLICK: Well, I think (Alyssa) Thomas is one of the best players in the country. They're very well coached. They're quick getting up and up and down the floor in transition. They've got a young point guard that's very good that's doing a great job of leading their team, and I think they're one of the best rebounding teams in the country. It's going to be a battle of wills on the boards because I think both our team and Maryland are athletic and they rely a lot on second‑chance points. They follow a game plan. They're very well coached.Q. As a follow‑up, is Thomas probably the most physical rebounder that you've seen? Can you compare her to some of the SEC teams?
HOLLY WARLICK: Yeah, I think she is. I think she goes to the boards hard, and I think that's from her athleticism and just ‑‑ that's how she plays the game. She has a knack. There's kids that just have a knack to go to the boards and they're always around the ball and rebounding. She's one of those kids. So yeah, I think she does ‑‑ the SEC for us, it's physical, it's strong. We rely a lot on our rebounding opportunities, and I think she fits that bill.Q. Going back to the SEC Tournament, the two games in Knoxville, you guys are 5‑0, but slow starts. Competition is going to get tougher. How much of a concern are the slow starts, and if it is a concern how much is it addressed with the team?
HOLLY WARLICK: Yeah, we talk a lot about not quick‑shooting the basketball, and this team seems to be a slow‑starting team. It's been that way all year. But I'm more concerned how we end it. You know, I think we had to get a little settled down. It seems to be once we get settled in, we play our game, and I don't have an answer to why we're getting off to a slow start just as a matter of quick‑shooting the basketball and giving up quick scores from the other team.
But they've got a resilience about them, and they don't panic. Now, I'd love for us to get out to a good lead and keep it. That would help my nerves a lot. But you've just got to go with it, and hopefully their focus will be early and get off to a better start here.Q. Holly, (Alyssa) Thomas is probably one of the most versatile players you've coached against. Who is going to match up? Who will draw the defensive assignment on her?
HOLLY WARLICK: Well, I think starting off with our starters, it would probably be Cierra (Burdick), it may be Andraya (Carter), Jasmine Jones, Jordan Reynolds. We're going to put a variety of people on her, Bashaara Graves. I just don't think one person can guard her the whole game, and so we're going to mix it up and put different people on her, obviously put our best defenders on her.Q. With Meighan Simmons, who is she as a basketball player now compared to the kid who first came to Knoxville four years ago?
HOLLY WARLICK: Yeah, well, we were just talking, Meighan started her career here (in Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center). She was a freshman and had a start, and we opened up the Yum! Center against Louisville and she had a great game. I will say this: I think we all know Meighan came in from high school as a scorer and known to shoot the basketball. I've watched her game develop and grow, and I think she has come to understand and learn the game of basketball, and she's getting so much better on the defensive end. She's become a really good passer, and I think Meighan now has a lot of trust in this basketball team. I think Meighan in particular this year, at the beginning of the year, felt she was the lone senior, felt like she had to do everything, had to do it all, and I think now she understands that there's some ladies on the basketball team that want to help her, and it's changed her kind of whole demeanor or outlook of this team and her play, and so I think I can say now that Meighan is becoming a complete player.Q. Did you talk to (LSU head coach) Nikki (Caldwell)? Have you talked to her since she made the tournament, too? Have you guys had a chance to talk or have you been too busy?
HOLLY WARLICK: Well, we played phone tag last night a couple times, and then she called me with 10 seconds left during the game, the Tennessee game, so I didn't take her call. What is she doing? Is she not watching the game? But we've gone back and forth, and I talked to her before the first and second round. I know I'll kind of hook up with her today. Proud of her. She's taken a team that's depleted and injured and has done a great job. I know this is a tough place to play.Q. You were talking about Meighan's maturation. Your team in general, this is familiar territory for you. Where do you feel like they are now compared to last year's tournament team? Where do you feel like they're growing, and maybe with having those two tough games, where do they kind of grow from that?
HOLLY WARLICK: Well, you know, we're a year older, and we're still young as far as playing time. Isabelle Harrison was ‑‑ she's a junior, but this is really her first year of being healthy and getting an opportunity to play. We've got freshman point guards and Cierra Burdick is now getting playing time, and Meighan is probably our most‑seasoned player. Bashaara Graves is a sophomore. I think we're more mature. I think we understand that we've got to do. We're a more focused team. We're a together team. We've spent a lot of time together off the court getting to know each other and understanding that we have obviously different personalities, but we've got to trust each other on the basketball court, and I think what we've done off the court has helped us tremendously in our success on the court.
I think that the SEC has prepared us and has challenged us in just about every aspect of the game as far as it being athletic up and down, physical, going against zones, going against mans, getting pressed. I just think that we're at a better place, and we feel a lot better about each other.
You know, and I probably ‑‑ they're more comfortable with me. I mean, last year is the first year as the coach, and maybe I'm more comfortable. I've been there but haven't coached in NCAA Tournament games. I think I've evolved, as well, just along with the team.Q. You mentioned watching a men's game last night and the last 10 seconds, and I saw that you guys posted some video of the girls watching it. What has this run been like for both of you guys? How have you fed off of each other?
HOLLY WARLICK: Well, our team, the men's and women's teams are very close teams, and I personally have a lot of respect for Cuonzo and what he's done and how hard he works and what he makes his guys do. We feed a lot off of each other, and the whole community is excited when both teams are playing well. It gets our fans fired up when the guys do well and vice versa. I was hoping they could move forward, but just really proud of them, and we ask our group if we wanted to watch the game together, and we didn't hesitate. We spend a time of lot with them, and I know our players spend a lot of time with the guys, as well. Great run.Q. Going back to what you were saying before about spending time off the court, anything specific? Is it like movies, more dinners together, just taking in activities like that to kind of bring them together?
HOLLY WARLICK: Absolutely. Well, I had said this earlier. We made a decision last year to move everybody back on campus, number one. That was the biggest thing for us. We moved everybody back on campus. We put them in the same dorm. You know, they were spending time together on the court, but when they left, they were going different directions and staying in different places, so we thought it was important for them to live with each other and be around each other, and so that was probably our first step. We've done a lot of team building. We've stayed up in the mountains and did a ropes course. We do a lot of dinners together. Especially when we're on the road, we eat every meal and we do everything together. You just get to know a kid and they get to know you away from the basketball court, and I think that's where we've changed our philosophy as far as we want to be around our kids as much as possible.
I want to know what's going on with them outside of basketball, and I want to have them in an environment where they can actually sit down and we can have a conversation, and it's not a ‑‑ there's no pressure. We're just sitting around talking. That's the environment we've created, and I think it's paid dividends for us.Q. Cierra (Burdick) has been such a consistent player for you rebounding. Her offense has been kind of up and down. What is her role right now in your offense, because she just came up with a big game against St. John's. How do you see her role?
HOLLY WARLICK: I just want Cierra, like you said, she's so consistent, and she's one of our best rebounders. We talk a lot about her, getting rebounds and controlling the boards. Cierra has a beautiful shot, and when it's going in, Cierra is the type of player that you think, man, I don't really see her playing, and she has, whatever she had, 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and you're like, really? So she's that type of player. She's just kind of a utility player for us, and when we need something big she seems to come up with a big lay‑up, a big rebound. She's been very consistent for us.Q. Cierra, Alyssa Thomas for Maryland is probably one of the most versatile players you've ever played against, and Holly said you would start out on her defensively. Did you draw the short straw or how did you get that assignment?
CIERRA BURDICK: Well, I think we both play the same position. We play similar. She's a great player. I have a lot of respect for her. But I think my teammates and my coaches have done a great job of preparing me for the assignment that I'll have at hand. I've watched some film on her. I know her tendencies. Our practice players have done a great job of playing similar to her. So I'm looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead of me.
I think I'm prepared. I think my teammates will have my back and will be able to limit her touches like we want.
Q. Obviously the Final Four is the goal, and I'll say for any of you to answer this question, you all really need to kind of just get over that hump, what thing did you look back on last year or past trips here and think if you can do that we can get over that hump and get to the Final Four?
CIERRA BURDICK: Just looking back at last year when we were defeated by Louisville in that Elite 8, the feeling we had, I still remember it to this day. It was an awful feeling because we were so close. I think we should have won that game.
From the day after that, 360 days from yesterday is when we got knocked out by Louisville, so these past 361 days we've been working for this moment, for these next two games, to get over the hump, to get to Nashville. That's been our goal, that's been our dream, and I think we've put in the time. I think we've done what we needed to do, and now it's just a matter of executing and playing our ball.
MEIGHAN SIMMONS: I think it's just, like Cierra said, that feeling, that gut feeling of knowing that we were doing everything that we could. We fought back. Our huddles were so tight. We were communicating with each other. We never one time got negative in the game. We stuck together. I think it's just one of those things where we just have to continue to tell each other to never give up, to push for 40 minutes straight until that clock hits 0:00 and not letting up if we do get a lead, not letting up, and just continuing to have that fight, and this team is completely different from last year's, and I think we just need to just go out and give 110 percent if we want to get to a Final Four. That's what we need to do, each and every one of us have to give 110 percent.
ISABELLE HARRISON: I think we just need to focus on our next game. We can't get to where we want to go if we don't focus on the game at hand right now. I think in years before, we've been to the Final Four, but we can't overlook who we're going to play next, and I think if you take every game as a full 40 minutes and take advantage of that and know that they have to play Tennessee, and once we get that confidence about ourselves and know that we're coming to the gym to play and play our hardest game, I think it's going to be the turning point for us, and definitely last year was a terrible feeling. I remember thinking this time next year, remember how it felt, and you don't want to lose again, so we've been having that bitter feeling on our shoulders for a while. Now is the time, and we can't back down from it.