Bridgestone Arena · Nashville, Tenn.
Saturday, April 5
PREGAME PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Maryland
Brenda Frese, Maryland Head Coach:
"Obviously it feels really, really good to be back here in the Final Four. This is something that everyone aspires to achieve, and personally it's been such a phenomenal year when you talk about our son Tyler receiving his last dose of chemotherapy and then being able to reach the Final Four with our team. So, it's a special year for all of us.
I love the fact that we're the underdog. The team is really flying under the radar. I feel like it's been a solid year for us. We missed a few chances to be able to get some big wins, and I think that's kind of when people forgot about us as a team.
But it's okay, obviously, for us. I felt like it was time for us to be able to grow and develop as a team. When you talk about bringing 14 players, three freshmen into a pretty large roster with five seniors, but now we get to share some of our stories in terms of who we are.
When the bracket came out, I thought we had a chance. I didn't really feel like there was anybody that we were overmatched against. But that being said, to be able to beat Texas, the No. 1 seed in Tennessee and Louisville, in front of 15,000 fans on their home court, is something for us to be really, really proud about.
To some extent, I feel like Maryland and Stanford are the extras at the Miss U.S.A. pageant. Everybody's rooting for the other two. Our job is to be able to crash the party.
I have all the respect, obviously, for Muffet McGraw and her staff and Notre Dame. About two or three years ago, Muffet and I were out on the recruiting trail and she asked me to sit down and we had dinner together at the Cracker Barrel. She also had my mentor, Bill Fennelly from Ohio State is somebody who worked for her. So some great ties and relationships being together.
Notre Dame has the best 1‑2 punch in the country when you talk about Loyd and McBride. They've been devastating all season. No one's been able to stop them, including us. Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride had really big games against us. McBride hit some really big shots in crunch time, very similar reminder in terms of what Kristi Toliver used to be able to do for us.
We're going to try to do what nobody else has been able to do this year. We want to try to slow Notre Dame's attack down. Lastly, it feels great to be here with our team and it feels amazing to be able to bring AT (Alyssa Thomas) to the Final Four. If we wouldn't have been able to do that, I think personally I would have felt regrets as a coach not being able to get her here. She's a phenomenal person, even a better family when you talk about her parents, and she deserves every single moment of this."
On realizing its much harder to get to the Final Four than she may have thought originally:
"No question. You know, I mean, when you think about it, I was so young your first time going through it. And you march through in six games and win the title.
And then you realize, you know, after the fact in terms of just how much more difficult it is, being able to be lined up at the right time, have the right bracket, have the right possessions go your way, being completely healthy throughout the run.On who picked up the check between her and Muffet McGraw:
"Funny you asked, because I was trying to remember that when I had the memory. We might have each picked up our own. But it was one of those moments that, when I walked into the Cracker Barrel, she was in front of me, asked if I wanted to dine with her, at her request first. So I just remember at that time just appreciating that's what it's about in women's basketball and as coaches in terms of our bond with each other in the profession. It was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and it was a break in between the AAU games, so we both decided to go get something to eat at the Cracker Barrel.:On defending Kayla McBride, Jewell Loyd and Michaela Mabrey:
"You know, it's difficult. Mabrey, you know, was phenomenal the first time that we played. So now you have to keep in check. I really feel like all their guards, all their guards are extremely talented.
So, there's not many teams like Notre Dame that can score the first time they look at the basket. Often times, in women's basketball, you need to get a couple more chances, maybe an offensive rebound putback, but Notre Dame is so efficient in terms of their first look, it normally goes in."On how her team has learned to handle hostile environments after a three-game losing streak in January:
"It was a difficult stretch for us when you talk about the conference play and two road games and then undefeated Notre Dame coming in and really finding ourselves as a unit, when you talk about your second, third and fourth leading scorers being freshmen and really kind of introducing them to those elements, road games, and then an undefeated team coming in.
So, we were really green. We were really raw. We were going through experiences. So I think it was critical for us as a coaching staff not to get too low in that moment to have kind of perspective that we were going to grow from those experiences, which now, to be able to go into Louisville, again probably ranks up as my all‑time top two favorite games to coach in.
We wouldn't have been able to win that game in January as a team. And you can see how far the physical and mental toughness has really come."
On Notre Dame claiming to be the under dog:
"Yeah, yeah, Notre Dame can't play that card. They've been to four straight Final Fours. You're not an underdog. You still have a roster that, it's unfortunate, we all go through injuries. We did, especially last year. It's a terrible part of the game.
But when you have the best 1‑2 punch in the country, two of the best All‑Americans, the top 10, the depth in the roster, the All‑Americans that they have, they by far still had the experience. Everyone's still picking them, so there's no way they can be the underdog. They can try."On if seeing them play without Achonwa in the first matchup and if this team reminds her at all of the 2006 team:
"Yeah. Yes and no in terms of, yes, it allows you to kind of see what they went to, Notre Dame, when Natalie was in foul trouble. But we still didn't win that game. So we have to be better in terms of who we are as a team, because she didn't play a lot in that game.
So, it does make it extremely difficult in terms of getting the preparation. The comparison between the two teams, you know, I think one of the big ones is we're being led by a freshman point guard when you talk about between Lexie and Katie.
But the teams were definitely different. They were built differently when you talk about the '06 team, having five players averaging double figures. This team had AT (Alyssa Thomas), Lexie and Shatori at times. And on any given night, nobody knows who consistently or where we're going to get our scoring from.
This team is by far probably a better defensive team than '06. But both teams are probably consistently really dominant rebounding teams.On trying to take advantage on the boards:
"Yeah, we ‑‑ absolutely. That's something that we've been really, really strong at. But I really think our defense is going to be more critical than our rebounding because like I said earlier, Notre Dame doesn't need second‑chance opportunities. When they get clean looks at the basket, they're able to put it down. So then rebounding really doesn't matter.
It really comes down to us defensively -- having to make them have to take difficult shots."
On how Lexie Brown has progressed:
"Well, first, I can remember the conversation I had with her in the summertime. She was having a hard time adjusting, and when we started the fall semester really talking about where things were going to need, to go in terms of to be ready to lead this team to a Final Four.
And so for Lexie, and you talk about our other two freshmen, there's so much thrown at you your freshman year, and then for Lexie to be the starting point guard on a team that has three senior starters, five seniors on the team, that takes time for a freshman to get comfortable. And Lexie's somebody that has to be comfortable to be confident.
So it took a while obviously, for her to get that comfort for us, to grow with the team and really understand one another. But Lexie's playing some of her best basketball right now and it couldn't have come at a better time."On sharing her Final Four experiences with the team:
"You know, I have. Anytime I can lend experience on situations to protect our team, I'm going to. And so, yes, throughout this entire tournament, you know, I've been able to be able to do that.
They really do get it in the fact that when you have five seniors on a roster, you know, they get it and then they're able to pass it down to your younger players.
The big thing is the distractions and being able to lock in. Because everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants tickets. And there's a lot of media requests. So just really trying to find that balance and being able to eliminate those distractions."
On what her team did in the stretch to get back in the game in the first meeting:
"We defended. We went to our press. We were able to get stops that led to our transition."On playing a team they have seen before:
"I love it. One, I liken it to '06 when we got to play in North Carolina and Duke and opponents we played over and over. I think it gives your team a great comfort level so you don't spend the first 10 or 15 minutes feeling out a team you've never played.
But I'm sure both teams feel that way. So now you have to kind of figure out what's going to be the difference in a game that could come down to possessions, you know, it's critical in terms of your play calls, your defenses, your strategy. How can you kind of separate yourself within some possessions."
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland Forward
On if it's extra motivation seeing everyone expect Connecticut and Notre Dame to meet in the National Championship:
"It is. I mean, that's what everybody expects, is for them to be undefeated and to meet up with each other. But I mean, we're here to crash the party. And I know Stanford is too. I talked to Chiney (Ogwumike), and we're here to crash the party."On the first matchup with Notre Dame:
"We did not come out to a good start. Spotted them 22 points. Once we settled down, we were able to get back into the game. But they had already gotten hot. So it was hard to slow their big two down."On what it's like finally playing in a Final Four:
"I think the biggest thing is to experience this for my teammates. I've been saying it for the longest time. I just want them to be here with me. I'm really excited that, finally get to be on the playing side of the Final Four."
On her being the most valuable player in the country to her team:
"Not at all. I think I'm just a player on the team. We have plenty of people that can score on our team. I think we've proved it throughout this tournament that it's not just all about me. We have a ton of other players. Lexie can score for us. Shatori (Walker-Kimbrough). We're a well‑rounded team."
On how the team is better now than from the ACC tournament:
"Well, we had the two weeks to refocus ourselves and get ourselves back on track. And we're peaking at the right time. We're playing our best basketball when it matters, and this is what people are going to remember."
Katie Rutan, Maryland Guard
On playing in the Final Four:
"The opening days are really surreal, after the win. But you can't think like that now. It's time to get down to business. And so the happiness is over and it's time to lock in."
Lexie Brown, Maryland Guard
On her confidence level on playing Notre Dame:
"Our confidence, and my personal confidence, is sky high right now. We've come off two great wins as a team. I just think all together as a team, we're stronger, we're mentally stronger, we're physically stronger, and we have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow's game."On what her biggest challenges have been as a freshman point guard:
"I would definitely have to say the mental part of the game. As a point guard, you have to keep your poise the entire game. And at the beginning that was very tough for me to do. But as the season progressed, I met a lot with Coach B, and my teammates have really helped me with that. And I think when you have your poise, really nothing can go wrong in the game because you're there mentally."
THE MODERATOR: Joining us is Notre Dame, Head Coach Muffet McGraw, student‑athletes Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride. Questions for the student‑athletes, raise your hand for a mic and state your name and affiliation and address the student‑athlete. And we'll begin with questions now.
Q. Kayla, what's your team's mindset right now that you're at the Final Four?
KAYLA MCBRIDE: I think right now, we kind of took it all in after the game, but it was right back to business the next day. We knew we had a great team in Maryland and we're just trying to focus on how we're going to win those 40 minutes.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to take questions for the student‑athletes first.
Q. Kayla, Wonder if you could talk about the experience of making four consecutive Final Fours and then how much would it mean to kind of break through and win it here if you get that chance in the last one?
KAYLA MCBRIDE: I think it says a lot about this program, Coach McGraw and the coaching staff and being able to get to four Final Fours. I know me and the seniors are excited to be here. Your senior year you want to take it all in and have a lot of fun and that's my mindset, is just taking it all in and trying to win the whole thing. Obviously I want to win the national championship. I am just trying to focus on playing 40 minutes of basketball.
Q. Kayla, that first game against Maryland, what did you do that you liked, what do you think you need to change, and how do you do that?
KAYLA MCBRIDE: I think Maryland's a great physical rebounding team. I think that's their biggest strength, how they crash the glass. Alyssa Thomas is a great player, All‑American. So how we're going to contain her and be able to contain their transition game and their rebounding game.
I liked how we moved the ball. I think we kind of got open looks, got easy layups, especially in the first half, which got us in a big lead, and then we started to settle down and closed the gap. I think it's just about running our offense and executing our game plan and also defense and rebounding.
Q. Jewell, can you talk about, now that you've been to one Final Four already, what's more helpful to you and is it more of a help on the court or off the court dealing with ‑‑ knowing what the Final Four experience is like?
JEWELL LOYD: It's definitely easy to get distracted with everything here with the media, different town. But I think as a team, we do a good job making sure our mindset's focused on the game. That's what we're worried about is the game. Coming into practice I'm worried about the details, stuff like that.
I think our team does a really good job making sure we're focused for the game ahead.
Q. Jewell, they came back on you, made a pretty exciting game when you played at their place. Do you think that helps you guys that it wasn't an easy 20‑point win, that you had to battle and have shots at the end to sort of win the game?
JEWELL LOYD: Definitely. I think it helps us. I think we came together at times and we kept our poise and it helps because down the stretch, Final Four is crucial games, crucial moments. You need to stay together and use this as something in our back pockets for this game coming up.
Q. Jewell, I wonder if you could talk about the challenge, of course, of Natalie going down just a few days ago and kind of changing the lineup and the chemistry and how you guys think you'll adjust to that in the Final Four.
JEWELL LOYD: I don't think it's necessarily a challenge. It's time for other people to step up. We have all the confidence in them they will. And how we prepare for games and we don't depend on one person; it's a whole team effort. And Coach has done a great job of making sure we're prepared for that.
Q. Kayla, what words of advice could you maybe give Taya Reimer this week as she prepares to take on a larger role?
KAYLA MCBRIDE: I don't want Taya to put too much pressure on herself. I don't want her to come in until she has to. We talked about it being a collective effort. I think everybody has to do more, myself included, Jewell. We have to do one more thing to assure that everybody is going to get Ace. I don't want to put a lot of pressure on her. I just want her to play the game and have fun like she has been all year.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student‑athletes. We'll dismiss the student‑athletes. They'll be in the locker room. Before they go I wanted to introduce the Notre Dame sports information director Chris Masters. If you had anything further that you need, this is Chris. Thank you. And we'll take questions now for Coach McGraw and we'll start right here.
Q. You said on the teleconference that Jewell had even exceeded your expectations. Given how remarkable a player she was coming out of high school, what a freshman year she had, expectations would have been pretty high anyway. In what ways did she exceed your expectations?
COACH MCGRAW: I think how she played in the big moments. She got her career high against Baylor as a freshman. It ws the number one team in the nation. She was very consistent for a freshman. I think you expect that a freshman's going to be a little up and down, they're going to have a learning curve. At some point in the season, maybe question some of their own ability.
She just never did that. I think she was just so steady all season long. And then this year to come in and really elevate her game, she's playing like a seasoned veteran.
She's aggressive, looking for her shot. She knows how important she is to the team and she's really stepped her game up.
Q. Her demeanor, she was the most professional college freshman I've ever seen. Her demeanor is so unflappable. Do you think that's where the consistency comes from?
COACH MCGRAW: I think it does. I think she has a deep faith and I think that keeps her going and it keeps her steady.
And she has really, really gained a lot of confidence this year, too.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could, could you talk about what the rebounding will ‑‑ in the specific matchup against Maryland?
COACH MCGRAW: It's our biggest challenge. I think it's the key to the game for us is rebounding. They're a great rebounding team. They've got so much size inside. They're physical. They're skilled. And for us losing our leading rebounder creates a little bit of a problem in that area.
So, we're really hoping that everybody does a little bit more. If everybody just gets one or two more rebounds, we're trying to make up for what Natalie would have given us.
Q. As you consider how to replace Natalie in the lineup with which person, what were some of the considerations that you took into effect in making that decision?
COACH MCGRAW: It's a pretty easy decision. Taya started for us at the beginning of the year when Natalie was out. Natalie missed our first three games. Taya was a starter. She played very well. She's similar to Ace in what she can do at both ends of the floor. She helps us in the press. She handles the ball. She's a good passer. She does so many things that we really need in our offense. She's very good in the Princeton offense. So, I think it was a pretty easy decision to go with Tay.
Q. Coach, when you had that stretch early in the season without Ace how did that help you and did that prepare you for Natalie's fate?
COACH MCGRAW: It really did. It was so early in the year, but to see a freshman come in immediately in the starting role, at that point we're starting two freshmen. So to see their maturity at that stage, I thought, was really, really beneficial to them for the rest of the year.
Tay has been in every big game. She comes in pretty quickly off the bench. So she's had a lot of minutes. We've had some times with Natalie in foul trouble that she's had to go a little bit longer. So I think we definitely have played a lot of minutes with Taya in the game.
Q. Coach, how much does experience play in a role here? You've been here four straight years. Maryland, the first time since they won the title in '06. None of the players have been here. You've been through this. Is it going to make a difference that you guys have been here before and if it is, what's the biggest thing that is outside of the basketball game that Maryland has to deal with?
COACH MCGRAW: I think the distractions. I think that's the biggest thing you have to deal with is so many distractions, so many people, the fans. You really can't get out of the hotel without running into people.
And I think for us, you know, it's more of a business trip. And we're enjoying it and I think we've enjoyed all the moments that we've had this year, but I think there's so many distractions today especially with the open practice, autograph signings and all those things, that you need to make sure you're focused on the task at hand.
Q. You've had a lot of experience with replacing players and continuing to have success with Skylar last year being the most recent one. Natalie is the big story now. Anytime you go through that transitioning process, what's the key to continuing to have a good program as opposed to just relying on one specific player?
COACH MCGRAW: We have really good players. Tay Reimer is McDonald's All‑American, so it's a role she's comfortable being thrown into. And I think giving them confidence, I think that's the coaching staff's job to give them the confidence they need to go out and do it on the floor.
We believe in them. And their teammates believe in them. And hopefully, that will kind of get rid of the jitters for them.
Q. Coach, same thing I asked Kayla before. That first game I remember at Maryland you were really upset with‑‑ they were able to come back and such. Does that sort of help you in a sense now that you've beat them by 20, a tight game, you had to sort of pull it out, playing them again?
COACH MCGRAW: It really does. Watching film, you get to see them at their best. That's what you need. Going into a game like this, you want to see what they do well. Alyssa Thomas was unstoppable. She was phenomenal in the second half. She rebounded, she scored, she did everything she wanted to do. She played like the All‑American that she is. We watched that and were able to see a lot of things we did wrong.
And I don't know that you can guard her. I think she's really, really difficult to match up with. But at least we saw some of the problems that we had and tried to fix them the last couple of days.
Q. You sort of answered it just there, but seems like if possible, Alyssa Thomas has even taken her game to another level in this tournament. How difficult is she to defend? What type of problems does her athleticism bring?
COACH MCGRAW: I think anytime you have somebody with her size and mobility ‑‑ and she can have it in the open floor. She's great in the press offense. She gets the ball and brings it up. She's just so hard to guard, because she plays so hard. She's relentless. She just is diving for loose balls, attacking the glass. She's doing everything that a coach could want a player to do.
So, it makes the matchup really hard. I think it has to be a team defense. I mean, you really have to try to have an awareness where she is all the time. And they're good enough you can't forget about anybody else, which makes it even more difficult.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions?
Q. How do you keep them focused on this being one game at a time instead of the bigger picture? All season long it's one game, it's one game, but you're sitting here 36‑0, two games away from a historical year?
COACH MCGRAW: It's been easy. That's probably the easiest thing we've been able to do this year is take it one game at a time. The seniors have done a great job. The captains, the leaders they've done a great job making sure nobody's looking ahead. They set the tone.
I mean, we're in the Final Four. We've been here before. But we still know we have a lot of work to do. So I think for us we know we can't get to a National Championship until you win the first game. So I think it's really easy to stay focused. I don't think there's any distraction there at all.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to take a question from our junior journalism group in the back.
Q. What is your mindset for the game today?
COACH MCGRAW: You know, our mindset is really pretty similar to what it is every game. We've got to take care of a certain amount of things, keys to the game, rebounding, gotta find Thomas, get a blockout on her. Transition defense. We're working on what we're going to do and how we're going to attack them. We're trying not to get too involved in anything else outside of that and really focusing on how we stop them.
THE MODERATOR: One more from the journalism group.
Q. How do your players maintain school and basketball?
COACH MCGRAW: Being a student‑athlete is a difficult challenge. I think the thing that you sacrifice is your social life. You have to put a lot of time into studying when your friends are out doing some fun things because you've been at practice all day.
So it's difficult. I think it's definitely worth it. But you have to put a lot of time in it and certainly being a student is the more important of the two.
THE MODERATOR: Question over here on the side.
Q. How do you plan on defending freshman Lexie Brown, does she pose any type of problem for you?
COACH MCGRAW: Lexie has improved since we played them last. In fact, I thought our game was her coming out party. She really played well down the stretch in that game and since then has played extremely well. So much poise in the Louisville game, making big free throws and shots down the stretch.She's a very, very talented player. All rookie team in the ACC, which is difficult to do in our league when we have so many talented freshmen. And she presents a lot of problems for us. She's somebody that we really have to be aware of.