Third Round · Tennessee vs. Maryland
KFC Yum! Center · Louisville, Ky.
Sunday, March 30
POSTGAME QUOTES – Maryland
Brenda Frese, Maryland Head Coach:
BRENDA FRESE: You know, this game was everything we thought it was going to be, just a phenomenal game by both teams. You know, it was intense, obviously we felt like it was going to come down to the rebounding and being able to own the glass. Going into this game obviously we knew it was going to be a game of runs and we had to maintain our confidence. Obviously have the utmost respect for Holly and her staff, and obviously the tradition that Tennessee has, that's where we all want to be. But I'm really proud of the fact that our kids played for Maryland and played with a lot of confidence, were never intimidated and really played for each other. I thought you saw us really get after it defensively, dominated, being aggressive on the boards and really being able to get out in transition. We want to continue to be under the radar, make sure nobody writes about us, talks about us, but really proud of our team and what we were able to accomplish today.
Q. Alyssa, can you talk about just your mindset tonight? Obviously you had a decent game against Texas, but tonight you looked to be very aggressive, and can you talk about Laurin, she hit some big shots today and came in and did well off the bench.
ALYSSA THOMAS: Just came out and went for my opportunity and just attacked to the rim. And Mincy, this is the Mincy that we know, it's crunch time, the lights are on and she's playing her best basketball.
Q. Alyssa, their coach said that they didn't have an answer for you tonight and she thought you could do whatever you wanted to. Did you feel like you were able to impose your will?
ALYSSA THOMAS: We knew we could get to the rim on them, and that was my mentality, just get to the rim and just try to get easy shots.
Q. Laurin, you guys came out from the very outset and looked really confident and aggressive. Was there something in their scouting report or the preparation that made you guys feel so at ease and so confident against a favored team?
LAURIN MINCY: I think the coaches just did a good job of preparing us for Tennessee. We thought that we had to beat them on the boards to win this game, so we focused on that for the last two days.
Q. Lexie, Alyssa has the ability to score whenever she wants, but she also kicked it out to you guys for threes at times. Talk about her passing ability, too.
LEXIE BROWN: I mean, it's incredible. She draws so much attention to herself when she's on on offense, so for her to be able to just be unselfish and dish it out to us, it's our job to knock those shots down, and it makes her job easy, too, because then they won't be able to send so many people at her.
Q. Lexie, the team really in the regular season against teams of the top tier had regular-season losses against Notre Dame, UConn, Duke in particular, but how does it feel to get a win against a top team on a big stage at this time of year?
LEXIE BROWN: It feels great. I think it was great that we got to play those three teams before we got to the tournament. I mean, we have a lot to prove in this tournament, and to get a big win over Tennessee is just giving us a lot more momentum going into our next game.
Q. Laurin, after you went on your run to pull out in front, you never let them go. What was the key to stopping them and making sure they couldn't get possessions where they scored consecutively?
LAURIN MINCY: We just wanted to focus on making them take tough shots. Meighan Simmons gets it going so we wanted to make sure we contested all her shots and box out. Like I said, that was the key for this game, and obviously we won the battle on the boards.
Q. Alyssa, do you feel a little bit fresher this season, whether that's mental or physical, not having to play quite as many minutes as you did last season?
ALYSSA THOMAS: I just feel like this year we have so much more-- last year we didn't really have any subs, and now this year we can send so many waves at them, it makes it so much easier.
Q. Laurin, you've been through some things obviously in your career at Maryland with knee injuries, but you looked very good, very explosive. Can you talk about how you're feeling right now?
LAURIN MINCY: I'm feeling really good. I had time to refocus a couple weeks ago, just staying confident throughout the season and being patient. I think patience has got me where I am right now.
Q. Alyssa, Tennessee is usually known as a top-tiered defensive team. What did you guys see on the offensive end that you knew you could get to the hoop and score on them down low?
ALYSSA THOMAS: Well, we knew we could get out on them in transition and just get easy baskets, and then once we got ball reversals we were able to attack the rim and get easy lay-ups.
Q. You've talked about getting to the rim in terms of the offensive side of the game, but you also effectively shut down a Tennessee post that cumulatively has a significant height advantage on you. What was your defensive strategy and how were you so successful in shutting them down?
ALYSSA THOMAS: Our post players did a phenomenal job of just limiting them, getting them in foul trouble really early and just trying to keep them off the boards from getting second opportunities.
Q. Laurin, is there something about this time of year that brings out the best in you? A couple years ago against A&M you had 21 points.
LAURIN MINCY: I think I just like the big stage. I mean, it's crunch time. I want to send my seniors out well, so I want to play as hard as I can for them.
Q. Alyssa, did they do anything to you defensively that you hadn't seen for a while or maybe even seen this year?
ALYSSA THOMAS: No, it's just the typical face guard trying to make it difficult to get catches.
Q. Can you talk about your defensive game plan? It seemed like you were really able to clog the lanes and take away penetration. Was that the mindset going into today's game, because it seemed like your height on the perimeter seemed to shut down them wanting to penetrate.
BRENDA FRESE: Yeah, I thought when we came out in the first half, we were really locked in, being able to kind of keep them in front against the dribble drives, did a phenomenal job and Theresa being able to get that spread. I thought the second half they did a much better job getting to the rim, really getting to the free-throw line. They shot a ton of free throws. I thought they were a lot more aggressive in the second half.
Q. Tennessee suffered from turnovers earlier in the season, they averaged about 16 turnovers a game. Obviously you forced 22 turnovers against them today. It seemed like every other time driving the lane you were swiping the ball away. Was that something you guys wanted to do in the beginning of the game or is it something that you guys pointed out in preparation for this game?
BRENDA FRESE: It was a stat I came across when I kind of compared our conference stats and our cumulative. When you watch them on film you see their dangerous deal is they get to live-ball turnovers. I looked at our stats and we actually had more steals than they did. I really felt like we could be getting that message to our team to be able to understand how aggressive we could be.
That was important in terms of being able to get steals and being able to cause turnovers.
Q. Tennessee in winning the SEC Tournament had to go against three big, strong, physical teams, beat them all. What made you think that you could beat Tennessee and its very strength, inside and at both ends of the floor?
BRENDA FRESE: When you watch what we've grown into, obviously we have a ton of depth this season, and it's taken us a while to be able to kind of-- for everyone to understand how critical their role was. But when you look at our bigs, you want to know the difference? Alicia DeVaughn, you look at defensively what she was able to do in her rebounding, then you add Brionna, you add Malina, AT sometimes going down there playing the 4 for us. Just the fact that I felt like even with all the foul trouble that happened in this game, we were able to withstand that. Fortunately for us we had a lot of depth because there were a lot of fouls called in this game, so we were fortunate to be able to have that kind of depth.
Q. You've seen so many great performances from Alyssa. Where would you rank this one, and also particularly the zero turnovers?
BRENDA FRESE: I think the most special thing about Alyssa, when you talk about everything that's been written and everything that we've seen, is just her ability to, obviously, the higher the stakes, she elevates her game, and I think the thing that separates her is her ability to elevate everybody else on our team around her. They raise to her level. She was huge. I mean, and then when you talk about the unselfishness, she was having fun being able to penetrate to be able to get really nice kicks for her teammates.
Q. Laurin mentioned needing to have patience this season as she got back into her rhythm. What kind of patience did you need to have with her and she found herself again?
BRENDA FRESE: You know, I think it was more for Laurin to trust and be patient. This is very similar to when Laurin came in with a knee injury. We knew it was going to take her time, for her body to be able to respond. But I think what you see, what's so special about Laurin is her competitiveness. She wants to be on the floor. She wants to make plays. Really being able to see-- I saw in her the last two to three weeks, just the bounce come back, her step, and obviously you see how she's playing.
Q. Can you talk about apparently your pregame speech to your team, you talked about ignoring Tennessee. How much of that is that tradition and trying to get your team to not focus on that and to play their game, and then secondly, how big a win is this for the ACC over the SEC Tournament champ?
BRENDA FRESE: You know, I think first and foremost, obviously we all want to be where Tennessee is. We have the utmost respect for what they have and their tradition and what they've been able to create. Obviously that's where we all want to be.
I think more of my pregame speech was the talk of like, hey, nobody is picking us, taking the pressure off of us, and really playing so we can make sure that everybody knows who we are in this tournament. Just the mindset. I mean, that is a hurdle obviously when teams go out to play is sometimes you kind of overthink the game, and I think we wanted to make sure our team was just as confident as we could possibly be.
For the ACC, you know, nobody goes into these games thinking about conferences, obviously with the shifts that are taking place, but we do feel like our conference has prepared us for postseason. When you get to have the battles that we've had all year with Notre Dame and Duke and Carolina and the depth of our conference, we feel like it's prepared us for this time, so we're really proud.
Q. Sometimes coaches will take a look at the box score at halftime and get a glance at the numbers. Were you shocked to see the margin of your lead compared to your field-goal percentage in the first half? I think you shot 37 percent in the first half but still led by about 14.
BRENDA FRESE: You know, yeah. But I thought our defense and our rebounding was keeping us in it. If we could tighten some things up, I really felt like we needed to be able to get to the free-throw line more to be able to kind of help. I mean, sometimes these are games that you have to grind out, which you saw with the different possessions that took place. But again, just trying to put it all together.
Q. All season long the SEC has touted itself as the best conference in the country. The selection committee kind of followed that in its seeding. Do you think maybe the SEC was a little overrated and the ACC maybe underrated?
BRENDA FRESE: You know, I think the selection committee has a really tough job, and I think this season when you look at it, there's really two teams that have separated themselves in this field, obviously with UConn and Notre Dame being undefeated. I think they had a really difficult job. I think they based it on how you played in your tournament, and rightly so. Tennessee did a great job going out and winning the SEC Tournament, three games in three days. Obviously for us we didn't perform well in that tournament.
You know, I think they have a really difficult job, and I think the biggest thing is to come into the tournament that it's the clean slate and just come out and play the best basketball you can to be able to advance and move on.
Q. What were you able to do defensively to prevent them from going on those runs to get them back within a few possessions?
BRENDA FRESE: We talked about a lot in the second half the dribble drives that were taking place. We went a few possessions of zone and we also just talked about being able to get better help-side defense to be able to withstand the runs that they were making. Just some simple adjustments.
Q. Alyssa said that you all felt like you could get some easy baskets in transition. Is that an advantage you've had all season over teams with your quickness, or is that something you specifically saw coming into this game against Tennessee you felt like you could take advantage of?
BRENDA FRESE: You know, our transition is a big piece of who we are, and then when you talk about having lead your break, it's like having LeBron come down the center of the court. We feel like there's a great advantage between Alyssa and Lexie in how our team runs. But we did feel like we wanted to be true to who we are and that we could take advantage of their transition D by putting them into a track meet. We felt like we had more depth in this game.
Q. In the second half Meighan showed her will and her heart for the University of Tennessee. What has it been like to play with Simmons this year and last year and the years you've been here?
Cierra Burdick: I think Meg is a competitor. She's going to compete every single time she steps in between those lines. Meg just wants the best for the team. She wants to win. She's had a great career here we're definitely going to miss her. She's going to go on and do some great things and represent the lady volume program. In 10 or 15 years down the road, we're all going to have the opportunity to say that we played with Meighan Simmons. Probably one of the best scorers to ever play the game, and we're going to miss her.
Q. Cierra, you guys have played a lot of strong, physical teams in the SEC and you were able to prevail against them. What was the difference against Maryland today which seemed to dominate inside, especially early?
Cierra Burdick: They just out-willed us. They out-muscled us. Like Holly said, they were the better basketball team today. I think our turnovers really hurt us. You can't win the ballgame when you've got 20-plus turnovers. We couldn't get into a rhythm offensively and we weren't getting the stops that we needed defensively. Give Maryland all the credit; they came out and played a heck of a ballgame, and they took away our strengths.
Q. Meighan, as far as Alyssa Thomas is concerned, every time you guys cut it down there in the second half to eight or nine points she would come back with a big bucket. What did you guys do to try to limit her today?
Meighan Simmons: First we had Cierra to face guard her, and later on in the game when she got to runs we tried to double-team her. Me and Cierra had said in an earlier media session that we have so much respect for her. She's one of the top recruits as of right now to go to the WNBA. She's worked really, really hard. Really she outworked us and out-muscled would us today. Like I said, we have the utmost respect for her.
Q. How painful is this loss? I hate to mention it, about the Grind For Nine and the Final Four in Nashville, it's been a goal all season long. Can you talk about that?
Meighan Simmons: It's always been a grind for us. We've had a heck of a year, and any game where we were down we found a way to fight back and Maryland just had the extra oomph today. They pushed through even harder. We just didn't have it today. It was always a grind for this year. I mean, I think we showed that. A lot of people realized exactly what we could do out there on the floor, and for the people that they have coming in, the freshmen who are coming in and the people who are returning, I would just say to any other team, just look out because I know when I leave here I know everybody else that's going to be coming back is going to be pushing twice as hard to get back in this position and maybe even get over that hump and get to the Elite 8 and get to the Final Four. That's all I can really say about that.
Q. Holly, deficits early have been a problem so much of the season. I know finding the answer would have helped fix it today, but what was it you saw them doing today that they couldn't dig out of it this time?
Holly Warlick: Well, I thought we came out just nervous, a little scared for whatever reason. We didn't have that fight-back at the beginning, and then we got ourselves in a hole. We're a get the ball inside team, and we couldn't find a way to get it inside. It was physical, and we just couldn't, for one reason or the other, get the ball inside. When you turn the ball over 22 times, you're not playing very well. As this team has battled back all year, Maryland wasn't giving in. We dug ourselves in a hole too deep.
Q. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of preparing your team for this game or strategy or approach or anything?
Holly Warlick: No, I thought we had a good game plan. I mean, Dean did a great job scouting, and we wanted to mix it up. We were going zone, going man, and we just didn't have the togetherness on the defensive end, whether it was trust, we gave too many lay-ups. We understood that they score in the transition. We couldn't stop that. We understood that they were great rebounders, we worked on that quite a bit, and we couldn't stop that. You know, I don't know. Looking back maybe play more zone, but I thought we had a good game plan, we just didn't stick to it.
Q. In the first half when Maryland made their run, you elected not to use a time-out. Did you feel that this team could overcome that without you calling one, or take us through that for a little bit.
Holly Warlick: I obviously didn't feel the need to have a time-out, so I didn't call one. I don't have a-- I didn't feel the need to call a time-out.
Q. You mentioned you thought the team was a little nervous and jittery. You said the same thing about the Louisville game last year when you guys lost in the Elite 8. Is that maybe a greater concern for you about the team than execution or Xs and Os or anything like that?
Holly Warlick: Well, I mean, think about it right now, probably yes. All we can do is prepare them for what we need to do in the game and put them in situations where they know what they're defending and where we need to attack offensively. I don't know, the last two times we've been in the tournament, we didn't get it done. We lost to a very good basketball team today, very good. Maybe we'll address that for the next season.
Q. Will you assess the play of Jasmine Jones and Mercedes Russell today? Jasmine came in in the second half and provided the spark, and obviously Mercedes's wing span played a big role today, as well?
Holly Warlick: Yeah, they're kids. Jasmine just is an athlete who plays hard, and I was proud of her. She did what we wanted to do. We wanted to attack the basket, stop the clock and get to the free-throw line, and I thought she did that. Mercedes is going to be a great player for us. She's getting stronger and better every day, great knowledge of the game, and I have so much confidence in her. I mean, I thought she-- she didn't score a whole lot, but she was a factor on the defensive end, which helped us get back into the game.
Q. In the first half, Meighan put a whole lot of points on the board and she was your only double-digit scorer in the first half but she was also shooting a business less than 25 percent, and I noticed that you sat her out for a while in the second half, and when she came back she seemed to be shooting way better. Can you talk about the decision making there?
Holly Warlick: Well, we needed defensive stops, and we thought when we brought Meighan out that we would get-- brought in our better defenders, and we needed stops. That pretty much was plain and simple. I think when Meighan sits and settles down a little bit, she shoots the ball a lot better. So that was our thinking.
You know, we weren't hitting outside shots. I mean, they were packing it in, they were taking away our middle-- our inside game, so we needed to hit a couple outside shots, and we didn't. And they were quick shooting the basketball.
Q. In the second half the team got down by 16 points, but kept battling back, brought it to eight. How proud are you of them just the way they battled back and against a team that had a player hitting nearly all her shots?
Holly Warlick: Well, this team is special to me. I mean, they have committed since last year. They don't give up. They don't have that in them, so I think that's what makes it tough. It makes it tough for us to go out this way. Obviously all teams put in the time and effort; that should be a given. But this team has been really close-knit team and they'll take this pretty hard, as the staff and myself.
But we just get down and we keep fighting and we keep battling, and that's what our MO has been. We've just had to prove our worth all year. I don't know why we've had to prove our worth, but we have. But I think this group has had a great season and a season to be proud of, and we're Tennessee, and we're not happy that we're not playing for a national championship. That's in our DNA.
So we'll go back to work and we'll prepare for next year.
Q. When you guys game planned for Alyssa and you saw I guess her being a lefty, do you game plan differently because of that because the way they shoot the ball is different than what you normally see?
Holly Warlick: Well, when we game planned we wanted to limit her touches, we wanted to force her right. We wanted to keep her off the boards. She did just about everything she wanted to do. 13 rebounds, 33 points. I thought she came up with big rebounds when they needed them. We just didn't have an answer for her tonight, and I don't know why. We just didn't step up and get it done. She's just had a great night, and you understand why she's an All-American. She made great plays.