COACH AURIEMMA: Well, I'm glad it didn't come down to the last minute (laughter). So I was praying for that because I didn't want to screw it up again and I didn't want my guys to screw it up again. So we're thrilled about that.
I said this to Rebecca earlier: When you get to the Final Four, there's only good teams and great teams left. And you're gonna have to beat them if you want to win a national championship. I don't think anybody comes here and loses games. You're going to have to beat them.
And we knew that going in. And we knew that if we were going to win the game tonight, we had to beat Notre Dame. We couldn't count at all on them losing the game.
And I really believe that for 40 minutes we competed and we played about as hard as we're capable of playing. And I couldn't be happier for them. I couldn't be more proud of them. We've come a long way. And this is really, really, really rewarding.
And again, you know, the Notre Dame team that we beat is a great, great, great team. You don't beat us seven out of eight times without being a great team. So my hat's off to them and the kind of year that they've had, but tonight was our night.
Q. Breanna, could you talk about your game and about your shoulder a little bit and how you've just sort of come on here at the end of the season and the reasons for that?
COACH AURIEMMA: What do you want, me to answer it for you?
BREANNA STEWART: Yeah.
COACH AURIEMMA: Come on. Get this over with.
BREANNA STEWART: About my game, I don't know, I think that this postseason I've really gained a lot more confidence. And today was a game that I was really looking forward to playing. I think all of us were. And about my shoulder, it's fine.
Q. Kelly, talk about the journey that this team has undergone from the end of the Big East Tournament to get to this point and getting this win tonight.
KELLY FARIS: We've had some ups and downs starting from the beginning. I think we've mentioned it before, there's been �� we can almost count on one hand what it felt like, how many practices that we've had everybody there type of thing. But when you get to this point in the season, you know that everybody's had their ups and downs as well and some worse than others.
So, for us, we just had to turn it around after the Big East championship, and I think we did that from the younger guys all the way up. And I told them in the locker room they have no idea how proud I am of every single one of them, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart, because to see this team just totally transform, especially the young guys, that's not easy to do.
And the fact that she comes in and plays her heart off and has 29 points, you don't see very many freshmen that do that.
And I think that the big difference for us is just our mentality and we were able to get contributions from everybody, and that really helps us out.
Q. Kelly, I was wondering if you could �� you waxed pretty well in Bridgeport about Breanna's emergence. It's getting frightening now. Can you just a little talk about what you saw tonight?
KELLY FARIS: I think this is what we knew was in her. This is what we saw from the beginning of the year. And then everybody goes through their little lapses of issues, whatever they may be. And this is what we wanted her to get back to. This is how she plays basketball. It's how she's always played basketball. So you guys are just kind of starting to get a glimpse of what we knew that she had.
Q. Breanna, did you just wake up one morning before the Big East Tournament and say, all right, now it's time for me to play the way I know I can play? How �� if somebody asked you from outside how to explain your play in the last three weeks, what would you tell them?
BREANNA STEWART: Well, I'm not sure if I just woke up and started feeling better, but I think that getting in the gym with C.D. and stuff like that really helped just gain my confidence in practice and then put it over into the game.
And I think Coach had a little bit to do with it.
But, wait, what was the second half part of the question? (Laughter). I get distracted.
COACH AURIEMMA: Sorry. Just wanted to make sure you got your facts straight.
Q. Kelly, did you think that you guys had it in you to make this kind of change?
KELLY FARIS: Yeah. For sure. We all knew it. It was just a matter of actually focusing and turning it around and stop talking about it and actually put it into action.
Like I said, we saw glimpses of what we could do at the beginning of the season. And in preseason. We felt great during preseason.
So we knew we could do it. And, like I said, it just �� unfortunately it took a little while for us to buckle down and actually, like I said, put it into action, but I'm glad we're coming together right now.
Q. Kelly, we talked in Bridgeport about the defense and how good it was against Kentucky. Tonight you guys held Skylar and Kayla to 8�-for-�35 shooting and for one stretch held them without a point for about seven minutes. Just talk about the defensive effort tonight. They scored 65, but it was not an easy 65 to get.
KELLY FARIS: Yeah, obviously that's something that this program prides itself on. We take a lot of our momentum from our defense. And going into this game, that was something that was going to have to be different. Our pressure had to be that much higher than we've ever played it against anybody. And we knew by doing that we were going to have to get into our bench and have to count on them to give us some good minutes as well. So I think we came in with a good game plan set up by our coaches, and I felt like we executed it. And a lot of it was revolved around defensive pressure.
Q. Kelly, is your happiness now �� does your happiness now surpass the disappointment that was in your face after the first losses to Notre Dame this season?
KELLY FARIS: Obviously those are still going to be in the back of my mind. When my career is over and I think back to the different games, and the ones that stand out are usually the ones you lose. Especially at this program, because there's not expected to be very many of them, so �� but, honestly, at this point I'm not really worried about all that.
Where we're right now, this is where it counts. And we've gotten to this point, so there's no reason to sit here and think about all the past games. Or even going in to play against Louisville. We can't sit there and think about when we played them earlier in the season. They're a completely different team, and we have to be as well.
Q. I wanted to ask you all to talk a little bit about the spreadsheet. You knew Notre Dame would come at you, and they did, they cut it to 6 there. And you all came up with the answer. You had a couple plays on defense, couple offensive rebounds. Talk about that a little bit if you could, both of you, because you both contributed to it.
KELLY FARIS: I think Coach mentioned it to us in the locker room. Obviously they went on their �� like you said, they went on their stretch and they picked up the pressure. And we had a few too many turnovers, but we were able to count on different players at different times to make the play when we needed it. If we needed a steal, we got a steal. If we needed a bucket, somebody knocked one in. And those buckets and hustle plays, they all came in at very crucial times. So that was huge for us to sustain our lead.
BREANNA STEWART: I think that obviously Notre Dame is a really good team, and we know that they're going to make runs like that. And I think it's just how we answer it and make our own run. Because we went on a run after they cut it to 6, right? Yeah.
Questions for Coach Auriemma.
Q. When you lost to them up at Storrs, we were talking after the game and you were concerned about how long it was going to take Stewart to adjust to the physicality of the game. Has she gotten stronger in the last couple of months, or how has she done that?
COACH AURIEMMA: She's gotten stronger mentally. I think she's gotten stronger emotionally. Stewy really takes things to heart and she puts a lot of pressure on herself. And when she wasn't playing well, it got into her pretty severely and she let it affect her. She wasn't strong enough mentally and strong enough emotionally to just kind of put it aside.
And after the Big East championship game �� or I should say after the end of the regular season, there was a renewed almost kind of I'm not going to settle for this anymore. I'm not going to allow myself to feel like this anymore.
And that's kind of rare for an 18�-year-�old to be able to do that. And I do think that getting in the gym and being able to clear your mind and just go back to what you love doing, just playing basketball, and then once she started playing well, it just snowballed. And right now she just has a tremendous amount of confidence in herself, as she should.
Q. Coach, you've seen a lot of really good performances from Huskies in the past. I mean, she put up 29 tonight, key blocks, in one of the biggest games that potentially you could play. Where does this one rank in your memory of big games by UConn players?
COACH AURIEMMA: Given the stage and what was at stake, I don't know �� I don't know that I've seen any bigger, way bigger. I know there's been NCAA Tournament games where we've had certain individuals play great, great, great games. But I don't remember a player having a better game in this environment, and certainly I've never seen a freshman have a game like this in this environment.
I remember Kara Wolters' semifinal game against Stanford in 1995 where she had 31. That was pretty amazing. She was a sophomore then and it was incredible.
And Stewy made a lot of free throws after she got banged around with her shoulder. She's just one of these unique kids that doesn't take herself too seriously, doesn't demand a lot of attention. And I hope she's got another one left in her Tuesday night.
Q. Coach, we talked a little bit after the Kentucky game about the job Bria did defensively on O'Neill, and today I noticed you had her on Kayla McBride a little bit, and McBride has killed you guys for the last two years I'd say maybe. Can you talk about �� I mean, is she a better defensive player than maybe we've seen in the past, Bria? And her performance tonight, just talk about that, defensively?
COACH AURIEMMA: No, I think the last two games have been two of her best efforts. But I think I might have said this after the Kentucky game. We've kind of narrowed her scope so she doesn't have to think a lot out there and be involved in a lot of different rotations on defense and just give her one job to do. And she's been able to lock into it and has played great both games in Bridgeport, and I thought she was great in the second half, especially today. She played the whole 20 minutes, and I know she was tired. Hopefully we can get her some rest.
But she's a winner. I've always said that. One of the things that worried me about our team for the longest stretches �� and, by the way, those of you that don't know us, it's not like we lost ten games in a row this year and we snuck into the NCAA Tournament. We are 30�something and 4. So there's been times this year where we've been pretty good and we've beaten a lot of really good teams during the season by a lot, so �� just so that we're not the Cinderella team that everybody thinks we are, the Beauty and the Beast here.
But I �� one of the concerns that I had about our team was �� I don't know that we have anybody with the attitude that you need sometimes to win a national championship. Even Stewy. She gets 29, but it wasn't like an in-�your-�face 29. It was like it's 29.
Bria is the only one that we have that really has that kind of cocky attitude that, you know, in the biggest games I'm the best player. She might not play the best, but she actually feels that way. And she's the only one on our team that is like that.
Q. Can you just talk about what the standards you have at your program about being back in the title game? And then also maybe an early comment on Louisville and what Jeff �� the run they've been on here?
COACH AURIEMMA: Our program right now, we're the beneficiary of a lot of things that have happened over the last 20�-some years. And the players that we get and the expectation level is such that this is where we're supposed to be. So the way the program is structured and the kind of players that we get, they are never surprised that we're where we are. There may be bumps along the road, but they know exactly what the destination is all the time.
And Tuesday night �� I don't know, Tuesday night �� we gotta problem Tuesday night I think because I think Louisville �� Louisville really thinks they're the best team in the country right now. After the way they've played and what they've done, and these last couple weeks, they probably think there's nobody that can beat them. They probably think it will be a huge upset if we win that game Tuesday night.
And Jeff's a big part of that. People have issues with me. He's the cockiest guy I ever met, man. (Laughter). He's the cockiest guy I ever met. He wears an Italian tablecloth for a shirt today (laughter). I was going to hire him for my restaurant.
But, you know, I've gotten to know him really well, and I think we were �� we were at a certain level relationship�wise when he first got the job at Louisville. And I would say probably over the last two or three years I don't think there's anybody that I respect more for their coaching ability than Jeff. In our league. I don't know that anybody does a better job day in and day out of getting their team ready to play than Jeff does.
Q. Italian tablecloth. Good line. I'm sure you answered a question on Skylar earlier, but I just got here. But I did want to ask you: She's been a unique opponent for you. You've certainly had a lot of players on opposing teams who have impacted you, but maybe there's not a opponent who's impacted you more than Skylar Diggins, and I wonder if you can reflect on her career against you versus even some of the other players that had an impact against Connecticut.
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, you know the ironic thing about it is that if you check Skylar's shooting percentage and all that stuff against us, it's not that great, including tonight. But what makes her who she is is that invariably whenever there's a time where she has to get a 3, she gets one. Whenever she needs to get in the lane and get an assist, she gets one. Whenever she has to get a steal, she might not have any steals, but then she'll get the two that decide the game. She just has that uncanny ability to capture the moment.
And one of the reasons why she's been so successful is she does have that mindset, like I was saying, that I was worried that nobody on our team had. And if they weren't in our league, she would just be another player that beat Connecticut. But because they're in our league and we played them so many times the last couple of years and they've had so much success that �� yeah, I would say there hasn't been an opponent that we played against that's had more success against us than she's had. For sure. For sure.
Q. Geno, how much did how your players felt about the previous three games leading into this one this year play into what happened tonight?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, nobody wanted to believe me because you lost. But there's losing and there's getting beat. And I've always said that to my team. There's a huge difference between losing a game and getting beat.
And I felt like all three games this year we lost. We didn't get beat. But you can't say that because we lost the game. So if you lose the game, you got beat. But when we looked at the three games getting ready for this game, we all thought they've yet to beat us. I know it's a loss in the loss column, but we lost all three of those games because in the last minute or whatever, we didn't execute the things that we're good at.
And that's why I think tonight we won the game. I don't think Notre Dame lost the game tonight. And if I thought that they had beat us soundly those three games, then I would have been coming into this game thinking, man, you know, I don't know if we can do this.
But when you look at it �� you know, I was saying this the other day. At some point the percentages are going to work in your favor. The best 3-�point shooter in the country gets two wide�-open shots at our place and misses them both. They've got a kid, Kayla McBride, who's like the 35th best 3�point shooter in our league and makes a 3 to tie the game in overtime.
You know at some point those percentages are going to revert back to the other way. And we missed free throws at their place that would have iced the game, both Stewy and Kelly. And you knew at some point it was gonna �� and today it did. Stewy and Kelly made their free throws.
So I think it made our players feel really, really confident going into tonight's game as opposed to I don't think we can beat these guys. That's a long answer to a short question.
Q. I was going to ask you whether, in describing the difference between those games that you lost earlier in the season and this one that you won quite soundly tonight, you would ascribe it to a different or better game plan, and if so, would you tell us what that was, or whether it was a matter of executing the same game plan better.
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, Shea Ralph has had the scout for every single one of these games, so she knows Notre Dame better than she knows the UConn players. And we felt like there were things in all three of those games that we did really, really well, that we needed to do it more often tonight. There were things that we did lousy against them those three games that we had to try to eliminate those things.
So the game plan was more about not inventing anything new, not coming up with a game plan that they didn't know we were going to spring on them. It was just this is what we did that worked, and we gotta do it more often at both ends of the floor, and this is what we did that they killed us on, and we gotta eliminate those as many times as possible.
So I think we just took the information that we had from those three games. And then today, the players, as is the case, you know, they made it happen. We can put any game plan we want on the floor, but those kids made it happen tonight.