COACH GENO AURIEMMA
On the dais from Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and student�athletes Kelly Faris and Breanna Stewart.
We'll open with a statement from Coach Auriemma and then take questions for our student/�athletes.
COACH AURIEMMA: Thanks. I don't know what I can add to what we just did. I told Jeff after the game, it was an amazing run by them. Incredible for them to be in the situation that they were in, and I want to congratulate them and Jeff and his staff and their kids.
And for the last month leading up to that was a little bit of a struggle. In spite of our record, it was a little bit of a struggle for �� I know for Kelly, for Stewy, myself, the coaches, you know, nothing that you could see, but it was a struggle. It was a struggle for us internally to get connected and to be the kind of team that I knew we could be.
But this last month has been everything and more that I could ever hope for with this team and these players. And they deserve this. They really do. Sometimes you stumble upon a championship, sometimes the other team hands it to you. But this particular group, especially Kelly, she deserves this championship because she competes for a national championship every day in everything she does. And I'm really, really happy for her. Stewy? Eh (laughter).
Questions for the student�/athletes
Q. Kelly, Coach talked about sometimes you stumble sometimes like that. What made this team do you think reverse itself by your standards in the last month? And was there ever a true moment �� any moments of doubt that it would not happen?
KELLY FARIS: I don't think so from our standpoint. I think a lot of people on the outside doubted it. We had our ups and downs where it was frustrating, and there were times that I was just mad at the world for the way that things were going and the fact that I couldn't figure out how to make it work.
But I can't put into words how thankful I am for this group. And for Coach to turn this around after the Big East Tournament loss. We sat in the locker room and he looked at us and he said, You know what? When we get back together, I'm going to show you how to win a national championship.
And, sure enough, we're sitting right here. So there's times that I don't know how the heck he does what he does, but he's pretty darn good at his job and he figures out a way to get it done.
And happy to have him on my side.
Q. Breanna, can you take us into your mind when the clock was winding down and that you saw that you were going to win a championship your freshman year?
BREANNA STEWART: It was really exciting. I didn't really know what to expect, but obviously as the clock was winding down, we knew that we were going to win the national championship. And I was just trying to figure out who the first person I was going to hug was gonna be.
Q. Kelly, how much was Breanna's play maybe also a catalyst for what you guys were able to do after the Big East Tournament, the change that she made or the change in her, and how much did that change you guys?
KELLY FARIS: That changed us a ton. I don't think people understand how much we needed her to get to this point. If we didn't have her, we wouldn't be here. And we all know that, and I hope she knows that. If she didn't turn it around and step up like she has �� I mean, we have a freshman that's the MVP of the national championship game. And that doesn't happen anywhere but here. And she deserves it.
And kind of, again, I'm glad she's on our side. I wouldn't want to be playing against her.
Q. Breanna, how does this all compare to what you imagined in August or September when you came here about what your freshman year would be and to see how �� the spectacular fashion in which it's ended?
BREANNA STEWART: I think coming in obviously the goal is always to win a national championship, but really going the whole six months through all the hard work and all the practices, I mean, this is kind of a �� I don't know, it's really exciting to be here. And winning a national championship was our goal, and we accomplished it.
Q. Breanna, I know after the Bridgeport regional you weren't really too hyped up about winning the MOP there. You were focused on the team awards. You guys obviously got that done today. Does it mean a little bit more to you to get the MOP for the entire tournament? How does that feel?
BREANNA STEWART: I appreciate it. I mean, it's nice. But, still, we just won a national championship, and I think that's the best thing.
Q. This is for Kelly or Coach. Kelly, you said Coach said he was going to show you how to win a national championship. What he did do?
KELLY FARIS: He might want to keep that a secret. I don't know. (Laughter). I'll let him answer that one.
Q. Geno, you're pretty good with words. Do you have a favorite one when you think of Breanna Stewart? Would it be precocious or innocent, or how would you describe?
COACH AURIEMMA: She's probably all those, she's probably all those things. She's just �� she's really, really innocent and in so many ways. She has a little kid's attitude towards everything that happens. She sees the fun and the joy in everything, and that's why I'm really thrilled for her, because there were times this year where all that went away, and I was really, really worried about her.
And she got it back and she got it back just in time, and here we are.
Q. Coach, you've said I think a couple years ago at a Big East media day that wait until Stewy gets here and we're not going to lose many at all, if any. Now she's here, and the last time you guys won a title in '04 was Diana's end of her run for you guys. Is this the start of a new run with the freshmen and the group you have coming back?
COACH AURIEMMA: I don't know. It's so hard to look ahead. So many things have to go right in the future. Stewy certainly is different than any other college player that's playing right now. But there are a lot of great players that were playing this year that didn't make it to the Final Four, didn't win the national championship. And there's been players that have won it as a freshman and never won any other one and never even went to a Final Four again.
I think looking ahead is �� for me, I think the three freshman that we have �� I want them to keep getting better and better and better every day. Where that takes us, I don't know.
Right now I'm really anxious for next year to start because I want to see what Bria Hartley looks like and I want to see what Stefanie Dolson looks like as seniors, because they've been in the middle of this since their freshman year. And for them to finally be seniors next year, I think it's probably going to be pretty exciting for me.
Q. Geno, what Breanna did these last three weeks, your best�case scenario, or beyond what you hoped you would get from her when she started when the light bulb went on?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, I mentioned yesterday that I always �� when we recruit players �� people tell me this all the time �� my favorite time that I love my players is when I'm recruiting them and after they graduate (laughter).
When I'm recruiting them, I think they're going to be First Team All�-American National Player of the Year. And after they graduate, I think back to, man, what would we be without them. But whole four years that they're there is just torture.
The reason I say that is when I saw Stewy play in high school and play USA Basketball and play with pros as a junior to be a senior in high school and dominate those kids, all I could think of was what's she going to be like when she's in college and learns how to, you know �� how to play and fills into her body and gets a lot smarter? So I'm thinking, wow, this kid could be unbelievable. Maybe as good as anybody I've ever coached.
So that was my thought with Stewy. But thinking that and having it happen, those are two completely different things. And I'm not surprised that it's happened, but to think that it would happen her freshman year to this extent, these last two weeks, that �� that was difficult. That would be a difficult thing for me to admit that I thought so.
Q. Obviously I want to ask you about the historical significance of hitting No. 8. I mean, you tied a great coach today, and can you talk about that as far as your program and your feelings personally?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, you know, when we started �� when we got to our first Final Four in 1991 here in New Orleans, we almost acted like, carried ourselves like, we're thought of as we didn't belong here. The other three teams were Stanford, Virginia, and Tennessee, so the thought of being in the same Final Four with those three programs.
When we left and we didn't win, I thought: What if we never go back? What if that's that one and done? There's other teams that made the Final Four that never went back. And I thought: What if that happens to us? What if that's what Connecticut is?
And then when we won our first national championship in 1995, I thought: Lots of people won one. What if we won't win another one ever again?
So I'm always kind of looking into the future and thinking: Is this it? Is this the last one? Is this one and done? Are we going to be one of those programs?
So to look back now and see where we've come and what's happened at Connecticut in the last 18 years, I would say, never in our wildest dreams did we think that that was possible. Halfway through it I still wasn't sure where it would go.
And winning tonight I think validates a lot of what we wanted to do, what we aspired to be. On ESPN they put up a list of John Wooden, Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp. I'm like: That's not the way it works. That's not the way it works. I never beat Coach K in a game, and I never coached against Coach Wooden. So the only person I compare myself to is Pat Summitt. And to be there in that spot with her means a lot to me.
Q. Coach, if I could ask you two things. First, you have eight titles, but that's eight championship games. Never lost a championship game. What does that mean to you? And then, also, if you can sort of put in perspective what I guess �� I think you've been in contention every year since '95. There's never been a single season where I think anybody would have been shocked if you would have won. What that consistency from way back then in '95 means to every single year be in the mix.
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, somebody �� as a matter of fact, somebody pointed out something that you wrote that kind of captured the essence of what we are at Connecticut, and certainly how I treat it, that I expect to be in contention with my team every single year. Ever since 1995, you're right. And everybody's had injuries and everybody's had bad luck, but ever since 1995 with very, very, very, very few exceptions, we were No. 1 in the country every one of those years at one point or another. And I don't know anybody that's been able to do that.
And yet, at the same time, the expectation level to win one every year really bothers me. And I think you were really good in pointing that out. It bothers the hell out of me that there's this assumption that we should win it every year or we should lose in the national championship game every year. I don't think anybody that makes those comments really, really knows how hard it is to do what we've done.
And I'm really, really proud of that. Because I know how hard it was to do it. And with each year that goes by and teams get knocked out and teams that everybody thinks are national championship teams or programs that should be in the Final Four and are not, with each year that that happens, I feel even better about what we've done. Because I know more than anybody else, and so does my staff, just how incredibly difficult it is to do what we've done. You had something else?
COACH AURIEMMA: Eight for eight? Man, oh, man. You know, the one thing �� I've said this before, and excuse me if I've said it here before, but I really believe that coaches lose more championship games than they win. You don't have your team ready, for whatever reason, mentally usually. And I've been in the Final Four a couple times when we've lost where mentally we weren't right. But we've never been in a championship game where mentally we weren't right.
And all eight times that we've won a national championship, I felt like my team was mentally ready to win a championship. And I think that's something that I'm really proud of; that we don't show up in championship games not ready to play mentally or physically.
Q. When you say to a team "I'm going to show you how to win a championship," what do you have to show them and where �� how long in your career, Geno, did you understand what you had to show them?
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, remember after we lost at Notre Dame in at that triple overtime game and you said to me, You gotta be the most miserable 30 �and� 3 guy in America, right? I think if you're not careful at Connecticut, you have this thing hanging over your program that losses are not allowed, and kids become afraid to lose if you're not careful. And at Connecticut we've always played to win. I think that's another reason why we play well in these tournaments; we play to win. We're not afraid to lose. But that takes some getting used to at Connecticut.
And I thought that for a large part of this season too many times our team was feeling the pressure to win, the feeling of are we good enough, what if we don't live up to other people's expectations of ourselves. And a lot of that has to do with me. A lot of that has to do with our coaching staff. Because too many times at practice they didn't live up to our expectations as coaches. Usually mine.
And it got to a point where I could sense it, I could feel it that it was holding us back. And as soon as the Big East championship game ended, I sat down with our coaches and I said: All that's going to change starting right now.
You don't know if it's going to work, but I tried to make them feel like, listen, all that stuff's behind us now. There's a lot of teams going into the NCAA Tournament. 64. And there's a lot of teams that think they can win it. But we're Connecticut. And we go into the NCAA with a different mindset than everybody else. And they're so young, dummies, they believe me (laughter).
Q. For the last month back home we've been busting your stones about how come they can't win a close game anymore.
COACH AURIEMMA: I know, I know.
Q. Turns out you didn't have to.
COACH AURIEMMA: By the way, I went back and checked my media guide after you guys were killing me about that crap, and in my first four years at Connecticut, we played 47 games that were decided by eight points and less. And we won like 80 percent of them. So anybody out there from Connecticut, shut up.
Q. Did you think you would be able to run �� to win ��
COACH AURIEMMA: No. Well, I mean, when we saw the bracket, obviously, you know, when we saw it, we were really, really concerned, because obviously the 1 and 16 game you don't worry so much about. Vanderbilt is a really good team, but we're better than Vanderbilt. But when I saw Maryland, Kentucky, and Notre Dame, probably, and then Baylor, I thought, man, this �� I hope I didn't set these guys up for a big letdown, because this is gonna be really, really, really hard. And you hate to play teams that you've already played in the NCAA Tournament.
But sometime during that Vanderbilt game something clicked, and we just got this thing about us, this aura about us that we got now. I don't know where it went, I don't know what happened to it during the season, I don't know how we lost it, but there was something in that Vanderbilt game. And then it happened again in the Kentucky game, and it happened in the Maryland game where I knew we got it. We got it. We got everything we need right now to win this whole thing.
And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that, you know, that if Baylor had been in this game against us, you know, we win by 30. So things had to break right a little bit for us too. But that's just the way the tournament goes.
Q. Geno, in '95 when you won your first championship, it caused a tremendous amount of interest in the sport. Since then there's maybe a feeling right now that the game has plateaued in terms of injuries and the quality of play. Do you agree? And, if so, what can it do to get better on both levels?
COACH AURIEMMA: Man, that's a topic for a lot of discussion, and a lot of people have talked about it and I've certainly thrown out my share of ideas, which people have �� some agree with, some have said that I'm an idiot.
I think, like any other sport, the product that you put on the floor has to be excellent. And you have to aspire to be really, really good, which means you don't have a majority of the teams in college basketball shooting 40 percent from the floor.
That means that our officiating keeps getting better. That means that our coaching keeps getting better. That means that these kids that are being coached in high school, AAU, whatever, keep getting better; that they work on their game; that they learn how to be really, really good players instead of just whatever. Like you see a lot of kids. Like if they win, they win; if they don't, they don't.
There's got to be a commitment to being great. I think it's happening at more schools than ever, but I think there is a feeling that we have plateaued. There's a feeling that we have plateaued. And the interest level has to come back, and maybe players like Stewy will help in accomplishing that.
But women's sports unfortunately are going to suffer that. They have from the beginning, and they will to the end. That's just the world that we live in. And we gotta fight that every day.
Q. Louisville got here by volume scoring in a sense, just shooting lights out against Baylor, volume scoring against Tennessee. Could you describe what your defensive approach was to containing them in general? And then specifically in the second half, after Sara Hammond was the one person doing much damage in the first, you held her to just four points in the second. What adjustment did you make on her?
COACH AURIEMMA: We really didn't make any major adjustments on Sara Hammond. We spent so much time and energy guarding Shoni Schimmel and Antonita Slaughter. We spent so much time and energy guarding those guys. That was our focus the entire game. And Jude Schimmel when she was in the game as well.
Whatever anybody else did, we were gonna have to live with it. As long as those three players didn't dominate the game. And our guards did a amazing job on those three. Amazing. That, I thought, was going to be the difference in the game, how well we did against those three players. Because, let's face it, those three have carried them to this point. Those three in the six games or the five games before tonight have dominated every guard combination that they've played against. And we were determined that that wasn't going to happen tonight.
Q. Is there any player that you would single out for their defensive efforts in this game?
COACH AURIEMMA: For us? Yeah, I don't think Shoni Schimmel got a lot of open looks, and that was Kelly Faris. And Antonita Slaughter didn't get many open looks either, and a lot of times that was Stewy. We thought her length would be good enough to keep her from �� plus, we didn't let her get as open as some of the other teams that she's played against in the last three weeks.