COACH JEFF WALZ
MODERATOR: Joining us now on the dais from Louisville, head coach Jeff Walz and student�/athletes Sara Hammond, Antonita Slaughter, and Shoni Schimmel.
COACH WALZ: I'd just like to first congratulate UConn and Geno, his entire staff. They've done a great job. They're a fantastic basketball team, and we knew that coming in here. They played as well as I've seen them play this entire year tonight, and they shot the ball as well as I've seen them shoot.
We knew coming in here that we were going to have to try and make them take some 3s, and they took some 3s and they made some 3s. We just didn't quite have enough tonight. But it's not because we didn't compete. And we didn't compete �� and we competed for all 40 minutes.
I'm proud of every single one of our players. It's without a doubt going to go down as one of the greatest runs in women's basketball.
To be a 5 seed and knock off a 4, then �� but the No. 1 of all 1s in Baylor and then a 2 in Tennessee and then come back and beat Cal, I don't think anybody can argue that, you know, unfortunately we just came up one game short.
But I'm proud of my players. I'm proud of everyone. I'm proud of my staff support staff. And we're going to hold our heads high and we're going to be proud of what we did.
And I'm really proud of our two seniors in Monique Reid and Shelby Harper. Mo's had the opportunity to the play in two national championship games. Unfortunately we didn't come out on the plus side of either one of them. But it's an experience she'll always have.
And I'll told these players this is something that they'll remember for the rest of their lives and I was privileged to coach them and be a part of it.
Questions for the student�/athletes.
Q. For Sara, I wonder if you could speak to the difficulty of contending with Breanna Stewart and what specifically you were trying to get done and what you would have liked to have done better.
SARA HAMMOND: You gotta give credit to her, her being a freshman coming in, in the spotlight in a national championship. She handled it very well. She's a tremendous athlete. She's a freak of nature. She's got a wingspan that's close to Brittney Griner's, I think.
And she's a hard matchup. She can shoot the 3, she can take you off the dribble or post you up. So she did a tremendous job. And her teammates did a tremendous job of getting her open and getting her the ball.
But our whole game plan was to limit her touches and not let her rebound. And she was relentless on the boards tonight. I gotta give credit to her and her team.
Q. Shoni, can you talk a little bit about the attack they put on you personally, I mean, the way they contained you?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: Playing in the Big East you kind of know each other, and so they kind of had an idea. We've already played before, so they knew what to do to stop us, and that was kind of limit my touches and not really let me shoot. Because they saw the day we played Cal, the same thing happened.
And my teammates did a great job of doing what they needed to do, and that was score when they needed to. We just came up short, and you can't really ask much of anything because we gave it all we had.
Q. Having done what many believe was completely impossible, and having built up such faith in your team this year, you've got much of this team coming back, what do you think it's going to do for you next year?
SHONI SCHIMMEL: I think it's us still believing in the fact that we did make it this far and we are losing two seniors. But, hey, everybody's coming back, and so that's bad for everybody else because we did make this run at the end of tournament, and it's just going to continue into next season and we're just going to get better and grow as a team and learn from this and hopefully be back next year.
Q. Sara, Coach talks about throwing the first punch. UConn did that tonight. Describe kind of the feeling that was like and how difficult was it to emotionally regroup after that.
SARA HAMMOND: Honestly, I thought we kind of came out and fought with them there at the beginning. They're a great team. They made it to the championship for a reason, but we did too.
But they executed their game plan to perfection. They tried to take away Antonita and Shoni' 3s and kind of get up in their face, and they made other people take shots. And then when you look up at the scoreboard and you kind of see they're going on a big run, I mean, yeah, you're down 18 or whatever, but we never stopped fighting. We went to timeouts and we huddled. And Coach and all of us, we gathered around each other and said the reason we're here is because we kept fighting and we never gave up, and we're not going to quit now. We made it to a national championship.
We never quit, no matter what the score was.
Q. For Antonita, I wonder if the way the game got out of hand, does that make you think there was something you didn't do, or was there just a talent discrepancy that you weren't going to be able to overcome?
ANTONITA SLAUGHTER: Personally I think that my teammates �� I think they fought the hardest. We just came out short tonight.
And we're not going to hang our heads. We did the unthinkable. So we're just going to work through the summer and just come back next year and get better.
Q. Can you tell us how your seniors are handling the loss? Do they have perspective the way you do, or are they more upset?
SARA HAMMOND: I think they're glad that we got to the national championship. No one believed in us this whole time. Everyone expected Baylor to be back in the national championship. And we did the impossible.
I don't think �� none of us are hanging our heads, and they're not hanging their heads either because they went out, they were the last ones to practice the last day you could practice, and that's a great way to go out, knowing that you're the last one of two teams to end the season still playing.
So I think they're proud of all of us and they're �� a great way to go out. Obviously we didn't go out on top, but it was a miracle run in this tournament, and I think they're going to remember that the rest of their lives. And when we look back �� Coach always tells us 20, 30 years from now we're going to be texting and emailing each other talking about this and what we did.
Questions for Coach Walz.
Q. With their 3-�point looks, what was your thought process in terms of what you're trying to take away from a team that can score in that many ways?
COACH WALZ: Well, that's part of the problem, and I've said that, I've talked to my staff about and we said that from Day 1. What makes them so unique is their ability to score from all five positions on the floor. You got to kind of pick your poison.
I told our players, too, we're going to have to try to make someone shoot the ball that normally might not. But the problem is when you go 13-and-26 from the 3-�point line, it makes it tough to defend you.
And that's really what happened tonight. I thought Kelly Faris was great for them. She always doesn't get a lot of the props because she doesn't do �� she might not always be the high scorer, but just how she plays, how hard she plays. She defended so well. And then she goes out there and goes 4-of-7 from the 3�-point line.
I think we started off in the second half and made a little run, and she comes down and hits back-�to-�back 3s to counter any kind of run we were trying to make.
They're a tough matchup for anyone, and especially for us when we're as thin in the post as we are.
Q. Jeff, after the win against California, you told �� I believe it was an ESPN sideline reporter �� court�side reporter: Why not us.
COACH WALZ: Yep.
Q. In a nutshell, why wasn't it you tonight?
COACH WALZ: Because we didn't score enough points. They scored 93, and we cored 60. That's kind of �� if you don't score more that the other team, it ain't gonna be you.
Q. More succinctly, Jeff, was there something that you could say ��
COACH WALZ: No. I mean, they played great. They go 13 of 26 from the 3�-point line. They defended well. They chased Shoni and Antonita and did a really nice job of pushing them off the 3�point line.
We ended up going 5- for-23 from the 3-�point line. And that's normally not what we do. We've been a much better 3�-point �shooting team, especially the past three weeks, than we were tonight. And I knew coming into this game we were going to have to make some 3s. We just don't have the post depth right now with all the injuries that we have to be able to just pound the ball down low.
So I'll give credit to them because they defended extremely well.
Q. Jeff, you talked a couple days ago about Breanna Stewart and talking to Jim Boeheim and sort of having a sense of how good this player is, but it's one thing to sort of know what a player is like in high school and on tape and another thing now to coach against her. Can you give us a sense of how dominant a performance you think this was and just how difficult it is to game plan against her?
COACH WALZ: Well, I mean, it's extremely difficult. You know, I've seen her play in the summers a bunch and in high school. She's just a phenomenal player. I think Geno saved her for the tournament because he didn't play her as much throughout the year. So I guess he knew what he was doing.
But she's a spectacular player, and we knew that. I think what you've seen from her in the NCAA Tournament, especially in the Final Four, is what all of us had expected the entire year, to be honest. And I think she got injured at one point and then was going through just some growing pains as a freshman, but she sure figured it out at the right time.
Q. Jeff, you talk a little bit in your opening statement, but just the run you guys had. Geno said up on stage that the only team playing better than his guys in the tournament were you having won those games and just what you've done. And I know it's after coming off of the loss, but just what this run has meant for Louisville and just basketball in general, seeing a team that gets here no No. 5 has ever gotten to the finals before.
COACH WALZ: I think it's great. I give all the credit to our players, to my staff, in believing in what we thought was possible. We came out every night �� I mean, we came out tonight with the plan to win. We had planned to be the ones out there celebrating. We weren't coming into the game thinking there ain't no way we could win. Because if you do that, there's no sense to show up and play.
So we go, you know, we're the 5 seed, we win the first one. Then we aren't supposed to beat Purdue; we do that. And then nobody ever thought we'd come close to beating Baylor. But we knew in order to do that we were going to have to do something special. 16-of-25 from the 3�-point line was pretty special. Then you go out there and you beat a Tennessee team that everybody thought we'd lose again, and we don't. You come in here, you beat Cal. And, I mean, things are going good.
The one thing that I wish I could change is the two opportunities that we've had here to play in for the national championship, you're playing against a conference opponent. The great thing about this tournament is you normally get to play somebody that hasn't seen you. And they can watch you on film; we can watch people on film.
Like we watched Cal. Clarendon, I thought she was really good. But in person, she's a lot better than what I had seen. She's a lot quicker and does some more things.
But you get in here, you play UConn, and it's �� it's a tough task. But we thought we had the opportunity to compete with them. I thought if things went well �� and we were going to have to get some breaks here or there. But the run that we went on I think is remarkable and it's something I'll always remember. And I've told our players: When we walk out of this place, we're walking out with our head high and we're proud of what we've done.
Q. Jeff, you cut it to 16 points and Stewart hits a 3�pointer and you turn around and you just kind of shake your head like: What else can I do? What was that emotion, and was that kind of resignation there?
COACH WALZ: No. They just made big shot after big shot. Starting the second half, we come out, we score. Then Faris hits a 3. We come back down the floor and score again. Faris hits another 3. Then we hit back�to�back 3s and get it to 16. And Stewart comes out and hits about a 22 �� a 23�-footer. And it's just a big time shot.
And at that point in time I was like if we can get one more stop and get down and score, all of a sudden it kind of makes the game a little more interesting.
But unfortunately we were never able to get it to where a shot actually started to matter. And what I mean by that is when you're up 15, 16, that rim looks really big. You get it to 10, you get it to 8, and all of a sudden there's a little bit more pressure on you. And we could just never get over that hump and get it to that.
Q. Jeff, are there ways you can build off this run that weren't available to you in 2009 because of who you lost from that team?
COACH WALZ: Of course.
I think what this does for us is I think it shows people that our '09 run was not an accident. And where I'm hoping that this really helps us build is in recruiting. I'm hoping there's some players out there that realize, hey, look what they've done at Louisville in the past six years. We've played for two national championships in the past five years.
And in order for us to continue to make runs like this and then to come into the situation and be able to beat Connecticut is we're going to have to continue to recruit and get players that can come in here and push the ones we've got, and then we'll put a team out there where we're competing to win this game.
Q. Jeff, to kind of elaborate on that, can you speak to this team's potential next year? I know it's kind of hard now, but considering who you guys have coming back and the injured players you that you didn't have?
COACH WALZ: I'm really excited about that, but at the same time I've got to make sure my players understand that we just went on a pretty special run. And if you're going to sit here this spring and summer and think that same thing is going to happen without going back to work and getting better individually, it's not going to happen.
I challenged them in the locker room after the game. I said, Hey, this is unbelievable, something you'll never forget. I'm not going to forget it either. But if you're satisfied with this, that's not what I want.
I've had the opportunity to coach in the national championship three years, once as an assistant, and we were out there celebrating, and now twice as a head coach, and we're still one step away. You've got to climb that next step to be able to cut the nets down.
And that's our goal, and I told our players that. And, you know, I think they want the same thing. And we understand we have to have the same type of improvement from each player as we did this year to be able to make that next step, and hopefully our incoming recruits will be able to help. And then hopefully, again, we'll be able to continue to recruit some special players that want to be a part of this.
Because �� I mean, I'm not sure �� I think we counted. I think there's been eight schools, I believe, in the past five years that have actually played in a Final Four. In our game, it's not easy to get to this game that we've just played in, and because of the fact that we're continuing to recruit and continuing to get players to believe in what we're doing �� and hopefully we'll see the dividends when we sign our next class and the class after that.
Q. Coach, speaking of the talent that you already have, could we get your thoughts on how Sara Hammond rose to the occasion tonight when both Slaughter and Schimmel were being contained by UConn?
COACH WALZ: I thought Sara came out and competed. We're still going to challenge her. She settled a few times for fade�away shots. When she's got it, she's quick enough and strong enough to drive to the basket, try to absorb the contact and try to get 3�point plays.
But the progress she made from her freshman year to her sophomore year, it's remarkable. And I challenged her to make those same strides to her junior year. Because if she does that, now all of a sudden we're getting better.
It's the same thing I told Jude Schimmel. I thought Jude has done great job for us. And now she has to continue to improve. You could just go down the entire line.
So we're honored to have the opportunity to play for a national championship, but we're not satisfied with the results. So we're going to continue to get back to work and hopefully be able to be the ones that are out there celebrating.