The all-time winningest women's basketball coach answers questions about UConn and the rest of the season
Jan. 5, 2005
On the Lady Vols' last few games:
"I thought our Rutgers game was really very telling for our team and theirs. They brought great pressure to our guards and I did not think we handled that very well. I was really impressed with their overall team speed and quickness. In the first half, we folded early. I was pleased, however, that we stepped up and competed with a different intensity in the second half. It was valuable for us because it identified some areas of weakness, and we came back and had some good practices and preparation before going to Old Dominion, a team that is traditionally very physical and athletic. I was pleased in that particular game that our seniors stepped up and showed great leadership. I thought Shyra (Ely) and Brittany (Jackson) made big plays when Old Dominion made a run at us, so that was very encouraging. We have had some good practices this week, so I think we are getting better. With Loree (Moore) back, just in practice alone, it is going to be very valuable."
On having most of the team healthy for the beginning of practice on Monday:
"Well, I do not even know if it was for 10 minutes. We were playing a little three-on-three and Alexis Hornbuckle went for a ball and poked Tye'sha Fluker's eye, and she has been out. I guess when that happened, I thought, 'this is so typical of our year.' You just have to handle the injuries and the adversity, and long term, from my experiences, it makes you a little bit tougher and probably better."
On the importance of this season's Connecticut game:
"The team that wins will obviously feel better about themselves. I think that is true in any game when you walk off the court, but in particular because of who it is and the rivalry. Certainly, for us, we have been on the losing end for six in a row. It is an important game for us to feel good about how we compete on Saturday. Whichever team wins will have to come away feeling better."
On whether people will still be interested in the Connecticut game with both teams ranked lower than usual:
"I think it is what it is - it is Tennessee and Connecticut. It has been the most-watched regular-season game in recent years. It has been the one game in the regular season that people wanted to see. Obviously, the rankings have been different, and so maybe from that standpoint people would think they need to watch this game. I know the UConn fans will be there. The media will be there. CBS will be there, and there will be a lot of people watching throughout the country. I do not think it will effect the game that much. Certainly, it is not going to affect the teams."
On if Connecticut is down this year or if other teams have improved:
"Throughout the country we are just seeing parity at its best in the women's game. I do not think we have seen anything quite like it this early. When you lose your backcourt, you go through some difficult times or adjustments, but I certainly think this Connecticut team will be in the hunt at the end. I hope we can say the same about Tennessee. We lost the inside presence of an Ashley Robinson and the leadership of a Tasha Butts and the experience of a LaToya Davis. You just do not replace that overnight. With us, it has been such a struggle from a leadership standpoint at times, but I think both teams will come together."
On Tennessee and Connecticut dealing with similar struggles this year and how she has handled it in the past:
"We took away the locker room in '91. I think that was the only time that I kicked them out of the locker room, but it did get results because they wanted it. And I say they never want it as much as coaches, but I think there are a lot of players that when they are struggling, they try to find out why. I think they respond when you challenge them. When you are not getting the best results and you feel like you are not competing as hard and you do not have the leadership or the continuity, you are just searching for how to get their attention. And you can get their attention doing some of the things that I have done."
On whether the parity thus far this season will have an effect in March:
"I've only seen some of these top teams on tape, but I will tell you just from seeing these teams, in particular, Texas, Rutgers, Duke, Stanford; I think Stanford has got a very fine team. Obviously, LSU has proven themselves game-in and game-out. There are just so many teams, especially the teams in the top 12 to 15, it seems deeper with talent and just better overall play. You have got to believe that if teams stay healthy that you are going to see a different March and April."
On the importance of the senior class from last year:
"I thought that Tasha (Butts) and Ashley's (Robinson) leadership was some of the best in my career, and that is three decades of coaching. Without question, I was so appreciative and taken aback because I just did not know that they had that much in them. As much as our staff and I appreciated them then, we appreciate it even more today."
On who can step up and become a leader on this year's team:
"As a point guard, Loree (Moore) has been the one player that has consistently tried to be a leader more than anyone else on our basketball team. Shyra (Ely) is working hard to become a better leader for our team. I have asked our three seniors to really pick it up and make it more of a priority. In the Old Dominion game, Shyra and Brittany (Jackson) demonstrated quality leadership, particularly in the second half down the stretch. You could see that they made it a priority and did the best job of the year."
On why there is parity in women's basketball:
"High school players are better, coaching is better, recruiting is more competitive. Across the board, a lot of the programs have made a different level of commitment to be competitive, whether it is paying their staff better or putting the budget in place to recruit nationally. It is more competitive and it is about time. People were sitting on their hands, not making a commitment to women's basketball over the years, and now they are making that commitment."
On what Loree Moore's return means to the team:
"I think two things: her defensive intensity and her presence and play at point guard. Those are our two priorities. We have not had anyone step up and say, 'here's how we are going to play on the defensive end.' With the leadership and experience that Loree has, she can command a certain performance as both ends are effected by here presence. She doesn't seem to be holding back, and physically she appears comfortable and ready to go for extended minutes."
On the perception that women are better shooters then men:
"A lot of people discuss that (topic) over the years and they say that women in general are not physically as strong as men and have a softer touch. I do not know if I agree with that. Free throw shooting is an extension of practice and going to the line and putting yourself in that situation. It is a physical repetitive situation as well as a mental. Take Shanna Zolman, she has a great, great shooting touch. While she has not shot as well from the field, she shoots the ball exceptionally well from the free throw line. That is mental. Playing at Duke last year, she hit eight free throws downs the stretch in a hostile environment. That right there was her focus and mental concentration, but also her confidence because she practiced so much and believed in herself."
On coaching freshmen:
"I was just thinking the other day, that they seem younger now. I really enjoy it, it is a trying time, but I enjoy the freshmen, they bring energy. Our freshmen are the ones that keep things really light, they are always giggling and making fun of each other. Even in stressful situations, they are looking around, trying to find out why everyone is so serious. I have enjoyed this group. They are a tremendous group, a lot of great kids. When you do not have freshmen on the roster, you may not go through as many growing pains, but you miss out on the youthful energy and the innocence that they bring."
On Connecticut's struggles:
"I think it is not having a player like Diana Taurasi. People talk about her as being one of the greatest ever. There is no doubt in my mind about that, just in playing against her. You lose a player like that and it is incredibly different. I can tell you that just by the leadership we lost in Tasha Butts out on the perimeter. You know it is going to be different and a change, but not that drastic. Just watching them on tape, their front line players are experienced and are doing a great job. It is only a matter of time before these guards play the type of role they have to play. It is just more repetition and more game situations, and I firmly believe they will be there in the end."
On who will start at point guard:
"We have not determined that yet. I would say if Moore is where she needs to be, I will start her for her defensive intensity. If Loree starts, Hornbuckle will come off the bench and play some one and some two. I can see her playing both. I love the fact that she can play both. I think she can help our running game with her at the two and Moore on the floor."
On Alexis Hornbuckle:
"I think it is too early to say she is definitely a better point guard or a better two, because I haven't seen her much as a two. I liked her coming out of high school as a two, but I respect the way she ran the point guard. She can help us at both positions. I expected Alexis to come in and help us right away. I have been pleased with how she has been able to communicate with her team and the coaching staff and not be afraid to rise to the challenge when facing some very tough schools."
On scrimmaging men at practice:
"I don't know that scrimmaging men's teams would necessarily have a huge impact on parity, but certainly some. We have been doing this since my first year here at Tennessee, so we have been doing it for 31 years. I grew up with three older brothers that helped me as a competitor and a player. That is all I knew, to get better, you play better competition. That has helped me as a coach in two areas, practicing guys and scheduling better competition. If you play everyone in the country that has a chance to beat you, it brings out the best in you. Practicing guys has helped, I would not say that I am the pioneer, I am sure another program out there has been doing it just as long."
On the rivalry with Connecticut:
"I am not surprised the rivalry is where it is now. I say that just because of the way the first game played out and the position where these two schools have been over the last 10 years. That first game, I remember a great atmosphere for college basketball and I remember being extremely impressed with the intensity and the offensive execution of that team. Obviously, it was the beginning of a great rivalry; I think with the East Coast media being involved it gave great exposure. It was huge, the matchup brought both institutions a lot of exposure, but more importantly, it brought women's basketball a lot of exposure as well."
On Candace Parker's status:
"Parker practiced a couple of days ago and had some swelling. At practice yesterday we had a couple of workouts and we did not have her practice. Hopefully, today she will be ready to go. She only knows one speed, so we have to monitor her practice methods. We are still hopeful that she will be ready to go (in a game), but we wanted to wait a couple of weeks into practice to make that assessment."
On what it will take to defeat Connecticut:
"We need to make shots and finish shots. I just do not feel like we have competed and been able to make shots (against Connecticut). They are a great defensive team, and they have no weaknesses. In our championship game last year we didn't make the shots, our backcourt did not knock them down. Their post defense is great, and our front line players have struggled to put points on the board."