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    Coach Muffet McGraw Speaks To The Press

    FIGHTING IRISH
    FIGHTING IRISH

    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 28, 2001

    Q. The way the players sort of recognize -- inaudible -- by the defense?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, Ruth has done a great job, passing on the double -team, and we work on that every day. What we do is we just take our offensive sets and just put the double team coming from different places. So we are familiar with where she can throw the ball, and she just does such a great job of finding the open man. I think that whether they double -team or not, Ruth's big decision is whether she is going to turn and shoot and be aggressive offensively or whether she is going to be double-teaming and get a lot of assists in that game, and I think she is going to be perfectly happy with either way it goes.

    Q. You've seen Connecticut twice this year. Is that an advantage or is this just a whole new level where you have to put it aside and start over again?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, I think having seen them before and playing them twice and being in the same conference, I think it does make it a little easier on the coaches doing the scouting report. He is very familiar with what Connecticut has and we have a lot of good game tape to see exactly how we matchup with them. So, I think in some ways it makes for an easier turnaround between games. I don't know that it is any different playing Connecticut in the Final Four than it was in the BIG EAST Final. I think for the teams, the intensity level is going to be pretty similar.

    Q. It could not be scripted better, you are even on the season and now you are coming into the national title game, your sides, are they psyched about that?

    COACH McGRAW: I think we are always ready for the challenge of playing Connecticut. I think it was a great series this year, and certainly, we look forward to one more opportunity to play them.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: It really has been such a special year for me in a lot of ways. I think the chemistry of this team has been so tremendous. They have been so much fun to work with. I wish I would have kept a journal or decided to write a book at the beginning of the year, because this has been the easiest year of my coaching career. In 19 years, I don't think I have ever had such a special group of young women. They get along so well. We enjoy being together. I know at this time of the year a lot of coaches are almost glad the season is over because they get tired of being around their team, but this is such a special group. I just love being with them. Even when we have a day off, we're psyched and can't wait to get back together after that. I think has been so far a dream season. I think we have one more thing to accomplish before we can finish up. And I think we are ready to approach the Final Four in that way.

    Q. Is it hard to find a team with and players you, that you both can turn it on and off?

    COACH McGRAW: I think it is hard and I think the key is maturity. I think in the past couple years, they have had a lot of fun, but maybe too much fun, and could not make that adjustment at game time, getting back to focusing. This group is really able to leave the court and have fun and have a great time together. But once they get on the court, they'd better have a game face on or you are going to hear about it from one of the seniors.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: That's a lot of shots for her. I think she was 6 for 7 at halftime. For us, we have been trying to get her to shoot that many at the half all year. I was just so pleased with how aggressive she was, and I think Ruth was struggling a little bit and in and out of the game. We went to Alicia almost every time down the floor, and she really produced for us. I think that's what she's capable of doing and we'd like to see her doing that more often.

    Q. Can you see that happening this weekend?

    COACH McGRAW: I think that she has had a great tournament so far. She has had a fantastic season, but I think she's still getting better, and I think that she is ready to really contribute to what this team has to do.

    Q. Can you recap the win over -- (inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, I think the difference was we played two great basketball games. We played a great game here at Notre Dame, we played a great game at Connecticut. Connecticut did not play a great game here at Notre Dame, they did play a great game at Connecticut. I think the difference was more in Connecticut. They did not shoot the ball well here. Certainly, playing at home, you have a comfort zone of shooting the ball a little bit better. You have the crowd in your favor. It's harder to get down. Here, we had such a great crowd, we got them down and they were not used to being down. Now, you know they have matured as a team and I think they are -- Diana Taurasi has really stepped up for them. I think the difference really is it's two great basketball teams going at each other, and I think the home court was a big advantage for both.

    Q. A lot of teams get psyched out seeing Connecticut and Notre Dame in the bracket -- (inaudible) -- mentally, would it have been difficult losing both of the games coming into the national semifinals?

    COACH McGRAW: I think it could be difficult if we had lost both games. I think you talk about how hard it is to beat a team three times, but when you beat them 11 times in a row, I don't think that you worry about winning that third game. So I think for us, having finally won that game, I think that really boosted our confidence.

    Q. You kind of answered part of my question on Alicia and the way she has come out, but compare to that last year in the tournament. She kind of went into the woodwork and into hiding a little bit when the tournament came around last year. Has there been words of encouragement to get her out of that shell this year or something that she's taken on her own?

    COACH McGRAW: I think she's really taken that on her own. We talked to her late in the year about just being aggressive and looking to score a little bit more, and I think she really took that to heart. But I think that she's a lot more comfortable this year, with the team, within the offense. Last year as a freshman, it was a long season, and I don't think that she had that same comfort zone that she feels with this group.

    Q. Can you just talk about the prestige of the BIG EAST now? You have two BIG EAST teams playing -- now ranked 1 and 2 playing each other in the Final Four, never happened before for two BIG EAST teams, what that means for the conference?

    COACH McGRAW: I think it's great, two years in a row, we've had two team in the Final Four, and I think that speaks loudly for good the BIG EAST really is. I think this year we are maybe the best conference in the country. I think at the top, we were definitely the best conference in the country this year. I think that a lot of the other conferences talked about "we beat each other up during conference play" and "we had such a great week," and I think what that speaks to is parity. They have got parity. We have great teams at the top of our conference, and I think that while from top to bottom, we may not be as strong as everybody in the country, I think for us, the strength at the top is the best there is.

    Q. Can you speak a little bit about Amanda Barksdale and what she gives you coming off the bench?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, Amanda Barksdale really came on late in February. We were putting her in for a few minutes to give Ruth a break, and she came in against Pittsburgh, and I think she ended up with six blocks in the game and had really a fantastic game. Really has gotten a lot of confidence. She is playing against the player of the year, in the nation, every day in practice, and I think that that can hurt your confidence a little bit when you are getting scored upon pretty much every day. So I think she has really, really improved this year, being able to play against Ruth, and now when she goes and place against Chantel Anderson and some of the best players in the country, she has got that confidence because she's been playing against Ruth. But she has given us great minutes. I am really pleased her progress this year.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, normally this team, once you get off the ground they are asleep until the plane hits back down. They really are not nearly as much fun during the plane rides as they are on the bus rides. But this was one day they had a little trouble sleeping. They turned off the lights and it got quiet for about 20 minutes, and then the laughter started, and then before you know it, it was probably a feeling of giddiness, I think probably from being so tired. But there was a lot of laughing on the plane. I think there was a lot of excitement. Some of them actually got out books and tried to do a little studying, but that didn't last long.

    Q. After the second UCONN game -- (inaudible) -- nice knowing you don't have to play a perfect game?

    COACH McGRAW: I think after every game we ask ourselves three questions: One, did we give a great effort, two, did we do our job defensively, and three, did we win the game. I think the first two really are the most important two. And, you know, in almost every game this year, we have been able to say, yes, we have given a great effort. I think that's all you can ask for because you can't control the outcome of the game. You can only control your effort and what you put into it. So I think after the Connecticut game, we could not have played any harder. We played as hard as we possibly could. We played our hearts out, and that's all I can ask from this team. You know, to lose a game at the buzzer on a great shot by Sue Bird, you know, I don't think that we can look back and try to take a negative viewpoint on that. I think there are only positives to gain from that game.

    Q. Are you trying to keep things normal this week?

    COACH McGRAW: Yeah, we are. I think we're going to tal -- Niele Ivey, fortunately was in the Final Four when we were there before, so she can tell the girls about all the hype and everything that's going to be going on down there. I think this team is so prepared, in terms of the places that we have played, when you go to big arenas and you have a great crowd, I think it really prepares you for what you are going to face, and I think that we are a lot more ready for this than they were in 1997.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: I think rebounding is going to be a big key in the game. I don't think we did a great job at the end of the Vanderbilt game in rebounding. And I think that is going to be critical, because they are a great rebounding team and they are even better in the tournament. They have just played so well so far, and their post players are doing a great job on the boards. So, I think rebounding is probably going to be the biggest key in the game.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, I remember going to see her play in her junior year, and it was the state -- I don't think it was -- it wasn't the championship game, but it was either the quarterfinal or semifinal. She went 13 for 13 from the free throw line down the stretch. She had a bunch of steals. But I think the thing that really drew me to her was just her attitude, her demeanor on the court. She was such a great leader. She was inspirational to her team, always talking and getting them together. She was highly motivated. Worked extremely hard. A great defensive player. I think she was much more defensively-oriented in high school than she was as a shooter, and I just was really looking for somebody that's going to lead our team in that kind of way, and she fit it perfectly.

    Q. Have you given much thought to what you are going to say before?

    COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I think, you know, just kind of driving around town, you know, all of the sudden it just hits me or I see that reminds me of going to the Final Four. I think -- it's hard I think right now to kind of look back and go, "Wow, this is really great. Look at what they have achieved. Other teams are all sitting home and here we are in the Final Four." And we haven't spent a lot of time congratulating ourselves on that, because we feel that we have a little more work to do. But I think at some point we are going to be able to sit back and know that this was just a tremendous season.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: I think when she was MVP of the BIG EAST Tournament, I think that was sort of a springboard for her. She has played really well in the NCAAs. I think that gave her a lot of confidence. And especially with Shea Ralph out of the lineup, she has more of the scoring role, which is a job I think she's comfortable with. Even as a freshman, a very, very poised player. And I think she fouled out of the game when they were here. I don't remember if she fouled out when we were there. But I think that was a big key, when she was off the floor.

    Q. (Inaudible)?

    COACH McGRAW: In the very beginning, but she got it down to UCLA and Connecticut pretty quickly.

    Q. (Inaudible) -- the ripple effect recruiting-wise, but mentally ready?

    COACH McGRAW: I think once we got No. 1 in the country, I think we started to feel a lot more from interest from some of the high school kids. Now, being in the Final Four, I mean, this is what they are watching on TV, this is what they want to see. Hopefully those kids that are freshman, sophomores and juniors are really looking at Notre Dame as a place where they want to go.

    Q. Can you tell me how long has the team been dancing that jig to Piping Tim and whose idea was it?

    COACH McGRAW: I know it was sort of a spontaneous thing that happened just before one game, and I can't remember what game that was. And then, you know, they are kind of a superstitious group. So, we won the game and they decided we were going to have to do that before every game. Interestingly enough, I think it was the Georgetown game at home, they didn't do it. We played really poorly in that game, and they have done it again in every game since then. And I can't remember -- it was this year, but I don't remember which particular game it was.

    Q. It's distinctive.

    COACH McGRAW: Yes, it is.

    Q. You've talked a lot about what the senior leadership has meant to you and the other players. Can you talk about what it has meant to each other, because each on knows that she doesn't have to take on the burden alone?

    COACH McGRAW: Well, I think it's particularly important for Ruth. She has had a couple of games in the BIG EAST where she -- the one I don't think she had a field goal, and the other game, I think she had nine points. So I think it is great for her to know that not only does she -- she doesn't have to be "the one" all the time. She is certainly going to be the one down the stretch that we are going to throw the ball to, but in the course of the game, she's got a lot of help. And she's had tremendous help in terms of leading the team, you know, in the huddles and in the locker room and different times when the captains really step up, but she's got a lot of help from Kelly and Ruth -- I'm sorry, Kelly and Niele.

    Q. Could you address how UCONN is different to defend without Svet and Shea Ralph in the lineup?

    COACH McGRAW: They are bigger. I think when they are starting three post players, I think that makes them a better rebounding team. I think they are still a very good defensive team. They seem to be playing more halfcourt defense than fullcourt defense. So I think that they have made some great adjustments. I think they are running more stuff for the guards to score, and Taurasi and Bird are really taking advantage of it.

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