Jan. 14, 2002
CHRIS MASTERS: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. This is Chris Masters, I’m the sports information director for Notre Dame women’s basketball. I’m here with Coach McGraw. We’re going to be having about a 15 -, 20-minute conference call here to go over the next couple of games for the Irish. Saturday at Providence, that will be a 2 o’clock start at Alumni Hall, and, of course, Monday at UConn, that will be a three o’clock start from the Hartford Civic Center. That game will also be televised live on ESPN.
Just a couple of quick notes. The transcript of today’s teleconference will be available on the Notre Dame website UND.com later this afternoon. And all updated stats and results from the Irish are also available on our website, which is UND.com.
The Irish are 9-6 overall, 3-1 in the Big East, and have won four of their last five and seven of their last nine.
Right now I’m going to turn the call over to Coach McGraw for some opening remarks, and then we’ll take some questions from the callers.
MUFFET McGRAW: Before I get started, I just wanted to say that obviously we’re doing this today, and we do have Providence on Saturday. For us, Providence really is a more important game that we need to focus on. So I’d just appreciate if when you’re writing your stories that it doesn’t appear that we’re looking past Providence so we can take care of this today.
Overall, I’m really pleased with the freshmen. I think we’ve got a tremendous group of talented freshmen. They are contributing in major ways to our team and have really been coming along lately. I think Teresa Borton, Jackie Batteast, probably two of the best, getting the most playing time and just playing great basketball.
I think we have been plagued with some inconsistencies and our weaknesses in my opinion are really Connecticut’s strengths. We’re turning the ball over at a rapid pace and Connecticut in transition off turnovers is probably the best team in America. So we don’t rebound the ball extremely well and I think Connecticut is a great rebounding team. I think we’ve got some real major work to do this week in preparation for that game.
CHRIS MASTERS: At this time I’d like to open the floor up for questions from our callers.
Q: Could you talk a little about your problems that the team has had on the road, winning on the road.
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, we’re still trying to find the reason for that. It’s an enigma to us. We feel like — I think an obvious answer, you know, we’re not scoring as well on the road. And I think we had so many games on the road early on, in general we weren’t scoring a lot of points.
Offensively I think really probably the first eight or nine games, with the exception of that Army game, we really struggled to make shots. So I think when you can’t score and you go on the road and you shoot even a little bit worse, that was one of the problems that we had.
But I think just a comfort level. I think with so many new kids, just being in a little bit of a hostile environment in some of those games, being away from home, getting down I think a few points, not having the mental toughness, not having maybe the leadership we needed at that point to huddle us up and have somebody bring us back, where last year, you know, we could just look to Ruth and she’d take care of all our problems. Now we’re still looking around trying to find that go-to player.
Q: I wonder if you could contrast this UConn team to some of the past teams we’ve seen?
MUFFET McGRAW: Some of the past UConn teams or anything?
Q: UConn teams.
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, I think this team, interestingly, I think is as talented as any they’ve ever had, and yet I think they have less depth than probably most of the teams that they’ve had.
I think with the exception of the end of last year when they had the two injuries, they really have usually had a group of probably eight or nine that they could really rotate in at any time and had good subs for everybody on the floor.
Now I think they’re a little more limited in what they have coming off the bench. But they’re also just incredibly talented in that starting group.
Q: You guys started off a little slow. What does this give you for your confidence going into the end of the season, the fact you guys have been on a run like this?
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, I think it’s really important for our freshmen to gain some confidence, and that’s something that we obviously lacked in the beginning of the year. I think they’re starting to feel comfortable on the offense, I think they’re starting to see their role, and I think they’re stepping up a little bit. So it’s definitely helping us.
I wouldn’t describe our team as incredibly confident right now, but I do think that we are getting better.
Q: You mentioned turnover problems. Again, is that due to your youth or just new people in the back court? What is happening with the transition problems there? You mentioned rebounding, too. Is that up to snuff as far as you’re concerned or do you still need more work in that department?
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, first, the turnovers. Our point guard really in my eyes is a rookie. She missed nine weeks in the season last year, really didn’t play a lot. Le’Tania had kind of a lapse there where she had I think 8-6-6 and four turnovers in four consecutive games. I think there is some youth at the point. That’s a little bit of a problem.
But I don’t think it’s youth in general so much as just a new group trying to get to know each other. I think trying to mesh the upperclassmen with the freshmen, that took a long time I think to get going. That’s still a work in progress.
As far as rebounding, Jackie Batteast, I think one of the best rebounders that we’ve ever had, I think she’ll break all of the records Ruth Riley set. I think she is just a phenomenal rebounder. Unfortunately, I think the rest of the team are starting to watch her work instead of helping her out. So I think our rebounding has gone down a little bit.
Q: You kind of answered this in part. In general, what would you say are the biggest differences you’ve noticed since the championship year in terms of maybe expectations, your own, new kids feeling like they have to live up to that, just a general reaction?
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, I think generally the biggest problem was that I knew that we weren’t going to be as good, but somehow the reality of that was much harder for me to accept than saying it before the season.
I think before the season, I said, “We’re going to struggle early. By the time the Big East rolls around, we hope to be on track to where we want to be.” Even though it sort of has worked out that way, it’s still been hard for me to really lower my expectations. And I think that’s been a problem.
I also didn’t realize how much pressure the freshmen actually felt. Really felt like I was trying to take the pressure off of them. You know, I didn’t feel like they should feel pressure because it’s a whole new team. We talked about not thinking of ourselves — we’re not the defending national champs. These freshmen aren’t the defending national champs. They need to kind of relax, go out and play.
But I didn’t realize how much they want to be good. And when you want to be good, you put that pressure on yourself. I think that I probably needed to help them a little bit more in that way. You know, we started Teresa Borton out early in the year. She’s much better coming off the bench.
We’ve really kind of learned a lot about their overall attitudes about, you know, their role on the team and how much pressure they’re feeling.
Q: Notre Dame and Connecticut have a long history. You have six freshmen who really don’t have that because they haven’t played UConn before. Do you think they’ll be playing with that past in their minds or are they looking to write their own history?
MUFFET McGRAW: I’m hoping this team is really looking to write their own history for the future. I hope that they’re not looking back. And I don’t think they are because — we haven’t talked about anything about Connecticut yet.
I don’t think so. I think they’re looking at last year and coming into a team where, you know, if you look at the players on this team, they have a pretty good record against Connecticut with the younger players. I’m the one that struggled early against Connecticut.
We just talk about this game as an opportunity, and it’s one where they’re going to gain a lot of experience, it’s going to be great for the Big East tournament, great for the NCAA tournament. We just want to go out and compete.
Q: The team went out last year for the first meeting believing they could win instead of thinking they maybe could. What do you think is the potential mindset of this team this year? Do they realistically think they can go into the game believing they can win?
MUFFET McGRAW: I don’t think they expect to win, no. I think they believe that they can go out and compete and play hard. But do they think we can go into Hartford and win the game? I guess we’d have to ask them that, but I would say probably not.
Q: Could you talk a little about the development of Batteast and the potential she has for the future.
MUFFET McGRAW: I think she’s got such tremendous potential. I think that she’ll probably end up challenging Beth Morgan’s record for all time leading scorer. She is the smoothest player that we have ever had. She’s somebody that can play as well on the block as she can on the perimeter. She’s got great versatility.
She’s a player that can be creative and instinctive, and yet she’s incredibly smart. She’s learned the offenses very well. She had the least amount of trouble of all the freshmen I think in figuring out what her role was going to be. And, of course, I think when you have the green light to shoot anytime you want to, it’s pretty easy to figure out what your role is.
She’s somebody that worked really hard in the weight room, so she got a lot stronger. She’s taking the ball to the basket a lot better than when she did when she first came. I think her shot selection has really probably been the biggest improvement.
Q: Can you address what has been the opponent’s reaction when they beat you? Has it been similar to what UConn feels? Storming the floor and stuff like that?
MUFFET McGRAW: Well, early on they were. We lost to Arizona third game of the year. It was like they won the National Championship. We were a little surprised at their reaction.
I think Colorado State, the same type of reaction. I think Rice, teams like that. I think lately, you know, I don’t think people are that surprised when they beat us. I think that their coaches are pumping the game as we are the national champs, and just trying to pump up their team. They’re coming out and giving us their best shot.
As Notre Dame, you normally get the other team’s best shot anyway. But now being the defending national champs, I think you make it little bit bigger.
I think if you look at a lot of those teams, their success after our game has really been poor. I think they’ve kind of built up that one game. And unfortunately, I’m not sure that that was a smart move on their part.
CHRIS MASTERS: I want to thank everybody for attending today’s press call. Just a reminder, one other quick thing, next Big East teleconference will be Monday, February 4th, and Coach McGraw will be speaking at 12:04 eastern time. Once again, a transcript of this teleconference will be available on the Notre Dame website later this afternoon at www.und.com.
Thanks a lot for attending our press conference and we hope to see you at the games over this weekend.
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