Jan. 12, 2001
An Interview With:
COACH MUFFET McGRAW
Q. The other day during the Big East Coaches Conference Call, Vivian Stringer made the observation that your team has the skills and the talent to possibly beat Connecticut, but it lacks or what it may need to convince itself of that, given the history of the two teams. Could you talk about that a little bit?
COACH McGRAW: I have no idea why Vivian made that remark. We certainly feel that we can win the game and the way we’re playing right now, with so much confidence, we’re going into the game on a high note, playing extremely well, and we think that we can win the game.
Q. Has that been a feeling you’ve carried into previous games, too, or do you sense a difference?
COACH McGRAW: I think there’s definitely been a difference in the attitude of that team in the attitude of this team. I think the senior leadership, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon, I think they are controlling the team attitude at this point. We are going into every game expecting to win. I think we came into the season with a lot of confidence, but after beating Georgia and after beating Purdue, I think two great teams in the nation in our preseason schedule, I think we have gained a lot of confidence along the way.
Q. Coach, a similar question to the previous one. You’ve heard so many things — you can’t isolate the team that well, the whole country is playing for second place, Connecticut is unbeatable, is that — it may be within your own confines of your team that you can win, is it difficult to persuade anybody else?
COACH McGRAW: We don’t need to persuade anyone else, and I think it would be a tough thing to do. I think everybody in the nation knows that Connecticut is the No. 1 team in the country and well deserved. They have played very well all year. From last year on, they have played extremely well. I don’t think there’s any question they are the best team in the nation. It’s kind of nice for us, this is the first game of the year we’ve had the chance to be the underdog.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the — a lot of people break down the match-up five-on-five, it is pretty even, the advantage Connecticut has had this year has been their bench, and how you hope to make that a little less a factor?
COACH McGRAW: I’m going to play my starters the whole game and I hope the referees will concur with that. I agree with what you said. We can match up with them five-against-five. It’s their bench that has a huge advance against us. We hope that we can stay out of foul trouble and hopefully not turn any ankles or have any kinds of injury problems because we obviously need to keep our starters on the floor for 40 minutes.
Q. In dealing with that, obviously, you’ve talked pretty much all season about Ruth, how she’s playing smarter and how important it is to have her out there. Is there anything in particular that she’s doing well in order to do that? Is it just a matter of picking her spots, letting things go where she might have been too aggressive before?
COACH McGRAW: I think there’s a little bit of that. I think the one thing that we talked about was that we didn’t want her to get any fouls on the offensive end, in terms of her maybe missing a shot and following with a foul, to get the ball back, or in terms of maybe a moving screen or pushing off or something like that, that we think that she can control. So we try to limit the offensive style, and she’s done a great job of that. Defensively, we’re trying to get her not go to the steal. That was the key thing. I don’t mind the blocked shot. If she tries to go with blocks and ends up with five fouls, that’s going to be okay because she’s not going to have that many opportunities. If we can avoid her reaching around in the post to get the steal, maybe coming over when a guard is driving and just not being in the right position. So I think what we told her is we’d like her to try to just get fouls blocking shots and that way. That’s where she’s choosing her spots and being very smart.
Q. Geno said that he has not been pleased with the way their trap has been going in recent games and they have worked very hard on the press in practice. Considering the past history of this series, does that press post a problem are for you?
COACH McGRAW: It certainly has in the past and we’ve worked on that this year to try some different things. I don’t think it hurts us quite that much in the game last year at Hartford as it has in big games before that. But that’s something that we are definitely working on, so I’m kind of glad to hear that his traps aren’t working for him, as well.
Q. How do you think your team matches up and what is your take on her overall play?
COACH McGRAW: She is a great player. She is a tremendous shooter. She can do a lot of things on the floor and I think that she’s a really special kind of player. She does so many things. She is a very good and is also a good shot shooter. She can also put the ball on the floor. She poses match-up problems for us. We are pretty good on the perimeter, but we don’t really match up well with Connecticut in terms of man-to-man, but we have a couple of guards who we think might be able to defend her.
Q. I just wanted to know, if you win, will Martin Luther King Day exceed St. Patrick’s day in importance in South Bend?
COACH McGRAW: I don’t know, because St. Patrick’s Day is in March. So that’s an important time of the year for us, too. But we may have to bring out the green nail polish on Martin Luther King Day this year.
Q. Just wondering, just in terms of excitement for women’s basketball, it seems like in recent years, any time the networks have tried to give women’s basketball a jolt, they have just centered on Connecticut, Tennessee, and just the fact the spotlight is Notre Dame, and in a great situation where even the loser of this game has not lost so much because it is so far in until the tournament?
COACH McGRAW: Exactly. It is certainly a no-lose situation for us because we are the underdog. It is a great chance to highlight our program on national TV, especially coming from the Joy Center which we have never had the ESPN crew here for one of our home games. It is a historic game. We are expecting a sellout crowd. It is going to be just a great, great basketball game.
Q. Perception often follows reality by a certain lag of time, outside of the world of college basketball and women’s college basketball, do people still find it surprising that Notre Dame has such a good program?
COACH McGRAW: I think that Notre Dame has a pretty good reputation as being just a great academic institution, as well as a tremendous tradition in sports. I don’t think people are surprised to find that we are a very good team. Our women’s soccer team was No. 1 in the nation for most of the year. So I think people have probably come to expect that when you are at the University of Notre Dame, you are going to have an excellent sports program.
Q. What sort of support do you get from the other athletes around the campus, and also, what is the female percentage of enrollment in the school now?
COACH McGRAW: I think the female percentage is about 45 percent, and in terms of gender equity, we are doing very, very well. Kevin White (ph) has done a tremendous job of supporting our program, both financially and in terms of his appearance at the games, and he is around a lot, very interested in our program, knows the players on a first-name basis, and the players are very familiar with him, as well. He has really changed things around here in terms of making the women’s programs a bigger part of the overall sports program. In terms of support, I know what the coaches — all of the coaches support all of the other programs. We have a lot of coaches in the stands at our games and we are at their games, as well. We are expecting a big crowd of students for this game. It is our first date back, but we are expecting to have a good crowd of students on hand.
Q. I was wondering, if you were just a fan and not a coach, what match up would excite and you excite the nation? What should we look for that way?
COACH McGRAW: In terms of the individual match-ups?
COACH McGRAW: You’ve got Ivey against Sue Bird, two of the best point guards in the nation. I don’t think you’ll find two better point guards going at each other than these two. Sue Bird is a tremendous player. She is a very good shooter, smart shooter, handles ball extremely well and passes well. I think the same for Niele Ivey. That’s a great match-up, those two guarding each other. I think the post, you have to look at Ruth Riley. I’m not sure who Connecticut would put on her, probably Swin Cash, but she’s an All-American for us and certainly that’s a match-up that no matter who guards her, people are going to want to look at that one. But this game, they have so many good players, you want to see who Shea Ralph is going to go against. Alicia is the best three-point shooter in the nation, who is going to match up with her and on the other side — Abrosimova is I think 62 or 63 percent from the field. So I think every match-up in this game is going to be a great one.
Q. In recent games, have your opponents had to decide defensively whether they are going to collapse back on Ruth or come out and play the 3-point shooters, and if the — do you feel that possibly Connecticut would have to make such a decision?
COACH McGRAW: I think you’re right. They have chosen to guard Alicia in the last few games she has not scored as many points, has not really gotten any open looks from the 3-point line. And on the other hand, Ruth has had a little more single coverage in the post and has consequently been our leading scorer in the last three or four games. So I think teams have definitely had to make that decision. They don’t want Alicia to get any open looks so they have got to try to double-team from somewhere else, and I would imagine that Connecticut would not want to give Alicia any open looks, but would probably look to double-team Ruth from somewhere.
Q. Coach, the other day on the conference call, the Indiana conference call somebody asked you about playing — inaudible — until you beat UCONN, you don’t consider yourselves to be equal?
COACH McGRAW: I think they are considered No. 1 in the nation. And you’re right, we have not beaten them yet. We need to kind of look at that as we are going in as the underdog and this is our chance.
Q. You say you want to play your starters 40 minutes — but they have scored 80 percent of their point — (inaudible)?
COACH McGRAW: That surprises me. I thought they scored 98 percent of the points.
COACH McGRAW: None. She played five minutes — she’s questionable. I think conditioning is going to be a factor, and we are in great shape.
Q. I was curious what your overall take is on the parity across the country. What’s the difference between maybe the top five teams? You guys certainly have no problem when Arizona came into town earlier in October or November?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I think that there’s a lot of great teams, and I think that once you get away from the top few teams in the country, really, it’s very difficulty I think to rank in the Top-25. I think there’s some teams in there that are being ranked on history, on the name of their program. I’m in the sure if it is really a legitimate ranking. I think Arizona is an excellent basketball team and I’m glad to see they got into the Top-25 because they are talented team. It takes teams so much more to break into the Top-25 now because people have their regulars that they vote for every year, and it’s very difficult in the women’s game for anybody to move and move up. I think that you have to play almost better than you are in order to get ranked. In terms of parity, I think Connecticut is the best team in the nation, and then what we’ll find out is after that what things are going to line up as. Right now we have played three teams in the Top-10, beaten all three teams, but they are great teams. I think those games could do go either way. We’ll have to wait until March to see how it plays out. It seems like there have been a lot of upsets already this year.
Q. Would you match up Ralph and Bird —
COACH McGRAW: Ericka is a pretty good defender, so I think whoever Ericka and Niele guard, they are going to be the better players. I think Alicia’s strength is going it be in somebody that she can — she’s able to contain, which I’m not sure they have somebody that she’s able to contain. I think that the other two will have to be the defenders.
Q. All of these questions — focusing for tomorrow, because if we don’t take care of business tomorrow —
COACH McGRAW: Exactly. Tomorrow’s game is actually more important than Monday’s game for us, because we are the team that’s supposed to win the game tomorrow and we’ve got to be focused and come out with intensity because they are good enough to beat us. If we don’t come out and play our game, we are going to lose, and that’s really going to ruin the whole scenario for Monday.
Q. Monday’s game, obviously, even if you lose, you are still a top seed —
COACH McGRAW: I think it’s a confidence thing right now for us. I’m not sure if we even have to win to gain the confidence. I think we just want to play well and come out of the game feeling like we gave it our best shot. I don’t know that we’ve ever felt that way leaving the floor after a Connecticut game. We just want to come out and do what we do all year long, and win or lose, feel good about the effort.
Q. Were you surprised after Tennessee loses, beats Rutgers by five, you dominate Rutgers, were you surprised you didn’t even go above Tennessee? Did that surprise you a little bit?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I think their name is just a little bit bigger than ours. It’s not really quite as important. I thought if Connecticut would have blown them out like I thought they were going to do in the first half — but I think since it was a close game, people have that much respect for Connecticut. People are like, if you give them the game, you must be a great team.
Q. What advantage do you have?
COACH McGRAW: We have the home-court advantage. I think that’s a good one to have, especially with the crowd that we are expecting, and I think Ruth is somebody that has an advantage.
Q. There’s so much lore and tradition in all of Notre Dame sports, I don’t know if you can borrow any of the men’s upsets of top-ranked teams down through the years, or if your team can borrow some of that magic or if you even address that with them?
COACH McGRAW: Actually, I talked to Digger Phelps (ph) yesterday and he did mention that UCLA game. I was happy to talk to him, and just, you know, ask him for some advice on — when you have a No. 1 team come into town, what you want to do, and I thought he gave me some good advice.
Q. Do you want to share that with us or not?
COACH McGRAW: A little bit of it. I think his big thing was: Don’t be afraid and don’t be afraid to take chances. Just because something doesn’t work once or twice, you have to stay with it and really give it a chance to play out. Talked about different times in the game being important and that’s something that we have to really focus on, and no matter what the score is at one point, we’ve got to figure that there’s certain times of the game that’s got to be really important.
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