April 2, 2015
COACH McGRAW: We’re thrilled to be going back to our fifth consecutive Final Four. I think of all of those five, out of all of those five, this team has improved the most. I think this is the youngest team we’ve ever taken. Not a senior in the starting lineup. For them to get it together and just keep getting better, it’s been really fun to watch.
It’s been a great group to work with. They are just relentless, and they never quit. We’ve been down in a lot of games, and they just keep stepping up. We’ve had so many different people. I think that’s also another difference from year’s past. We relied on our All-Americans in years past, and I feel like this year everybody that’s in the game can contribute.
Q. Talk about some of the comments you made after the game the other night, it sounded like you were almost a little surprised that this team made it this far. I know this is a goal every year, but has this team surprised you?
COACH McGRAW: Yes, it is our goal every year. But when you lose two first-round draft picks, three starters and a ton of experience, I don’t think you go into the season thinking this is our National Championship team.
So we had the goal of getting back to the Final Four, but for us to achieve that goal, I think we really, really had a lot of work to do, and this team has definitely surprised me in that.
Q. Do you think this team can go into the Final Four with a little different attitude? Two years ago there was kind of a we’ve got to win it for Skylar. Last year, we have to win it for Michaela and Natalie. This year, you know, I know you want to win, but there is not the pressure of we’ve got to do it. Is there just kind of a looser feel to it?
COACH McGRAW: I think there is a looser feel. I think we’re enjoying it a little bit more. I think that maybe not having the pressure to try to win it for somebody and just play our game and have fun, I think maybe that’s going to make us a little bit better and hopefully we’ll enjoy it.
Q. How much has Lindsay Allen become more of a scoring option changed the efficiency or impact of this team?
COACH McGRAW: Coming into the season, we talked to Lindsay and told her she’s going to have to score a little bit more. Last year she really had to get the ball off the floor and have a 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. That’s all we asked of her. This year she’s got to score more and be more vocal, and she’s been able to do that. That’s a tough transition for some point guards, like Lindsay who is a pass first point guard. So coming in with a scorer’s mentality and still trying to run the team and get the ball to other people really it was a seamless transition for her.
She’s looking to score more and doing more in transition, and she’s been really successful. I think it’s helped our offense tremendously.
Q. There are always moments in the year when things can go a different way and teams start losing and sometimes losing you continue losing. Was there a moment this year where you thought that the team had reached any kind of crossroads, and obviously it went the right way? Having not seen you guys in person this year, and I’m sure there are others on the call who could say the same thing, but was there either a practice or time in the season where you felt it could go another way but it didn’t?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I thought the DePaul game way back in December. I think we were down six with a minute to go and somehow won the game, and I think that coming off the Connecticut loss, I think that was our next game. So for us to win that game I think gave us so much confidence. I felt we really responded well to that. Then the loss to Miami, I thought that was a tipping point. We could have gone either way at that point too. We played about as poorly as we could possibly play. Worst game of the year. Shot about 25% from the field and didn’t defend, and so many things went wrong in that game. So I think to come back from that debacle and win out the rest of the year, I think that shows that we did get a lot tougher.
Q. Two questions for you: First of all, this being a young team as it is, are you and your coaching staff trying to concentrate on not making it so difficult for them making the moment more fun? In what ways are you trying to do that? Then I’ve got another question for you after that.
COACH McGRAW: We’re definitely trying to have fun. Let them enjoy themselves. I think they play so much better when they’re loose, which is hard for me because I’ve got to be a lot more patient and a lot more forgiving for what’s going on the floor at the time. I think we’re trying to make it less complicated. I don’t think we’re trying to do too many different things, too many new things. We’re trying to do what we’ve done all year and been successful with, and hopefully that makes it easier for them.
Q. The second question is you’ve played UCONN. You’ve played Maryland. You know a little bit about them. You haven’t played South Carolina. In that regard, do you have to make it — do you have to cram to the try to find out as much as you can, or are you more concerned about having your team ready and playing its game going into the game against South Carolina?
COACH McGRAW: I think it’s a little bit of both. I get immersed in the scouting reports, and we’ve certainly done a lot of homework on South Carolina, and there is so much to do that at times we think maybe it’s time to step back and just work on us and try to do what we need to do. So we are trying to simplify it, but they’re such a good team and they have so many strengths that it’s difficult to simplify that scouting report.
Q. If I can just follow that up really quickly. During the course of the season you didn’t plan this, but UCONN played South Carolina. Did you take a little time off from watching your team and preparing for its next team to watch that game and did you put it on the back burner knowing that you might run up against South Carolina?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, we did watch that game and we’ve tried to watch a few more during their tournaments throughout the conference tournaments. That’s when we really started watching a lot of different teams to see who we might play.
Q. First you talked about having your girls relax a little bit and sort of enjoy things. I’m curious, I know you’re in preparations and the goal is to survive and advance for a shot at another title. But I’m curious if you’ve allowed yourself to appreciate that three of the four coaches in the Final Four this year have really strong ties to Philadelphia, and if so, is that special for you at all?
COACH McGRAW: It is. We were thinking maybe a cheesesteak for the winner. I think that it’s great. We always thought that so much began in Philadelphia on the men’s and women’s side, even in the Big Five way back. To have three of us, and we all still speak the language, I think we’re all pretty much the same and tell it like it is. I can really appreciate that. Yeah, it is kind of fun. It’s a shame that the Final Four is not in Philly.
Q. Obviously, you’re one of the most accomplished coaches in the field today, but I’m curious about your early days growing up in Philly, and what athletic accomplishments back then either at Saint Joseph’s playing or Saint Anne playing are you most proud of today?
COACH McGRAW: Well, my senior year at Saint Joseph’s we made it to the national tournament in of the NAIW, so basically the Sweet Sixteen. The top 16 teams went to Minnesota to play. I think we finished third or fourth in the country, and that was a great accomplishment because the program had just won when I was a freshman.
Fortunately, they didn’t even have reel to reel tapes going at that time. I don’t think we kept stats, so I can kind of embellish my accomplishments from then because they were not much to speak of.
Q. This is South Carolina’s first Final Four. What do you think your team knows about this experience? Or what do you speculate that a team knows about the Final Four experience because they’ve done it before and somebody that hasn’t doesn’t know yet, and how does that play into the game?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I think it helps to know what to expect, especially with all of the things that you have to do outside of your own practice and playing the games. There is so much more. It’s very time consuming and it’s a little draining mentally I think sometimes too. But when it’s your first one, you’re so excited to be there and do all of it that it’s actually sometimes probably easier for the first timers because everything’s different, everything’s fun, everything’s new. You really look forward to getting involved in everything that you have to do.
Q. Coach, do you have any initial thoughts on South Carolina and how you might match up against their size?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I don’t think we match up very well. They are so strong in the post and their depth. You can’t even think about getting them into foul trouble or what if they play with a smaller lineup because they have so many people they can bring off the bench. Then they’ve got Tiffany Mitchell who obviously first team All-American, one of the best guards in the country, and they’ve got big shooters. They have great team speed. They play really hard defensively and pressure so well. Again, they don’t have to worry about foul trouble because they have so many people on the bench. They can really go out and pressure as long as they’re in the game. I think they’re a really difficult match-up for us.
I think we’ve obviously played North Carolina and Florida State, two of the teams that they’ve played. So we have a little bit of a look at how they match up against teams we’re familiar with. But I’m not sure that really helps us in the scouting report.
Q. A follow-up on the previous question about South Carolina going to the Final Four for the first time. When you went for the first time is there an awe factor that you have to get over to settle down and think about playing basketball?
COACH McGRAW: You know, there was. There was for us, but it was so long ago. Things were so much different then. I think if you just look to five years ago when we went for the first time in a while, we were just so thrilled about everything that happened. We loved having the police escort. We thought it was great having all the interviews with ESPN and just going around town and seeing all the people. I mean, everything was kind of fun.
I think now it’s a little more businesslike, so I think that’s why I think it’s important to have fun and enjoy it. I think they’ll really have a great time.
Q. Following up on that, how do you go about making it more fun? Do you plan to do anything specifically different?
COACH McGRAW: I think a lot of it is me. I think a lot of it is I’m pretty business like. I think my approach will trickle down to them. So I think that I can make it more fun just by enjoying the moment myself.
Q. On Lindsay Allen, when she switches from being a distributor to being a scorer, is that something she feels naturally or do you talk to her at a timeout? How does that come about?
COACH McGRAW: She’s really good at taking what the defense gives her. So I think for her she’s had games where she’s had big numbers like she did this weekend, and she’s had games where she doesn’t take a lot of shots because we don’t need her too because other people are scoring and we’re trying to get to the phone us. But I think she listens to what our plan is. Are we trying to work the inside? Are we trying to work the pick-and-roll? What are we looking for? What do we think our strengths will be in this game? So she just attacks it that way. And then in transition I think she’s always looking for what’s available.
Q. So it wasn’t necessarily part of the game plan? It was just the way the game developed?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I think a lot of it is how the game developed.
Q. The second one was on Taya Reimer. How was she different from last year? She obviously came off the bench in the last game, but how is she a different player?
COACH McGRAW: I think she’s maybe our most consistent player. I think if you looked at her stats through the ACC schedule and through the tournament, she’s going to get us 8 to 10 points and 8 to 10 rebounds a game, and we can pretty much count on that. And I think that consistency is one of the strengths that she’s had. I think she also brings a lot of physical play around the basket in terms of both offensively and defensively. I think she’s really smart. She’s kind of stepped up as a leader in the post as a sophomore helping Kathryn and Brianna. So she’s taken on a little bit of a leadership and mentoring role.
Q. This Final Four is made up of four top seeds only the third time in tournament history, yet there is still a procession out there that is sort of UCONN and then the rest of the field. Can you address just the overall strength of the four teams and is that a little demeaning to the other three teams that are there?
COACH McGRAW: I think this is one of the best tournaments that we’ve had in terms of parity. I feel like there were so many great games throughout the tournament. There were upsets. There were great games that the No. 1 seeds advanced, but we all had games where maybe three of us had games where we were in a really good game in a rally good battle. I think that’s great for TV. Definitely we’re heading in a great direction as the men. We had almost the same number of upsets on the first day that the men had, maybe even the same number. Even though the top seeds advance, which is unusual, and only look twice in the past ten years, but it seems as though there is definitely more parity and more excitement about the tournament.
But to have all four teams advance, I think Connecticut has the most championship, and I think the media does cover them quite well, so everybody knows where they stand. They have the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 1 overall seed.
Q. Just wonder if you could talk a little bit. You mentioned this being your fifth consecutive Final Four and how you come with a business-like approach. How much energy do you spend feeding the beast of those expectations now that you’ve really been able to build an elite program and had this kind of sustained success?
COACH McGRAW: I don’t think a lot. I think we go into the Final Four with an attitude of we’re going to do what we do. We’re going to work hard. We have an attitude that we think we can win. At the end, we have four of the best teams in the country. We’ve had some really close games. We’ve lost some heartbreakers. We’ve had some success in the semifinals. But I don’t think we go in thinking we’ve got to win this one. We’re just going in and playing our game.
Q. As a quick follow up, how about even during when you’re out recruiting or at the beginning of the season, is there any kind of thought process that you’ve had? We’ve been there, and/or is it again, no, not really?
COACH McGRAW: Obviously, we’ve done something special. I don’t know how many teams have been to seven Final Fours. I think just a handful that have been there five times in a row. We are one of the elite programs in the country, and I think everybody knows that.
Q. But you don’t feel pressure or expectations in a good way? It’s something good for us to motivate you and your staff and your team to continue that each year?
COACH McGRAW: No, I really don’t. I think probably if we were the overall No. 1 seed maybe we’d feel more pressure like we haven’t been able to get it done, but no.
Q. Coach, I wondered if I could go back in time with you. I think it was your second year at Notre Dame when Dawn Staley came into the college game as a player. I would imagine you were probably fairly familiar with her as a high school player in the Philadelphia fill area. I don’t believe Notre Dame ever played Virginia while dawn was there, but I’m sure you probably watched her. What were your thoughts of her in terms of how she impacted the college game while she was a player?
COACH McGRAW: What a great player. Just her determination and the things she was able to do for that team to be able to take them to three Final Fours I think she went to. Just changed the game, changed Virginia’s program, just such a competitor. Being from Philly, I really appreciated that, and I loved watching her play and was so proud of her when she went on to the Olympics representing Philly and then to get into coaching now I think is just such a great thing. She is one of the great young coaches in our game.
Q. You obviously have such a great relationship with the South Bend community and how that relationship with a head coach in a community how that helps the women’s basketball program, and if you were looking at what Dawn’s been building at South Carolina and has built, do you see that as one of the important things in women’s basketball for a head coach to have that kind of connection and community with the community that she’s coaching in?
COACH McGRAW: Yes, I think it’s critical to your success. She has done a great job getting the community involved. You see that reflected in the attendance figures. She’s willing to get out in the community and be visible. I’m sure her team is doing the same thing. I think you need to. That is part of the women’s game.
We have a relationship with our fans that is, I think, a little different than the men’s game. We enjoy being out in the community. We enjoy taking part in different types of community activities and trying to give back a little bit for what the fans have done for us. And I think the fans feel a connection with our players and feel like they know them.
Q. You’re two years in at Notre Dame at that point, did you have a chance to actively recruit Dawn at all? Did you have any conversations with her?
COACH McGRAW: No, we did not. I don’t really remember honestly how it all started or where it was in the process. I’m sure we saw her play. But I really don’t remember.
Q. Muffet, this is your fifth consecutive appearance in the Final Four. That’s something I think only three other programs have accomplished. Those of us who talked to you let’s say five or six or seven years ago, you talked about getting to a place where Notre Dame is at the Final Four every year, and they’re thought externally as one of the three or top 5 programs in the country. I know it’s hard to answer this, but do you think externally now your program is where you wanted it to be five or six years ago where there is a thought that every year Notre Dame, like Connecticut is a true threat to get to the Final Four?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I think so. I would say I probably wanted that 15 years ago, and it’s finally happening. I think you just learn a lot through this, through the experiences of it, and for what my staff has been able to do recruiting-wise, and the more you get there, the better players want to come and play on your team. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg. What comes first? I think we got there and started to get really good players once Skylar got here.
I think we’re where we want to be, and staying here is hard. I think that people don’t realize how hard it is because we’ve gotten there five years in a row. They start to expect it a little bit, but it takes a lot of work to get here.
Q. I mean, you may not be able to answer this because it’s not the easiest question to answer, but have you found, at least in the last couple of years, that it’s easier or harder to stay at this level versus building the program to get to the level?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I would say it’s easier to stay here because you kind of know the recipe a little bit better. I don’t know that we haven’t won it again, so that’s still a pretty tough challenge. But I do think it’s easier because the team knows what to expect, and they know what we want.
Q. Being a former point guard, do you think that led to you being a coach, and made an easier transition to you being on the court and being a leader on the team? Second part of that question is do you see a type of chess match between you and Dawn both being from a point guard to now being head coaches?
COACH McGRAW: I definitely think playing the point helps you and prepares you for coaching. You have to be the coach on the floor, and you have to know everything about every position. So I think there are a lot of point guards that are in coaching, and we’re all very competitive.
I never see any game as kind of a head-to-head chess match, which with the other coach I think it’s more about what the team is going to do. It will be fun, I think, to face off with another point guard.
Q. You’ve had such great production in the NCAA tournament from the supporting cast, whether it’s been Lindsay or Michaela with the bevy of three there. At times it seems Jewell pressed. How do you balance having such a star figure like Jewell balanced with what the supporting cast has been able to contribute without maybe slowing down her game also?
COACH McGRAW: I think that having Jewell helps everybody on our team step up. I think that she is such a great player, and when she is so excited for Michaela making threes and making passes to Brianna and Taya so they can score. They feed off of her confidence. I think she’s the one that’s really responsible for the way the rest of the team steps up because they feel so empowered by her and she’s not trying to do it all, and she’s so happy with everybody and just with winning. I think they see that attitude and that really gives them more confidence.
Q. If you could talk a little about Brianna’s progress this year? Obviously the strength aspect is a work in progress, especially as a freshman, but when you match up with South Carolina’s size and depth up front, her role there against the Gamecocks?
COACH McGRAW: Well, Brianna’s our leading rebounder. She’s been a leading shot blocker and does a lot defensively just with her presence inside because of what she’s able to do. But to match-up with South Carolina, they’ve got a lot more bulk than I think she does. They’re a little bit bigger. I think it’s going to be interesting. They have a little more experience. They have one freshman I think, but the others have a little more experience.
She’s had such a great year. She’s gotten better. She’s so coachable. Wants to learn, wants to get better. She always wants to know what she can do differently and how she can attack things differently. She watches a lot of film. I’m so pleased with her progress. She’s really overachieved for us this year, and we’re excited about her future.
Q. I just wanted to ask you really quickly. There is a story playing out in Indiana right now regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and I know the NCAA as an organization has come out and expressed some concerns. I was just wondering what your feelings are on the Bill as well as the fact that the Women’s Final Four will be in Indianapolis next year?
COACH McGRAW: The University has come out with a statement regarding that. We, as a Catholic institution, we are a community that welcome and value everyone. We are against unjust discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs. Personally, I, of course, agree with that statement.
But I think we’ll have to look and see next year. I think it’s something we need to look into in terms of whether or not to have the Final Four there.
Q. I have an X’s and O’s question about South Carolina’s post size. That is a team that has both defensively and offensively caused issues for opponents, just given how big they are up front. When you look at them, how do you want to attack them up front on both ends specifically?
COACH McGRAW: I don’t want to give you the whole scouting report (laughing). But we’re still practicing with plan C right now. We’ve eliminated A and B. We’ve got a lot of different ideas of what we want to try to do. We’ve got to try absolutely everything. And if you saw the beginning of our Baylor game, we played six different defenses before half time. We’re going to throw everything we can at them and see how the match-ups look. We are a man-to-man team, and that is our primary defense.
Offensively we’re just going to run our stuff the same as we do every other game. I don’t think we’ll do anything different offensively. But defensively is where we’ll really be challenged.
Q. Just one thing you had a pretty rough free-throw shooting game, I believe, against Baylor. Was that just anomaly for that game or did you and the coaching staff, did you read anything more into that?
COACH McGRAW: You know, I think it was anomaly for us for the season, really. We’re about a 71%, 72% free-throw shooting team. We’re 100% the game before against Stanford. I think a couple things played into that. I think, one, that game to go to the Final Four is a pretty big game. Every shot there is a lot riding on that, especially down the stretch.
I think we were probably a little tired. Obviously, Lindsay and Jewell played a lot of utes, though they shot it a little bit better. I think a lot of things played into it, and we’re not ready too much into it.
Q. So often the discussion this year has been in terms of Player of the Year whether it’s Jewell Loyd or Brianna, obviously both would be incredibly worthy. They’re both going to be WNBA players. From Jewell’s end, have you ever heard her, and even if it’s good natured, think in terms of wanting to be known as the best player in the country over Brianna or over anybody else? Is that an important or are Player of the Year honors important to her?
COACH McGRAW: I think every good player wants to be the best. I don’t think there is any question she would like to be the Player of the Year. I think she’s earned it. Certainly the way she’s played, and being the ESPN Player of the Year I think is a great first step and being First Team All-American. These are things that matter.
When you put the time in and devote that kind of commitment to getting better, I think you want to be rewarded for that. I think if you said do you want to win that or win the National Championship, there is no question she’d want to win the National Championship. But for her, and really for all of us here, we’d love to see her be Player of the Year.