April 4, 2011

Recap | Box Score | Arrival Gallery media-icon-photogallery.gif | Practice Gallery media-icon-photogallery.gif | Game Gallery media-icon-photogallery.gif

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and student athletes Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Becca Bruszewski. Opening statement, Coach.

COACH MCGRAW: I think this is my week for exorcising demons and getting over the hump of some of the best programs in the game. This is an incredible victory for our team and our program to beat a quality team with a great player like Maya Moore.

But I thought Skylar was just amazing, simply amazing today. Natalie Novosel had a terrific game. We made big shot after big shot and we answered the runs. We were resilient and just really did a great job at the defensive end and rebounded really well in the second half.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. You talked yesterday about having to play the second half, that the second half would be decisive. And unlike the previous games this year, there was a 20 point swing in your favor in the second half. Can you sort of talk about how you remained composed in the second half?

Natalie Novosel: This team has grown up since the end of the season, and I think Tennessee we really put together a 40 minute game. And against UConn we hadn’t done that, and tonight was the night we played hard for 40 minutes. We were focused and composed.

Q. Becca, you guys have played this team three times already. What did you do differently tonight that was it something you saw on tape or anything like that?

Becca Bruszewski: I think we were just more on help side. We weren’t relying so much more on Maya and what she could do, because she’s a great player. But we were really rebounding. I was trying to meet Dolson early so she wouldn’t get deep in the paint, because she’s a great player. Once she gets inside, you’re pretty much in trouble.

I think again just boxing out, playing physical and being in the right positions at the right time.

Q. Skylar, you’ve had some pretty impressive games in your career. But how did you feel tonight? And where does this kind of rank? Like Coach said, it was pretty amazing performance?

Skylar Diggins: It’s pretty high on my list. It’s not the top. Just like Becca said, what this team’s been through all year and how we were able to grow so much, and the key difference was keeping our composure. In the first half I don’t think we executed the offense too well, and I put that on me. I was really upset at halftime.

And we came out and we said we’re going to execute. And in the back of our minds or in the front of our minds were those three losses. So I just wanted to make sure I stayed poised. And I like to be the voice of calm, even though sometimes I was pretending. I was really nervous but they thought I was calm.

As long as they could look to me as, oh, Sky’s calm, she’s good, and being that point guard and putting everybody in the position.

I thought Natalie did a great job scoring. And I thought we had some great momentum buckets from Brittany, Becca, Dev and Ace as well.

Q. Becca, a question for you. Just describe your mindset in those last couple of minutes, becoming pretty evident you’re going to win this game a chance to win for the national title your final collegiate game. Can you talk about that?

Becca Bruszewski: I went in, had been in foul trouble, and went in with four minutes left. Those three minutes flew by because the next thing I looked at the clock and it was 1:18 and I was screaming at my teammates as they ran down the floor like we got this, 1:18, fight for it. Especially Brittany Mallory locking up on Maya Moore. We got this.

And it was hard for me to stay composed the last minute, because senior year, just really excited and beat two quality teams in Tennessee and UConn have great programs. And it’s just great.

Q. Natalie, what goes on in your head when Skylar has a game like tonight and how do you stay focused and finish with 22 points?

Natalie Novosel: I think Skylar in the beginning kept us in the game. We weren’t really playing our game. We were letting UConn dictate the game for us.

And I think in the second half I was frustrated that I didn’t contribute in the first half. And I just came out being really aggressive. We got them on their heels a little bit with foul trouble.

And we were in the double bonus pretty early on, and we were able to take advantage of that.

Q. Natalie, you’re a junior from Lexington. There’s a junior from Indianapolis at Butler. He’s a junior. Both of you playing for national championships, tomorrow tonight for Butler and Tuesday night, no doubt, for you guys. Just your thoughts on a couple of the kids from Lexington, the underdogs, playing for a national championship.

Natalie Novosel: I remember Shelvin Mack. We were both runner up for Mr. and Mrs. Basketball. And I just remember we both felt like we deserved it.

And so I think it’s kind of interesting we kind of wanted it that way. But he’s come up huge making huge games in the national championship run.

And I think, you know, just being aggressive and playing my game has been the biggest thing for me.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. Questions for Coach.

Q. Muffet, for only the second time this year, a team was able to sort of get Maya off of her game. Could you sort of talk about what your defense did to her to she shot 14 for 30, and obviously struggled even though she had that late surge at the end.

COACH MCGRAW: If that’s off her game, then that’s pretty amazing. She’s an amazing player. She single handedly tried to will them back into the game. On that stretch we were switching on screens, we tried a couple of different ideas. We couldn’t stop her.

She made, I don’t know, seemed like she scored except for that last basket by Hayes all the points. She didn’t shoot it quite as well from the 3 point line. Tried to put Devereaux Peters on her, a little taller. Didn’t seem to be quite as effective.

But I think we got everybody else to get out of their game a little bit more and force Maya to have the pressure of carrying the team.

Q. Muffet, Skylar had what I would say a pretty transcendent game. I imagine this is what you expected when you recruited her, but could tonight have even exceeded your own wildest expectations?

COACH MCGRAW: I think the last two games she definitely has shown what she can do and what she’s capable of doing.

I think it was great that she was chosen as an All American, because I think that was a great reward for her.

And she played like one tonight. She did it all. She ran the team. She scored. She made good passes, good decisions. Really single handedly kept us in the first half. She was our only offense in the first half. We were trying to figure out a way to help her, and Natalie stepped up in the second.

She’s an amazing talent, and I would never doubt there’s probably nothing she can’t do when she puts her mind to it.

Q. Can you talk about what Natalie Novosel gave you in the second half to be so limited in the first half with the early two fouls?

COACH MCGRAW: Got into early foul trouble, and that definitely made her tentative. She didn’t want to drive the ball, and that’s a big part of her game. She came out in the second half determined to contribute. I think that was the biggest thing. She wanted to score. She wanted the ball. We ran a bunch of stuff for her to get the ball. She and Skylar both shot it extremely well.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk about the 2001 team, how it compares to this team. How much did it feel like tonight that 2001 semifinals knocking off UConn?

COACH MCGRAW: The same, we weren’t down as much. I think that team was down 16 before they came back to win the game.

This team was down a little bit. But there have been a lot of parallels to that season. And the championship team sent a card to the hotel with each player and everybody associated with the team had a quote or something to say to the girls.

And, you know, they really appreciated it. There was some really good stuff. And I think that tradition, carrying on that tradition was good for them.

Q. In the past week because of all the parallels to that 2001 team, the words like “fate” and “destiny” have been thrown around. After looking at what this team did today and how they play, can you really still say that’s the reason?

COACH MCGRAW: You know, I don’t know. Because you look at the bracket and I’m pretty sure nobody in America had Notre Dame playing Texas A&M in the final. So I think we definitely earned it. I think we worked hard to get here.

We certainly didn’t have anything handed to us. And it was an amazing accomplishment, I think, for this team. So I would say not as much fate as hard work.

Q. For the rebounding, especially in the second half, couple of questions here, if you don’t mind, please. The rebounding in the second half and then Brittany and Natalie both knocking down a couple of 3s with about seven and a half minutes to go, and right after that your young freshman named Natalie, one of her field goals was on offensive rebounding. Your young freshman stepped up.

COACH MCGRAW: We talked about rebounding at halftime. It was a big key to the game. We didn’t do a good job in the first half. I thought Becca came out and did a much better job in the second, Natalie Achonwa did a much better job. The guards got in and rebounded a little bit more, we got some offensive rebounds, only four in the first half. We held them down to one shot.

I thought that was key. The back to back 3s were huge. And then Natalie hit the turnaround jumper, got a put back. And I thought for a freshman in the Final Four game, played extremely well.

Q. Coach, can you talk about how your team matches up to Texas A&M, give us a look of what your thoughts are about that game?

COACH MCGRAW: In some ways we’re mirror images of each other because we’ve got great guard play and pretty good defense. And they’ve got an outstanding player in Danielle Adams. It’s something that I haven’t actually spent a lot of time thinking about, and when I was watching them through the tournament, I thought, boy, they’d be a really tough team to play.

And be careful what you wish for, I guess. Now we got ’em.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports

Notre Dame Locker Room Quotes

Freshman Natalie Achonwa

On the game:

“We came into the game really loose and really relaxed and that’s the way that we like it. We know that at the end of the day we worked hard, we put the work in before we got here and it’s just a game. I always tell Skylar (Diggins), ‘Just put the ball in the hoop.’ It’s easy, that’s how you win; just put the ball in the hoop and get a stop on ‘D’. I think we really showed a lot of heart tonight. UConn beat us three times this year; but we didn’t think about that. We were thinking we have one game and if we don’t win this game, we’re driving home.”

On what to expect from Texas A&M on Tuesday:

“They have great guard play, and they’re really quick. We’re going to watch some film and we’re going to go through the daily routines that we always do and we’re going to come out and play our last game. This one’s for everything, it’s for the ring. It’s for everything we worked for all season. Every team in America wants to be where we are right now and we’re going to take advantage of that.”

On what it means to be playing the championship game in Indiana:

“Indiana is amazing. There is tremendous support for us, fans that weren’t even initially supporting us, stayed after the first game and wanted us. I feel like our team and our coaching staff, we give off a vibe that brings people together. I think Indiana is an amazing basketball state and they support their basketball and athletics a lot and it’s great to have a great fan base here for us.”

Senior Devereaux Peters

On the game:

“We believed we could do it. We fixed all the things that we didn’t do the last game and we played a full 40 minutes and pulled it out.”

On what to expect from Texas A&M on Tuesday:

“They’re a great team. They run the ball. I feel like they’re similar to us. They push it a lot, they run a lot of offense and they have great guards. It’s going to be a good game; it’s going to be a lot of back and forth. It should be a good championship game.”

On what it means to be playing the championship game in Indiana:

“Words cannot explain it at all. It’s a great feeling to have all your fans there, and it’s the most fans we’ve had anywhere all year cheering for us. Even some of the other fans were cheering for us. It was an exciting place to play and was really great. I can’t even really explain it.”

Senior Brittany Mallory

On the team’s game plan heading into the game:

“We didn’t come out scared, and we came out knowing what we were faced up against. We knew coming in they were going to go all out because they have been here before and we haven’t been here as a team. We kept running our stuff, finding Natalie (Novosel). She had a great second half and Skylar Diggins, I can’t say enough about her as she had a great game today. We ran a lot of our sets and Skylar was creating and if she didn’t have a shot she would pass it off. We ran a lot of sets for Natalie. She was struggling and got in foul trouble early in the first half, but she did a great job in the second half.”

On playing Connecticut for the fourth time this season:

“We both probably each know of our plays inside and out. We know what’s going to happen when the ball goes where. It was a matter of executing, and staying composed and we came out on top and I couldn’t be happier.”

On the team’s defensive approach:

“We had to play team defense. We knew Maya Moore, whether she was going to go off or not, she was going score. We couldn’t let another player go off. That is what killed us in the first three games and we ended up playing great team defense and not letting anyone else get clear looks.”

On playing for a national championship:

“I get chills thinking about it. We knew this is what we wanted to do, and we knew we were going to accomplish this this year. It is an unbelievable feeling that we are going to be playing for a national championship on Tuesday night.”