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Time To Answer The Questions

March 21, 2001

March 21, 2001
University of Notre Dame
Press Conference – Women’s Basketball

An interview with:


MODERATOR: We’ll have three players here, Niele Ivey, Ruth Riley, Kelly Siemon, then Coach McGraw. First we’ll go to Niele Ivey.

What do you think of how Coach McGraw has coached this year and the award she won?
NIELE IVEY: I feel happy for her. I think it’s well-deserving. She’s been a great coach throughout many, many years here at Notre Dame. She’s built this program up to be one of the best programs in the country. I think that speaks a lot for her and her staff, everything that they’ve done for Notre Dame. Personally I think she’s definitely somebody who I’ve learned a lot from. I guess maybe from her being a point guard, that being my position, she’s taught me a lot. She has such great knowledge of the game. She’s I think a great person off the court also. I’m really, really happy for her. I love Coach McGraw. She’s done so much for me personally. I’m really happy for her and everything that she’s accomplished.

IVEY: I don’t really know too much about the defense yet. I think definitely it’s something we try to do every game, is run transition. When Kelly gets out on the open floor, Ericka Haney, we have great rebounds from Ruth. I think regardless of whatever defense everyone else is in, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Hopefully we can get our transition game going. They have a great defense.

IVEY: Definitely today we’ll find out everything about them, also (inaudible) when they were on TV a couple nights ago. I don’t know too much. Definitely our coaches will help us, have a scouting report.

Did you see the Iowa game?
IVEY: I only saw like two minutes of it. I think it was a guard who I think may have been a go-to player. They had one post. I don’t really know anything about them. Obviously, they’ve made it this far. They must be a pretty good team. I’ll find out today about them.

Worrying about your team in the altitude?
IVEY: Not really. Definitely we’ll be getting a lot of water. The trainers are saying make sure we have a lot of water. I’ve played in Colorado, Colorado Springs before. I’m kind of used to the altitude. I’m sure as a team we’re going to have to get adjusted to it. I don’t think anything’s going to be a factor for us. We’ll play our game, go up there and have a great game.

What was the occasion of doing in Colorado Springs?
IVEY: A BCI tournament my junior year in high school, kind of like an AU tournament.

How long were you there? How many games?
IVEY: I think I was there for like a week. Something like eight to ten games.

Did you feel a difference in the air then?
IVEY: I remember my mom saying, “You looked tired out there.” Not that it doesn’t happen here (laughter). I’ll probably be adjusted to it.

IVEY: She was really, really quiet. We always were like, “Ruth, stand up straight.” She was real innocent. She is definitely I think a lot stronger now as far as her ability. She’s a lot stronger, has a lot more moves, is a lot more confident. I think she can go in the game and be dominant from the beginning, whenever she steps on the court. Her work ethic is something I always take away. She’s always in the gym beforehand, after practice, and she’s been in the training room a lot. I feel like she’s been in the training center all day. So much she does in the training room, then she does it on the court. She’s a role model for any athlete because she does so much, in the classroom and anything. Just a great athlete, and person, and good cook (laughter).

What is it like when you finish the game, go in the locker room and decompress, then there’s hundreds of people waiting for that autograph? What does that mean to you?
IVEY: I think it’s amazing. So many people come up now. You can see in the girls’ faces, boys or girls, they’re just amazed at us. When we talk to them, they feel like they’re so much more comfortable with us. Especially Ruth, I think I should get in line and get her autograph. People admire her, and they should. She’s just a great athlete. I think over the past four years, we realize how much of an impact we have on children. It’s amazing to be in that situation, to affect someone else’s life.

Could the others comment on that, too.
RUTH RILEY: It’s so nice to come out of the locker room, see so many people that come to our games, support us. It’s amazing how long they wait after games just to get an autograph. I think it shows the support we have here, the tremendous crowds we get. It’s so cool to see all the little girls out there waiting to see you, asking for all your teammates. I think it’s nice.
KELLY SIEMON: Like both my teammates said, I think it really speaks a lot for how far our program has come. I remember freshman year going outside and probably signing at most about 20, maybe 30 autographs. I thought that was kind of fun. I mean, I think you can get — you know, sometimes it can be tiring, especially if you have family around. But I think, like Ruth said, just to see the faces of some of those kids who are really so excited just to be near you, they get your autograph. Whether it’s the same kids every game (laughter), that’s okay.

You’re willing to give your time?
KELLY SIEMON: Definitely. Those are some of the fun people. Some people don’t want autographs, they just want hugs, “Can I get another hug?” Any other questions for here or on the phone? Now we’ll take questions from Kelly Siemon.

What do you want to take from the whole experience here? You were here when the crowds aren’t what they are now.
KELLY SIEMON: It’s really exciting. Freshman year, I remember being very disappointed because we went to a volleyball game. Obviously that’s the season before ours. I remember thinking, “There is nobody here.” I think one of the seniors said, “We get about a hundred more people at our games than this.” That was really disappointing to me because the team had gone to the Final Four the year before, but it didn’t pick up, you know, that year. It has been just so fun to be a part of that, to see the attendance raising a couple thousand I think each year, and now to have that sell-out crowd against UConn. That’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life, to be able in play in such an incredible game in front of students. That is another disappointing thing, the lack of student support we get. I love that the community comes and supports our team because I think that we’ve worked hard for that. But I think it is disappointing to see everyone in the student body go out to all these other games and not really want to come and watch us. That’s the downfall. Otherwise, it is a great to be a part of this. I’m happy about where we are right now.

RUTH RILEY: Kind of what Kelly said. I think there’s so much that happened in the last four years. It’s hard to say what you’re going to take away from it, because there are so many experiences to draw from. Just the relationships we’ve made since we’ve been here, I think, as a team we’re pretty close. I think all those experiences on and off the court are things we’re going to remember, not necessarily like certain wins or our record or anything. I think like my four years here have been amazing. It’s something I’m going to look back upon and just take away, you know, like a lot.

Can you talk about Coach McGraw and the award?
KELLY SIEMON: I just heard that recently, just yesterday. But I think that she deserves it. I mean, by far and away above any coach, you know, not just this year, but I think she’s done a tremendous job. After the Final Four year, losing so many people, being able to sustain such a highly competitive program, I think it’s hard for a team to lose players, Beth Morgan, Katrina. You know, she really has worked hard with the group that we brought in, the four of us, now five with , and then bringing in some other great athletes. You know, she is one of the reasons why we enjoy coming to practice, not just because we’re doing well, I don’t want it to end, but it’s also because we have so much fun as a team. I think she’s a big part of that, just creating a family atmosphere. Obviously having Murphy and Matt around is something fun for us because we miss our families. It’s nice to be in that family environment. But best of all, the little things. I’m really excited for her as a coach to get such an honorable award.

Are you worried at all about the trouble with endurance in Denver?
KELLY SIEMON: No. I have also played. I have been to Colorado ten times probably. I had about the most intense competition of my life there. It was about 20 hours straight of competition this summer and last summer with an Athletes in Action camp, through the night and everything. I expect to be okay and I think our team is in incredible shape. We have been all year. Like said, we just need to keep drinking water and making sure that that isn’t a factor. It shouldn’t need to be.

KELLY SIEMON: I think so definitely, especially the way that our bench has come along lately. I think we’re really going to be able to use more people than we have been earlier in the year in those tough games. Also, you know, being able to use the bench these past two games have let the starters rest a little bit more. I think we should be fine.

KELLY SIEMON: It was an Athletes in Action camp, a Christian kind of oriented camp teaching biblical principles, how to apply them to your athletic field. I’ve been there the past two summers.

KELLY SIEMON: I’ve been a ton just with my dad’s staff conferences for (inaudible) Ministries. I think I was in a BCI out there, played out there. I’ve been to Colorado.

KELLY SIEMON: Ruth is not your typical athlete, outstanding athlete. She is definitely a person who is just the most humble and doesn’t really know how great she is, even though she gets all the accolades and recognition. She does not know what she does to the game of basketball, what she does to people around her. She’s a great, you know, fan supporter, too. I remember reading in the USA Today article, that was completely true of her, she’s at all those games. She’s the one mostly after the game signing autographs the longest. All of us try to get out there a little bit early, but she’s definitely that person. Also the fact that I think Murphy is the same, what I’ve heard of him. As good as they are, they want to keep getting better. She is definitely the hardest worker I’ve ever been around. She’s continually staying after practice, asking what she can do. She’s a great role model to those younger people, not just the younger, younger people that come and watch, but the people on our team.

Any good stories about the guys that practice with you?
KELLY SIEMON: Well, I think that is one of the biggest differences in our team this year, is we had about six people come in to practice every day, every day. Before we’d have one or two, just once in a while. These guys, you know, at the beginning they’d just kind of play and whatever. All of a sudden Ruth starts blocking their shots, we’d start scoring on them, then they really got down to business, started playing hard. It’s funny because we will blow out teams, kill teams. The Connecticut game is a perfect example. We won by I’m not sure what, 15, something, then the next day got blown out in practice by about 20, couldn’t get a drill done. That is because we played against those guys. It’s definitely a pride-swallowing thing when we get beat by them every day. It’s almost more exciting to beat them in practice than it is to go out and beat some teams. They’re a great bunch of guys. I can’t believe that they do what they do. Wish there would be a lot more perks in the basketball realm. They don’t really get to travel with us for free or anything like that. Wish they could.

RUTH RILEY: You know, it’s a lot of fun, like Kelly said. They’re really competitive. They’ll talk a little (inaudible) here and there, but it’s all in good nature. They really do make us a lot better. They’re quicker. They’re tremendous shooters. I think that shows when we do drills and stuff, trying to get on them. You know, at the same time, they’re just good guys. It’s fun to be around them.

We’ll take questions now for Ruth.

Ruth, most of the examples you gave about you and Kelly about fans and signing autographs were around the Joy Center and at home. Have you noticed on the road that the Notre Dame basketball players are recognized?
RUTH RILEY: I think more so this year. You know, on the road, we’ll come out of the locker room and there will be little kids there, fans there that want to say hello and talk to us. I think it’s a lot to do with because Notre Dame has such a huge outreach program, alumni everywhere, and they’re so supportive of all the programs here at the University. Also the fact that, you know, the success that our program has had lately, it’s more of an awareness factor, too.

RUTH RILEY: I think coach is so multi-dimensional. Like Kelly said, she has great family values. It’s so nice to see that. I think Murph just lightens practice a lot, doing his Kobe shot, little shots that he has. Fun to see the countdown at the end of the game. At the same time, coach has really built this program to where it’s at. I think it speaks a lot to her as a coach, her knowledge of the game. I think what makes her so unique is that she knows how to get the most out of her players, how to utilize their strengths. I think you notice that, as a freshman, the group we had my freshman here, how it’s kind of evolved, how we run different stuff as we get older, you know, certain players are shifted in and out of the lineup. I think just her knowledge of the game in general.

Have you ever played in Colorado?
RUTH RILEY: I did. I played after my freshman and sophomore here. The Olympic training camp is actually in Colorado Springs. We would have training camp there before we go.

Any trouble with the air?
RUTH RILEY: Not really. We had (inaudible) for about ten days straight. Didn’t notice a lot. It’s a neutral site. I think there are going to be four teams up there. Like Kelly said, we’re in pretty good shape. I think we’re more focused on the game, so I don’t think we’re going to let, you know, like the altitude or whatever be a factor.

RUTH RILEY: Yeah. I watched the Iowa game. You have to notice how hard they play, especially on defense. They lead the nation in holding teams to like the lowest points per game, whatever that is. I think that speaks a lot for, you know, like the team that they have there, the pride they have in their defense. I think we’re going to have to be focused on what we want to do. We’re going to have to play the same game we’ve played all year. I don’t think we’re going to change that going in there.

RUTH RILEY: I hadn’t really thought about it. I mean, definitely, you know, it’s kind of a cliche, we’ve definitely been taking it a game at a time. I think we’re pretty focused on playing (inaudible) because of the way we finished the season last year, anything can happen. We’re not overlooking anyone. I think when that match-up comes, we’ll probably think about it a little more.

Thanks. We’ll take questions for Coach McGraw now.

Coach of the year. Can you talk about that?
COACH McGRAW: Well, it’s really a great feeling. Kind of rewarding for the staff. They do such a great job all year. When you have the Player of the Year in the nation, best player under 5’8″ in the nation, such a great team, it’s a pretty easy job coaching them. This really has been the truly the easiest year I’ve ever had. We’ve had no problems with the team, we’ve had fun all year long. Kind of funny to be rewarded for having so much fun.

COACH McGRAW: No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. I don’t know that it’s ever happened before. I’m just so happy for both of them.

Did you ever (inaudible) of a player that swept so many awards?
COACH McGRAW: I think Rebecca Lobo got a lot of awards because she was a scholar athlete, as well. I know, not in recent years has anybody gotten as many as Ruth has, even in the Big East, I don’t think we’ve seen that since we’ve been in the conference. I think that was really impressive.

Ruth mentioned that you were really patient with the group when she was a freshman. (Inaudible)?
COACH McGRAW: Definitely. I think each team is different. Each team handles things a lot differently. I think there’s different buttons to push each year with each player. I think you learn a lot. Obviously by the time they’re seniors, you know which buttons to push, how they’re going to react to different things. I actually think I’m pretty patient this year. I’ve been very calm this year because I haven’t needed to really do too much. I think I try to be a lot more patient with the freshman in general. They don’t always agree, but I think, you know, you can’t yell at everybody the same way. You have to treat everybody a little bit differently. I think you have to know how to treat each person.

What is your evaluation of Utah?
COACH McGRAW: Great team. We battled them all long for No. 1 in the nation. They’re a great defensive team, definitely the best team we’ve faced. I think they’ll be similar to Rutgers defensively, holding teams to 52 points a game. That’s going to be a challenge for our offense. We do like to score. We’re a pretty good offensive team. Our defense is as good. So I think, you know, I’m more of a coach that likes to see an offensive game, but I think this one is going to turn out to be a big defensive battle.

Never been to the Sweet-16. Does that add an extra danger?
COACH McGRAW: I think they’ll be loose. You know, I think they’re a Cinderella team and they have a chance to do something they haven’t done in the program yet. I think this is a great opportunity for them to show everybody because they’re probably very similar to us when we went to the Final Four. Don’t feel like they get a lot of respect. They’re playing out west, don’t get on TV a lot. I think this is a great chance for them to make some strides for their program.

Iowa made a couple of runs late. Utah answered every time. That has to impress you.
COACH McGRAW: It does. I think they’re a very fundamentally sound team. They’re very much a balanced team. They have a couple of players that they like to go to, but overall I think their strength is similar to ours in that they have great balance. They make a lot of things happen off their defense. They get a lot not just in transition baskets, but they get the ball back a lot. They’re very patient, I think. So they’re a team offensively a lot like Villanova, defensively a lot like Rutgers.

Are they as strong inside as Rutgers? Is there something on the inside that they can be as physical as Rutgers?
COACH McGRAW: I think they’re a four-out one-in team. They have a player who is about 6’2″ inside, who will stay inside against Ruth. Their other player, Kelly’s position, will go away from the basket. I think Kelly is capable of guarding away from the basket. I don’t think it will be a problem for us defensively.

Do you feel any different going in this time as opposed to years past?
COACH McGRAW: We’re definitely peaking at the right time. I think we feel a lot different than we did last year at this time going into the season. I think we’re playing with so much confidence. I think that last year we were so dependent on Ruth, when she went out of the of the game with fouls, we fell apart offensively. I think that’s the thing that Kelly and have overcome. The balance in Alicia’s game, she’s playing great basketball. Jeneka is coming off the bench, giving us some great minutes. I think we’re a better balanced team than we were last year, a lot more confident.

COACH McGRAW: I’m hoping it ends in a tie and we just go right to the Final Four (laughter). I’ve talked with Jim probably six times since the brackets came out. It’s definitely a lot of emotion for me in that game. He’s my mentor. He’s been so influential in everything I’ve done. I don’t think that I would be as successful if not for all of his help. That and my former assistant who I have remained good friends with over the years. I’m glad we only have to play one of them if we win. I think to have to get by both of them would be really, really hard for me.

COACH McGRAW: Well, they’re primarily a man-to-man team, we’re primarily a zone team. I think there’s a little bit of difference in our attack. But I think that it’s the same kind of thing. They’re going to try to hold us down, they’re going to do a lot of things differently. We’re going to do the same thing to them. It’s just going to be I think two different approaches, but the same goal in mind.

COACH McGRAW: I think we are pretty similar. I think I learned a lot >from him in terms of philosophy. I think we’re very similar. Personality-wise I think we’re a lot different. But I think philosophy-wise we’re very similar.

Are you worried about the altitude at all?
COACH McGRAW: No, I’m not. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it. We’re going to drink a lot of fluids, we’re just going to go out and play, not really think about it.

You used the bench more in the past few games. Would do you that even if a close game?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah. We’ve been doing that. In the Connecticut game, Mandy came in early, Jeneka came in early. I think we’ll definitely play those eight people, Tania being the eighth one. I think we may look to sub a little earlier in the first game.

Do you feel like you’re getting the respect you guys deserve?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I think we must not be that impressive to watch on film. I don’t know. I’ve seen us on film more than I’ve seen us play because I’ve watched the games so many times. I think we’re a pretty good basketball team. I think when you look at us, you go in with the thought of: We can shut down Alicia, double team Ruth, we’re going to make somebody else beat us. Fortunately, 30 times this year somebody else has beaten them. I’m not sure why. I think we get a lot of respect. I think we’ve gotten a lot this year. I think teams are coming in and trying to be confident because that’s the only way you can approach trying to win a game.

Is there anybody like Ruth (inaudible)?
COACH McGRAW: No, she’s one in a million. I don’t think there’s ever been a player like her, somebody who has done so much for our program at both ends of the floor. Defensively she’s just a great presence. Offensively she’s a presence. I think the way the fans react to her, the way the kids react to her, her willingness to go out into the community, stay after and sign all the autographs, to be as successful as she is in the classroom and then just to be like a model citizen off the court. I just think she comes around once in a lifetime. I’ve really been blessed to coach her.

Some people portray one thing and then in real life are different.
COACH McGRAW: She’s very genuine, sincere in everything that she does. She loves going out and just meeting kids. She doesn’t just sign the autograph, she wants to get their names and chat with them a little bit beforehand.

Who would win, this team or the ’97 team?
COACH McGRAW: I think this team would win (laughter). We were talking about that the other day. Beth Morgan was at practice. She came down. But I think with that team, Beth and Katrina were really the team. Sheila McMillan was coming off the bench at that point. Now you look at the balance we have with Alicia and Ruth, as good as Beth and Katrina were then, I think the other players are better. I think Niele is a better player. I would give the edge to this team.

Amanda Barksdale, it appears to me, and I haven’t seen much of her, if she gets even one hand on a rebound, she clutches it. Has she got extremely large or strong hands?
COACH McGRAW: She does have a pretty good-size hand. She’s improved, though. In the beginning of the year, she was not getting the rebounds as good as she is right now. We’ve really been impressed with her performance in the last probably latter part of the season, February and on, she’s really done a great job. I think the opportunity to play has really given her a little more confidence. I think now she’s really going after the ball a little more aggressively.

A question about Ruth and her staying out of foul trouble this year. What improvements in her game, techniques or whatever, has been going on? Are the officials calling games maybe perhaps differently than they might have been earlier in her career?
COACH McGRAW: Officials have done a great job of calling the games this year. We have had some really well-officiated games all year long, in all phases of the game. I think Ruth has made a mental adjustment to say that she is not going to go after some plays that she may have gone after last year. She’s not fouling in frustration. She’s not getting any fouls at the offensive end. She’s being a lot smarter, letting people score when they get by her, not trying to come >from behind to block the shot. I think she’s made the adjustment mentally to be a bit smarter in choosing her spots.

Early in her career, do you think the emphasis that the women’s rules committee has made in recent years, do you think she fell victim like that like a lot of other post players had or she needed to define some defensive skills?
COACH McGRAW: I think Ruth’s problem was she didn’t like to be scored on. That was what was fouling so much. I think it’s a very physical game inside, and I certainly don’t think it’s too physical. I think what we’re having right now in terms of what’s referees are calling is what it needs to be. I think they’re letting them play, but not letting it get out of hand. I think the rule changes have been good for us.