Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw observes practice (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Women's Basketball NCAA Championship Press Conference Transcript (March 27)

March 27, 2010

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An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with the University of Notre Dame. Coach Muffet McGraw is here, and, Coach, welcome to Kansas City and the second round. You said you didn’t care to make any comment; is that correct? We’ll just start with questions? COACH McGRAW: That’s good.

Q. There was a lot of talk with Oklahoma about how they have changed since the last time you guys have faced each other. How have you guys changed since late November?

COACH McGRAW: Well, it was a long time ago, seems like a long time ago. You know, I thought we played very well at the Paradise Jam. That was a great tournament and great to see so many of those teams in the Sweet 16. I think we’ve played a lot of people and at that time we were still trying different combinations and we’re still playing all those same people. I think we’ve gotten a little bit better just playing together all this time. We’ve been tested a lot in a lot of different ways, seen a lot of different things, and I’m really happy with the way we’re playing right now.

Q. How do you deal with the match up with Danielle Robinson in terms of a scouting report on what she does best, and how do you counteract that?

COACH McGRAW: I don’t know if you can counteract that. She’s got incredible speed. She is she played very well against us last time we played. She’s very hard to contain. You don’t see people getting up in the backcourt and trying to pressure her. I think people have just too much respect for her speed. I think she’s definitely a challenge for our defense.

Q. Can you talk about how your bench will play a role in this game?

COACH McGRAW: Well, our bench has been outstanding throughout the Big East Tournament and the first two rounds. They’ve actually been leading us in scoring on a couple of occasions, which is great to see. It’s nice to have that depth. We don’t have to worry so much about foul trouble, and we can really keep the pressure on defensively while we’re resting some of our starters.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about how Skylar has improved even since the last time you guys played Oklahoma, which was so early in her college career?

COACH McGRAW: She’s had a great year. She has been done so many great things for us. She’s really changed our team probably defensively more than anything. I think she sets the tone for our defense. She gets up and pressures the ball really well. She’s a great passer. She’s had over 100 assists this year. For a freshman that’s not even playing the point, I think that’s outstanding. She does so many little things, intangible things. She’s got the intensity, the drive, the focus, the sense of urgency that you would think only your seniors might have. So I think that she’s really she’s played well all year long. She’s been our leading scorer in almost every situation. You know, you look at our wins, losses, Big East Tournament, NCAA Tournament, she’s the leading scorer, something we didn’t really expect from a freshman. I’m so pleased with the way she’s played all year long, and she’s been very consistent for us and continues to play well.

Q. You didn’t have Devereaux Peters the first time you faced Oklahoma. How might she impact the game?

COACH McGRAW: You know, I think rebounding is going to be a big key, and that’s something that we hope Devereaux can do for us. We as a team, we just need to rebound a lot better, and we’d like her in there because she is somebody that can really go get the ball. But I think overall, all of us need to rebound better. She can help us do that.

Q. During your time in South Bend, your program has had so many transformative players I guess you could say. Oklahoma is playing its first season without a couple pretty transformative ones in Courtney and Ashley Paris. Can you talk about from your perspective that carryover you’ve seen from year to year, you lose a Ruth Riley, for example, how that carries over and just sort of what you’ve seen over the years with that?

COACH McGRAW: You know, I think that your program develops an attitude of winning, and no matter who you have in the program, somebody is going to pick up that attitude. And it’s just generated from your best players, but it really does transcend down to everybody on the team. You go through stretches where we missed Ruth Riley for quite a few years after she left. She was really probably the best player ever to play at Notre Dame. But we have had some very good ones, and I think Skylar is that type of player for us now. But I think every program you go through those stages, and I think Oklahoma, just what a fantastic year after losing two great players, they have really and without Whitney Hand, they have had just a sensational season.

Q. Coach, if you could, what advice would you offer to Nebraska or Kentucky, their coaching staff? You just talked about developing that tradition of winning. These two programs didn’t have any transition, this year they’re in the Sweet 16. Just what kind of advice would you give them?

COACH McGRAW: It sounds like she should be giving advice to me. She’s the No. 1 seed. I think they’ve had a great year. You look at seniors, and it’s all about the seniors. They’re the ones, every good team we’ve had in the Final Four has been senior dominated, and they’ve been able to just take our program to places we’ve never been before, and I think once you get that tradition started, you hope that the younger players pick up on it and just continue to understand what it took to get there, and there’s so much hard work, and that next year they can’t rest because people are going to be coming after them without those seniors on the floor.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the rivalry with Oklahoma? You’ve played them a couple of times here, and they’ve been great games with a lot on the line.

COACH McGRAW: Well, they’re a great team, and any time you play a great team, it’s going to be a big game. It’s going to be an exciting game when you have two guards like Danielle Robinson and Skylar Diggins on the same floor. It’s a lot of excitement every time they get the ball. I think the fans are going to be on the edge of their seats, and hopefully it’ll be a great game tomorrow.

Q. Can you talk about Danielle Robinson and the unique problems she presents?

COACH McGRAW: Just her speed I think is something that you just don’t see very often. She’s so good with the ball. She can go either way. She’s got a great jumper. You don’t want to foul her because she’s a great free throw shooter. She can get to the rim really easily, and she’s a good passer. She’s got a lot of assists. She’s got a lot of steals. She’s aggressive defensively. She’s that kind of an electric player, and you can see how the team really feeds off of her.

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish student athletes, Skylar Diggins, Ashley Barlow, and Becca Bruszewski. Ladies, we’re going to take questions from the floor.

Q. Skylar, can you talk about Danielle Robinson and just how challenging of a match up she is?

Skylar Diggins: Well, Danielle, she’s a great point guard. She’s very athletic, very quick, and is definitely she poses as a problem for a lot of defenders because she can get to the basket so well. She’s great in transition. She does a good job finding her teammates, and her mid range can also be dangerous. So I think just definitely trying to keep her in front, and it’s going to be a total team effort with that, and just kind of trying to slow them down in transition.

Q. For Ashley and Becca, for a team that’s as veteran as you guys, what’s it like to have a freshman step in and play the way Skylar has played in season?

Ashley Barlow: It’s good for us. We need somebody to step up like that. It’s like our whole team, we’ve got people that can score, we’ve got people that can defend. We’ve got a whole team of starters basically, so it’s pretty good that she can step in and pretty much do that. Becca Bruszewski: She came out with a lot of confidence, really stepped in, knew her role. She came into the game giving exactly what we needed. I mean, for her just to add everything that we have to the team already, it’s great.

Q. Becca, can you talk about how the post position has developed for this team through the course of the season and how your depth can affect other teams?

Becca Bruszewski: Well, we’re not the original post players like big presence inside, but we’re quick, we’re mobile, we’re agile, so we use that to our strength. The first game against UConn we really didn’t have a post presence inside. So the second and third we tried to pick it up, take them off the dribble, stuff like that, and that seemed to work pretty well for us, so we’re going to go with that same attack this game.

Q. Ashley, when you’re dealing with somebody that quick as Danielle, what’s the philosophy? What’s the big picture guard approach to that type of match up?

Ashley Barlow: I guess it’s just trying to keep her in front. You’ve got to try and just stay with her and not get too close up on her because if you do, she’s good at getting around you and finding other people on the block, and her other teammates on the wing and things like that. We’ve just got to keep her in front and not let her get going. We can’t let her get confidence early. We’ve got to stay on her from the opening tip.

Q. Ashley, when you look back at the Virgin Islands games, what are your memories of that, and when you look at the tape of it, what jumps out at you about either your team or Oklahoma?

Ashley Barlow: I guess it would be that we were we were both different teams, so that was at the beginning of the season. They got out in transition on us. We made some big shots in that game. And I guess it’s just the whole thing that we’re different teams right now. We’re playing better. We’re in tournament mode. We know that this could be our last game, so we’re just going to go out there and continue to play the way that we’ve been playing all season, and hopefully we can get our defense going first and get some offensive things going, as well.

Q. Skylar, since you guys have played in Storrs and Hartford, does that help when you step into Big 12 country to play in what might be a hostile environment for you?

Skylar Diggins: I believe so. Definitely the loudest atmosphere I’ve played in would be Storrs and Hartford. But I think it’s just a matter of just really going in with the mindset that you’re here with your team. You really try to stay focused into the game and really not let the crowd get too involved or affect you too much.

Q. Becca, when you look at Oklahoma’s post play now and recent game tapes versus when they played you the first time, do you see a difference in improvement there with Olajuwon and McFarland?

Becca Bruszewski: Yeah, she’s definitely more comfortable going with either hand in the post, so before it was easy it was better just to jump out to her left side, but she’s more versatile now going right and left, so she’s definitely going to be a post presence inside.

Q. Ashley, you guys played Oklahoma a couple of years ago down at Purdue, played them in the Paradise Jam. Can you talk about how these two programs have kind of created a nice rivalry between each other?

Ashley Barlow: Yeah, I guess it’s other people putting us together in these situations, I guess. But we’re both taking care of business when we get in our respective games. So I guess it’s been a good rivalry, and we’ve tried to pick up the slack a couple years and this year, and we’re just going after it, and I guess it’s a good run to kind of be a part of.

Q. For Skylar and for Ashley, everyone talks about Danielle Robinson as a tough match up, but Amanda Thompson has got a unique set of skills, as well. Talk about how you defend her.

Skylar Diggins: Well, she’s a great offensive rebounder. She’s a great rebounder. She’s a match up problem for lots of people because she’s just so big and so athletic. I guess you’ve got to approach her with just staying in front of her and keeping her in front of you, as well, and boxing her out would be a big key for us. Ashley Barlow: And I think she’s also developed her skills offensively as far as her mid range shot and now she’s backing up to the three point line, and she’s definitely developed there over the years. She’s definitely a threat, not only back to the basket or crashing but also in the mid range game now.

Q. I’ve got a question for you, ladies. Ashley, you’re a senior. What do you tell Skylar about what to expect in this round of games?

Ashley Barlow: You’ve just got to tell her to go out there and do what she’s been doing the whole season. We can’t change what we’ve been doing all year just for this one game. We’ve just got to go out and continue to play our game, and I think we’ve been doing that pretty well the first couple of rounds.

Q. Skylar, I’ve got a question for you. As a freshman, did you think you were going to go this far?

Skylar Diggins: You know, I actually did. I think this team did. We’ve had high expectations for ourselves since the first day of practice, so I mean, just I knew it from the kind of heart that this team shows and how we push each other in practice and really go after each other. I mean, it gets pretty competitive in practice. We just all want to see each other do well. The fact that we’ve come together and we know each other’s games so well now, we’re playing we’re kind of hitting on all cylinders now. We’re playing some of our best basketball, so hopefully that momentum just carries over into these next couple rounds, particularly tomorrow.

Q. For Ashley, you have a senior laden team. Oklahoma has three significant seniors. When you get to this point in your career, one loss and it’s over, do you see this kind of being a battle of wills, who wants to keep their careers going tomorrow night?

Ashley Barlow: Yeah, we’ve just got to know this could be our last game and give 110 percent out there. It could be a battle of wills, who wants it more, so we’ve just got to go out there and competing to the best of our abilities like we’ve been doing the first couple rounds.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, congratulations on a great season, and we’ll see you tomorrow evening.

Oklahoma Coach Coale

THE MODERATOR: Coach Coale has joined us up here at the head table. Coach Coale, welcome and congratulations on a great season and your comments.

COACH COALE: Thank you so much. We’re honored to be here and excited about the opportunity that awaits us and excited to be back in Kansas City. It feels like we just left a day or two ago. Excited to be back here and ready to get it going.

Q. The last time you played Notre Dame, Whitney had just been injured in the game before and didn’t play. People probably didn’t know their roles. How different are you this time going against Notre Dame?

COACH COALE: Completely different. You know, I think every team progresses and changes throughout the course of a season and grows their own identity, but particularly a team that changes personnel as emphatically as we did at that point, because Whitney was our she and Danielle are really our returning leaders who had had such experience in the previous season in the Final Four run. Whitney had really become our heartbeat. She had become our identity. Even last year I thought down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament that we played in her likeness as a team, took on her personality and her demeanor. So to lose her and have basically less than 24 hours to recover and play, I’m not sure we had any idea who we were when we played Notre Dame in the Virgin Islands. We’re just obviously over the course of the season, we’ve figured out how to win games. It’s not always pretty, but it’s been quite effective, and guys know the roles and have accepted their responsibilities and have done a phenomenal job, and I’m really proud of our team. I think the great thing about it is we’re still getting better. We’re still learning and improving and evolving.

Q. I’m just wondering, you don’t see a lot of rematches at this point. Are you happy you had the chance to play Notre Dame before or would you rather come in with a little element of surprise to it?

COACH COALE: Well, when you play the free conference schedule that we do, we were bound to play somebody that we had already played before. I don’t know that it matters at all. I think Notre Dame is a different team, and I think they’re better. Skylar was so young and trying to figure out what her role was as a freshman surrounded by all those seniors. Peters didn’t play when we met in the Virgin Islands. So I think we’re both different teams than we were at that time. Maybe a little bit of familiarity, and excited about the opportunity we are anyway, about competing again.

Q. Just trying to get an idea of what difficulties Danielle presents for the defense. What match ups are difficult to handle her?

COACH COALE: Well, Danielle is difficult for a lot of people because of her quickness, and it’s one of those things that’s very difficult to judge. Obviously Notre Dame has seen her before so they understand how fast she is. It’s a combination, she’s very fast and she’s also very quick, and those two things together can obviously wreak some havoc. Skylar is quick in her own way, too. She’s got fantastic hands and is a good ball handler, as well. I don’t know that it’ll be necessarily any different of a challenge than what perhaps Notre Dame has seen from some teams along the way.

Q. You’ve got three senior starters. Notre Dame has got a bunch of seniors. When you’ve got a bunch of seniors in a game with both teams, how does that sort of stamp a game at this level?

COACH COALE: I think it depends on the team and the kids, also. I’ve seen seniors try to hard and press and get in their own way, and then I’ve seen seniors be so hungry and so unrelenting that they become super human. So I think it can be an either/or or maybe a combination of. I always think that underclassmen play a key role down the stretch. I think it’s how your younger guys handle themselves. They tend to play a little truer to who they are and what they’ve been throughout the entire year, and if they can maintain that consistency, I think that’s maybe the little slice that sets the team over the top.

Q. The first game I think Notre Dame had a big run in the second half. Is their transition game a main point of concern for you?

COACH COALE: Well, Notre Dame does a very nice job with the ball in transition. They take opportunities and take full advantage of them. But what happened in the second half in the Virgin Islands is Danielle got into foul trouble and we didn’t have any idea how to play without her on the floor at that time. So I don’t necessarily I just think that situation is completely different than what we’re seeing now. I hope so, anyway.

Q. Going back to the seniors, just talk about how your three seniors have played here down the stretch as a group. It’s been solid these past few weeks.

COACH COALE: Yeah, I could not be prouder of Abi, Ny and Amanda. They’ve been phenomenal all season long, and the way they practice every day, their work ethic, their continued willingness to learn, the glue that they’ve been for the younger guys in teaching them how to be a team and how to work and how to have high expectations. And interestingly enough, the three of them, or at least a combination of two out of the three, have been really, really good over the last month and a half, and in our game against Arkansas, Little Rock, none of the three were very good offensively, anyway, against Arkansas, Little Rock. And the other guys well, Abi was really good, I take that back. Abi was really good in that game. When all three of those guys have really been sitting on all cylinders, then some pretty magical things have happened for our team. I like the way our three seniors’ mindset is right now. I think they have a steadiness and excitement about them that’s really refreshing to see.

COACH COALE: You know, I assume you’re referencing UConn. Okay. I understand both sides of the argument, I really do. I get both sides of the argument. But any time a team has done something as phenomenal as the University of Connecticut has done, it takes not just the basketball world and the sporting world but the world at large, it takes them by storm. And some people who maybe aren’t even sports fans pay attention to the fact that somebody has just done a phenomenal thing. I realize that I’ve heard Geno talk about (inaudible), and I agree with that totally. But to a non sporting group of people, John Wooden’s record has been surpassed, and that’s newsworthy. That’s conversation at cocktail parties and at dinner. And if they’re talking about women’s basketball, that has to be pretty good for everybody involved. Yes, it’s up to all of us to stop that streak and get right up there with them and create streaks of our own. But at the same time, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t piggyback on the audience that this is reaching and take advantage of it. Back in the day, and I’ve said this many times, back in the day when we were trying to build our program and trying to get a full house (inaudible), and most of those people kept coming back when Connecticut left because they wanted to watch Oklahoma. So for all of us to have this opportunity to share in this broad light that Connecticut has brought on the sport of women’s basketball have an opportunity, and need to look at it as that.

Q. In the game down in the Virgin Islands, you guys went something like seven minutes without a basket. Do you chalk that up to Danielle not being on the court?

COACH COALE: I had no idea we did that. I’m not really surprised. A big reason why would be Danielle not being on the floor. Again, being in the Virgin Islands, the thing that was so disrupting was for the past entire year our entire backcourt had been Whitney Hand and Danielle Robinson. Whitney and Danielle were always on the floor. I can’t think of a time when one of those guys wasn’t on the floor. So when you don’t have Whitney in uniform and then Danielle is in foul trouble so we don’t have either one of them, we’re just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, so I’m not sure the comparison is really relevant.

Q. What do you expect out of the crowd in terms of support for each other? Is there a chance if the Big Reds get together they can create a home court advantage?

COACH COALE: Well, I thought Nebraska fans were phenomenal. I remember preparing for our game in the semifinal and being in the locker room, and I could tell immediately, I didn’t need to know the score and what was happening because of the roar in the arena at Municipal. They turn out in record numbers in Lincoln, and I expect they’ll be here in record numbers, as well. What we’re hoping for is a little Big 12 love in the arena tomorrow night and we’ll figure it out on Tuesday if we’re fortunate enough tomorrow night.

Q. You made the comment prior to the Big 12 conference tournament that your team would love maybe not you personally, but your team made the comment that you’d love another crack at Nebraska, perhaps they might get one. You also get another crack at Notre Dame here, and as you were just asked, playing here in Kansas City where Oklahoma has had some success in the past, do you see that as an advantage in your opening game with Notre Dame tomorrow?

COACH COALE: You know, in a way I do, but I think we as coaches can look at every situation, find an advantage in it if we try hard enough, and I think the advantage here is the mindset. I think our kids feel comfortable here in Kansas City. I think we feel like we left some business unfinished in the Big 12 tournament, and I’m sure Nebraska shares that sentiment, as well. I think when you go through the NCAA tournament, if you can find ways to get a mental edge, it doesn’t even matter if it’s real. What matters is if your kids buy into it, and I think our guys feel really comfortable about playing in the city.

Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about the balance that Notre Dame has and maybe the problems that Skylar Diggins presents?

COACH COALE: As I mentioned earlier, very, very efficient basketball team. They share the ball well. They pass the ball well. They move without the ball very well. I think, too, that their big guys, the fact that they can rotate so many in, they have a very deep bench and very capable players who come in and spell one another with really very little dropoff; on the guard play, the same way. I think Skylar has just continued to assert herself, and the complexion of their team has changed as her confidence and her comfort level has improved. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it when you watch them play, it’s Skylar’s team.

Oklahoma Players

Q. For Danielle, Coach talked a lot about losing Whitney and right before the last game and how you’ve since rediscovered your identity. How specifically did you guys kind of figure out who you were through the course of the season?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: It started with her challenging us when we got back from the Virgin Islands to step up that much more, each person individually, to make up for the presence that Whitney had displayed on the floor. It was just about us maturing, though, night in and night out and every day in practice.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the match up with Skylar Diggins? I’m sure that as a true freshman she’s changed since you last played her. But talk about what you see and how her game has changed but also how your game has changed since then.

DANIELLE ROBINSON: Skylar is a great player, and she’s done some great things at Notre Dame so far as a freshman. You can just tell that her confidence level is so much greater now, especially on the defensive end. I mean, that really creates a lot of easy points for her, a lot of transition lay ups. I guess you can say being a junior also pays dividends just because you’ve had the experience and you’ve been here a couple times before.

Q. Just looking at Notre Dame, a guard based team, Danielle, how do you approach a team like that and deal with the between the Skylar and Barlow and Schrader and that whole group?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: We just have to play hard on the defensive end. Barlow is a great shooter. Melissa does some great things at the point guard position, and Skylar, of course, is pretty much all around. So it’s about guarding one on one, really, and guarding as a unit on top of that.

Q. Danielle, does Skylar remind you of yourself when you were a freshman?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: Yeah, a little bit, except she’s left handed and I’m not. But definitely. You can just tell over the course of a season how you’ve grown and matured, and she’s definitely done that.

Q. I’m going to make Amanda talk. How exciting is it to have a chance to settle some scores with some people, playing Notre Dame a second time, might get a chance to play Nebraska again?

AMANDA THOMPSON: I think it’s exciting, and it’s good for women’s basketball in general. We’ve played them several times. I mean, a couple years ago we played them in the same kind of tournament, and it’s kind of like payback.

Q. This is a question actually for both of you, but I’ll start with Amanda since, Danielle, you’ve had the spotlight most of the time here. I believe this is your fourth trip in the last five years to the Sweet 16, and of course you’ve been even further than that over that time. All of that time, those last four years, were with the Paris sisters and others. What’s it going to be like this time as you come into this tournament without Courtney and Ashley?

AMANDA THOMPSON: You’ll just see a different team. We won’t rely so much on the post, and we have strength in all positions. You’ll see a little bit of transition, a little bit of defense, a little bit of offensive execution, and just playing basketball. When you can dominate all those parts of the game, that’s how you go far. DANIELLE ROBINSON: Like Amanda talked about, we’re just a different team. I guess we’re more guard oriented this year than anything, but we have experience, and that’s what we’re going to have to use to win some games here in Kansas City.

Q. For both players, when you look back at the game in the Virgin Islands, what jumps out at you about either how you played or how they played?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: To be honest, we played horrible. I wasn’t going to say yeah, it was pretty bad. We didn’t have any kind of effort at all. I mean, you can give some of it we were kind of in shock that Whitney wasn’t out there, I mean, on the first game back, but we just played with no life, really. AMANDA THOMPSON: We just were a different team. I feel like we just she said it earlier, we were in shock, and we didn’t know how to make the adjustment so quickly. We’ve learned a lot since then, and we took a lot more pride in our effort and our toughness, and you can see that. We’ve seen that over the last couple months.

Q. Amanda, can you talk about the defense in last weekend’s games down in Norman?

AMANDA THOMPSON: You know, our defense was pretty good. Our defense was pretty good. We made key stops and we took a little pride in getting scored on or just playing together, not just one on one, you know, helping each other and blocking out and doing all the little things that count. Now we just need to make that on the offensive end.

Q. Danielle, you mentioned that Notre Dame game after Whitney’s injury, and you had foul trouble. Was that you trying to find a place and sort of figure out what you needed to do, or can you just talk a little bit about that?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: Some of it was just dumb decisions. I mean, one of the fouls I guess I ran over Schrader trying to get through a screen. It just wasn’t smart plays. Some were fouling in transition. So I guess it could be out of frustration, could have been out of frustration. But as far as that I know I need to stay on the floor, and since that game I’ve made a ton of adjustments.

Q. Amanda, could you talk about how you and your two fellow seniors have played here the last few weeks? It’s almost as if you don’t want your college careers to end?

AMANDA THOMPSON: Not at all. We’re trying to make it to the end, to the very end. We’ve worked a lot over the past couple years just developing our game altogether, and I think it would mean the world to us and our teammates if we make it to the last game. It would just be fun. You work so hard all year to be at this point, and it’s always nice to go out with a bang.

Q. Danielle, did you run into Skylar at all before you played here? Was there any USA Basketball experiences where you guys might have crossed paths?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: I’ve never played against her. I’ve been in Colorado Springs with her this past summer when she was trying out for the U19 team and I was trying out for the World University Games team. Even then I didn’t really get a chance to watch her play because we were on two different schedules, and when they were practicing we had free time to eat and take a nap, so it was different things like that. The only time I really talked to her was in the Virgin Islands after the game.

THE MODERATOR: Okay, ladies, we’re going to let you go. Thank you very much. Best of luck tomorrow, and we’ll see you tomorrow evening.

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