March 28, 2012
THE MODERATOR: I’m Rick Nixon with the NCAA, and welcome to today’s media teleconference, with 2012 Women’s Final Four head coach Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame. Notre Dame won the Raleigh Regional Championship last night, and is participating in its fourth Women’s Final Four, and will be in action on Sunday April 1st at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time playing UConn at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The National Championship game will be played 8:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, April 3rd. Before we begin today’s question and answer session, Greg Christopher, chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball committee and director of athletics at Bowling Green state university has some words of welcome for Muffet and Notre Dame.
GREG CHRISTOPHER: Thanks, Rick, and congratulations again to Muffet, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. We’re looking forward to a fantastic Final Four. A great season for the Irish and the other three teams coming to Denver. I think everybody knows this is the first time since 1989, and only the second time in the history of the tournament to have all four No. 1 seeds coming to the Final Four. So we are looking forward to a great weekend in Denver, and a terrific Final Four. Congratulations again, and I’ll turn it back over to Rick for the rest of the call.
THE MODERATOR: A quick opening statement from Muffet and turn it over to your questions.
Coach Muffet McGraw: Looks like the committee did a fantastic job, too. Congratulations for picking the Top 5 teams and getting us all assembled in Denver.
We are thrilled to be back again. I’m just so excited about my team. I think we’ve played consistently well all year long. But right now I feel like we’re really starting to peak. That is really what we’ve been working towards the entire season to just continue to get better for this time of the year.
Q. What did you make of the Irish playing two times in a year’s period? Do you think there is anything left to gain or learn about each other between game 7 and game 8? Secondly, in terms of Tiffany Hayes, you played against her so often, how has she always factored into your game plans with all of the All Americans around her?
Coach Muffet McGraw: Well, to the first question, I think it’s great for the BIG EAST to know that we’ve got two great teams, Final Four teams in the conference. It’s a shame that we continue to play each other in the Final Four. I think you kind of look forward to getting out of conference when you get to the NCAA Tournament and seeing some different teams, and we’re certainly glad to be playing in the Final Four with such great company as Connecticut.
So Tiffany Hayes figures into the game plan all the time because she has such great athletic ability. She can get to the rim. She’s a great three point shooter, and I thought defensively she played really well in the last game we played. I think she has that ability to get up and guard people, And offensively she’s very, very talented.
Q. Muffet is there anything left for you to learn about UConn ? Is there anything left for Geno to learn about you at this point?
Coach Muffet McGraw: I think at this point in the season, no matter who you’re playing it’s going to come down to the players on the floor making shots and making plays. I’m not sure having played them three times this year that there is going to be a whole lot of new things that we can take away from that.
So I think that we’ll just really focus on ourselves and continue to try to get a little bit better at some of the little things we’re working on.
Q. Can you speak beyond your match up with UConn ? Can you speak to the strength of this year’s field? We’ve been talking about these four teams all year long, and four No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four for the first time in 23 years?
Coach Muffet McGraw: I don’t know how the other coaches feel, but I think my team did such a great job of managing expectations all year long. I think when you go into the season and people are talking about you’re going to be a Final Four team, that is a big target on your back and one we hadn’t faced before. So I think it was difficult to continue to manage that.
My team did a great job with their maturity and experience of handling that pressure all year long. The same for all the other teams that are coming into the Final Four, because all four of us, I think, pretty much we’re the Top 5 teams in the country all year long. I’m not sure if anybody ever fell to fifth.
I think all four teams are probably the most talented teams in the country. So I guess we all achieved our expectations.
Q. I have two questions that I’ve asked all the previous coaches. First, what concerns you most about UConn ?
Coach Muffet McGraw: I don’t know if there’s one thing. I think when we played UConn , we’ve had a lot of different games with them. Stefanie Dolson has really beat us. Bria Hartley’s beat us. I think different people have stepped up in different games and played really well. When you’re playing a team like Connecticut, they’ve had such an equal opportunity team that any one person can step up on a given night and play extremely well.
So we don’t generally game plan to stop one person. It’s just kind of looking at the whole team.
Q. What does your squad do better than anyone else in the country?
Coach Muffet McGraw: I don’t know. We take a lot of pride in our defense. We have a really determined, relentless approach defensively. I think we’re a competitive team that we don’t like to get scored on. So we take a lot of pride in that. I don’t think that’s something that a lot of people talk about. They talk about our steals and our assist to turnover ratios and stuff like that. I think it’s something we feel we do pretty well.
We do score pretty well generally. I have a lot of weapons and a lot of people that can shoot the ball. Same as Connecticut, a lot of people that can score. Probably our top six players, any one of them could lead the team in scoring.
Q. Coach, Geno Auriemma said the one thing that binds all the four teams together is you all have unfinished business from last year. Baylor’s made that their mantra and slogan all season. But how about you guys how much of an unfinished business attack have you had this season?
Coach Muffet McGraw: It was our mantra as well. We saw it on TV the other night from Baylor and thought they stole it from us. We had talked about that from the minute we got back from Indianapolis last year.
I think that was something that we really focused on. It was our motivation throughout the summer, throughout the season to get back and get another chance at it.
Q. Coach, another three coaches talked about their defense and how much identity is built. If you look at all four teams, they’re phenomenal defensive teams. When you’re recruiting, it’s not just that these coach es are good defensive coaches but the type of athlete that’s you look for, both the athlete that they are and the mentality that they have to bring what all these teams bring defensively into the game.
Coach Muffet McGraw: You’re absolutely right about that. When we recruited Brittany Mallory as a three point shooter, I never expected she’d turn out to be our lockdown defender, and that is something that she really saw a role and a place for herself to really help the team.
She’s got really good feet and really good hands. If you look at her overall speed, she’s not the most athletic person on our team. So I think it’s a mindset. It is something that you can be determined to get through screens and fight through screens, and really get out and do the work that nobody gives you a lot of credit for.
So I think it’s that mindset, and that pride that you take in how you can contribute to the team that make it’s. And there are a lot of really good athletic people that could be great defenders that aren’t, because they’d rather outscore you. So that is the mindset of you have a really good offensive player. And I’ve had teams that felt like they could just outscore you, and I prefer the defense more.
Q. If I could follow up. Geno said he felt that this is one of the best executing offenses, your team, that he’s seen in several years. I think he said it was Baylor, Stanford, and even UConn . What about that combination that these aren’t team that’s just play defense? It’s not just that that’s all they do and they win games in the 40s or 50s. These teams also have some skilled offensive players. I think that feeds into that idea of having that skilled player play defense as well.
Coach Muffet McGraw: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think the players are more complete players. You used to have the defensive specialists. The three point shooter who couldn’t guard. I think players now are so much better and so much more capable of playing the game at both ends, and great for the women’s game.
Because I love a high scoring game as probably the other three coaches in this would also agree. It’s so much more fun to watch. I think it makes the game so much more exciting for the fans when you see up tempo scoring also with great defense.
Q. How do you react to the idea that if Baylor wins this championship, they should rank as one of the greatest, if not the greatest team in the history of women’s college basketball just by virtue of the fact that no other team would have won 40 games without losing? I wonder if obviously not that you hoped for that. But I wondered how you see that kind of accomplishment? Because it would be a big number that even the casual sports fan could wrap themselves around.
Coach Muffet McGraw: Yes, and I think any time a team goes undefeated and wins a National Championship, clearly one of the best teams ever. I think we’ve had a few over the years. Connecticut, of course, most recently having a lot of success. I don’t know if I would say the greatest team ever, but certainly one of them.
Q. Last year Kim Mulkey talked about the notion of playing Texas A&M for the fourth time last year, and she thought that was unfair. I always think that when you and Geno talk about the amount of times that you will have played against each other over the last 14 months, you don’t particularly look at it like that. You both look at it and like the challenge and appreciate what the other team brings out in the other team. Am I correct in that assessment or is it too much, this many games?
Coach Muffet McGraw: You’re correct. I think when you get to the Final Four and see two teams from the same conference, I think it’s a great compliment to the BIG EAST. It just says great things.
A lot of times you pick a winner from different parts of the country, and you won’t get that opportunity to play another team in the BIG EAST. So I think it’s great that we both ended up there. I was glad that we didn’t meet before this point, so definitely glad they waited until the Final Four to put us together.
Q. Is it different to face a UConn team that doesn’t necessarily have I mean, they’re very, very good players. But that doesn’t have that superstar trophy winner player the way that they did previously? Does that make this team a little different to face even Geno said he doesn’t know who is going to be the person to come through for him from game to game?
Coach Muffet McGraw: Yeah, we knew over the last four years, the game plan was always centered around Maya. She seemed almost superhuman at times. We never had a good match up for her. We tried different ways to guard her, but never were successful.
I think in some ways it is a little more difficult when everybody can score because you can’t go double team anybody. You can’t leave anybody open. With Maya, you had to pick your poison and take a chance on leaving somebody. So I think this team creates different problems for us to guard.