Saturday, March 30, 2013

Norfolk Regional: The things they said today

These NCAA Tournament day-before-game press conferences are in some ways necessary evils. The event wants the promotion, and media members need material to work with. Usually, though, very little news, or even interesting information, comes out of these things, and both parties are to blame.

Mindful of saying anything that might be taken out of context, coaches, and especially players, typically don't stray from a time-honored script:

"We're excited to be here. We're really focused. Our opponent is really good. It's going to be a tough game. If we give 100 percent and stick to our gameplan, we'll give ourselves a chance."

Media members, in turn, often ask unimaginative, cliche-friendly questions that make it easy for the participants to stay on message. And we're not exempting ourselves from this criticism. Although we pride ourselves on getting folks to loosen up in one-on-one sessions, we've asked our share of lemon question in these formats, too.

This is why, when the teams sat down to face questions Saturday before the Norfolk Regional, it was wonderfully refreshing and informative when Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins took a simple query - How do you define your game? - and ran with it:

"I'm instinctual. If it comes to where I need to score, I can put the ball in the basket. But really what I'm looking for is to set my teammates up. I want to make every player on the defensive end pay attention to me to set my teammates up. I'm trying to push tempo. I want to be aggressive on defense by pushing up trying to get steals. I want to be the smartest player on the court and that comes from preparation, understanding the game and being a student of the game. I want to be the most competitive person on the court, the most emotional player on the court and the most confident player on the court. I think that when you're all of those things, then your teammates are that, too. Then we become the most confident and the most competitive team. My job is to be the leader and follow all of those things."

It usually works well if you can ask a player something they weren't expecting. Judging by the huge grin that broke out on Duke's Elizabeth Williams' face, she hadn't prepared to answer anything about her last appearance at ODU's Constant Center (an AAU game circa 2006):

"Oh, man! Those were probably the days when I still had goggles. I don't remember much. I  do remember it's a really nice facility, and I definitely enjoyed playing here."

We're trying to dig up pictures of Williams wearing those goggles, by the way.

Players often brush off talk of individual matchups in these settings, preferring to talk about the team. So we appreciated Kansas star point guard Angel Goodrich taking the bait when asked about her head-to-head battle with Notre Dame's Diggins:

"It's going to be a great challenge between us. "(Diggins) is a great point guard. She's done a lot for Notre Dame. She makes her teammates look great, and I'm just looking forward to the matchup."

Sometimes, players get questioned about stuff they simply can't answer, like when Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper was asked to assess the shooting background in the Constant Center:

"We actually haven't had shoot-around yet so I'm not quite sure what it looks like out there. But I'm sure it'll be fine."

At least she was polite.

Other notable quotes:

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, on recruiting Elizabeth Williams:

"She is an amazing person and comes from an amazing family. I feel like I got to know her very well. I read a book with her, you know. I don't want to read that book again. It was a terrible book. Anyway, the things you would do in recruiting, but I got to know her very well, what was important to her as a person. Her family is very important to her. She comes from a very happy family. They are probably the happiest family I know, in terms of just the way they live their lives and how they support their children. Thank God she is a sophomore and we can continue to develop and have a great time together. She is a very honorable player, she works very hard, and sometimes she puts too much pressure on herself, a little bit of a perfectionist. It's not about perfection, it's about giving your all and cutting loose. I haven't felt like she has cut loose yet, but I hope she does."

Nebraska coach Connie Yori, on Cornhuskers point guard Lindsey Moore:

"The first word that comes to my head when I think of Lindsey Moore is competitive. She is a kid who does not like to lose. It doesn't matter if we are playing a shooting game in practice, five-on-five, game time or monopoly. She does not like to lose."

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson, on how Goodrich's background has shaped her (Goodrich is a Cherokee Nation citizen who has overcome ACL surgeries on both knees):

"She's had an impact throughout her Cherokee community as well as Lawrence, Kansas. She has more importantly had an impact on all the little guys who have been told all their life that they are too little to play, so she's had an impact on girls and boys. She's been able to impact people as well, because she has persevered through injuries and has been able to bounce back."

Duke guard Tricia Liston, on the impact of freshman Alexis Jones (Jones took over the starting point guard role nine games ago after All-ACC performer Chelsea Gray went down for the season with a dislocated kneecap:

"Whenever a player goes down on a team, the dynamic on the court is going to change. I think it took us a few games to get used to that but we've done a really good job getting back to the team we want to be and playing the game we want to play. It's certainly sad to see someone like Chelsea go down because she brings so much to the table, but as for Lex, she stepped up tremendously for us. Vocally she hasn't been the loudest one, especially playing with Chelsea because Chelsea did most of that, but she has grown so much. She has come out of her shell. She's talking, she's yelling on the court, demanding of us. But she's not trying to be Chelsea. She is still her own player. But she is our point guard now. She's the starting point guard and I think she does a good job. So many people have been comparing her to Chelsea and I guess you can do that because they're point guards, but they are two different players. I think she's done a great job staying true to herself and still being able to lead our team in the way we want to play Duke basketball."

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