After holding open practice on Friday, head coach Kelli Harper and the Lady Catamounts’ three seniors, Lauren Powell, Kendra Eaton and Brooke Johnson, fielded questions from the media about how they were preparing for the game, how it feels to be in the NCAA Tournament and the match-up with Vanderbilt.
The Commodores also took the microphone and shared their answers to questions.
Following are excerpts from the pre-game press conferences:
Head Coach Kelli Harper
What have you drawn on as a head coach from your days as a player at Tennessee?
“First of all, when you come to the NCAA Tournament it’s very different than regular season games for us. Like the kids say, you have a few more rules you have to follow, a few protocols here and there the kids are not accustomed to and being a former player in the NCAA Tournament, I am able to share my experiences with my players, just to give them an idea of what to expect as a player. This is the first time any of our players have been in the NCAA Tournament.”
“Secondly, being from Tennessee you walk out on the court and expect to win. It is just a part of who I am and my background and I really feel we have been able to instill that in our players. We’ve played some pretty tough competition in the past few years and I do not think there has ever been a time our players have walked out on the court not thinking they were going to win. They have understood there may be some huge challenges ahead of them, but they have a winner’s mentality and I think that is part of the reason we have been successful.”
What are your thoughts about coming out here to Albuquerque and being a 13 seed in this Tournament?
“We are really excited about our seeding. The last time we were in the tournament we were a 16 seed and you can see we have moved up and that is some success our program has had. Our kids have really done a great job of putting us in this position. I personally am excited about playing here in Albuquerque. I’ve never been here and I’ve never been to the Pit, but I have heard so many wonderful things about it. I have brother who played here a few years ago, and he loved it.
“I do hate it for our fans because it is so far from home and they are going to have a hard time getting here. But, for our players, I am really excited about the experience they are having right now. They are thrilled with the location of the Tournament game for them.”
Lauren Powell, Kendra Eaton, and Brooke Johnson
Some of your old teammates told you what this experience is like for them. Is it anything like they told you it was coming into today?
Kendra: “Yes it has been. I think it’s a wonderful experience being part of everything; like coming out to New Mexico and meeting everybody out here. It’s just a fun experience.”
Lauren : “I think its been great so far. We haven’t been able to do much outside of basketball stuff, but we are going to. There are so many rules, and there is so much we have to do. I guess it feels like we are big-time.”
Can you tell us a little about Coach Harper? What do we need to know in Albuquerque that you can tell us?
Lauren: “She is very experienced as a player and coach. She has been here plenty of times and she knows what she is doing. That is going to carry over to us.”
Brooke, talk about what it has been like for you transferring to Western Carolina. How has it been there for you?
Brooke: “I think my transfer to Western Carolina was the best decision I made. It hasn’t been the most normal career, with getting injured and having to sit out, but I think it has been a pretty good one. I owe a lot to the Western Carolina staff and program. Being here at the NCAA is just a cap-off to a great career.”
What is your goal? What does it mean to log all these goals and break these records? What does that mean to you?
Brooke: “I owe a lot to my team and my staff. I think all the goals and records have built into our season. We are really happy to be here and really happy about what we accomplished so far. Just coming out here and being able to compete, and to play in another game, is what we’re here for.”
What did you see on the Vanderbilt Film and what’s your impression on what you need to do to win this game?
Kendra: “I think one thing coach has emphasized in practice was boxing out Vanderbilt because they like to go to the boards. We just need to outwork them because they are bigger and stronger and more athletic than we are.”
Vanderbilt Head Coach: Melanie Balcomb
What have you learned over the years about preparing going into the NCAA Tournament?
“I think it’s about momentum, players feeling well about how they are practicing and really focusing on yourself, just like we have tried to do previously. It’s all about one team, and one team only. We don’t look past anybody or talk about anybody else. We try to treat it a lot like the SEC Tournament down the stretch. I’m just trying to get them to continue their momentum. We played so well for three games back to back to back, and then coming off a championship in the SEC. Were trying to keep everything positive at this point.
Four teams of the 64 are from Tennessee, What are your thoughts when you saw none of those teams were sent to Chattanooga?
“I never question what the committee is going to do. It’s out of our control, and I’m one of those people that if I can’t control it, then why worry about it. I never expect anything, and I didn’t expect to stay home. We have a lot of players who aren’t from Tennessee. There is only one Tennessee player on our team. We are a little different then our other teams. I do think it makes sense when you look at North Carolina or Duke or Maryland, all being from the same area and seeded so high, you want to reward those teams to stay closer to home geographically. They kind of pushed us all over.”
Vanderbilt Players Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth
This is your fourth NCAA tournament, over the years what have you learned about getting yourself and your teammates prepared for the tournament?
Christina: “I think the biggest thing is just, it sounds cliché but you just have to take it one game at a time. When you hear you bracket announced on Monday you get all excited and you start looking ahead and seeing who else is in the bracket, but it really matters who you are playing the first game because its one and over at this point. It’s just a constant reminder for me and my teammates to focus on Western Carolina and taking care of business tomorrow, Saturday.”
For both players did you guys expect to be sent so far away from home? Did you have any intangibles that you can take from playing here last year?
Jennifer: “I was just really excited to be sent back to Albuquerque, just because my family can come and this is my senior year and also Tina is from Arizona, so its a little bit of a closer drive for us. So, I was definitely excited and hoping we would be closer to home. As far as playing in the Pit, like coach (Melanie Balcomb) said we did really well here last year and we are just excited to play on a court that we previously won at.”
Christina: “I feel the same way. I actually didn’t want to stay close to home to Vanderbilt, personally. I think its fun to travel when you are in the NCAA Tournament, it makes it fell different that just a regular conference game or anything else. We have good memories from here and we all walked into the locker room just now and I just remembered winning our second game and going to the Sweet 16 and it never hurts to have those kinds of good memories when you are headed into a tournament like this.”
Have you had a chance to gain film from Western Carolina or any other impressions from what the game is going to be like tomorrow?
Jennifer: “Yeah we watched a little bit of them. We are definitely going to have to work hard ad play our best basketball. They seem like a really good team, so just like Tina said its preparation and practice, so we feel prepared and ready to go into this game.”
Jennifer, I am curious what its like for you playing in the post undersized and what your priorities are to perform down low?
Jennifer: “I am kind of excited to play in the post. I feel like I embraced it just because I love Hannah Tuomi and if that’s something I can do for her then I don’t mind it at all. I think if anything its just an awkward matchup for other teams and I am just thinking I have got to attack and just make up for the things that Hannah (Tuomi) brought and just take advantage of the bigger and slower post players.”