March 1, 2012
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant as well as student athletes Porsché Poole and Taylor Alton.
Coach, opening comments.
COACH MERCHANT: Well, it seemed like the day was never going to end. You're waiting for that 8:30 mark. It was kind of a long day.
But I thought our kids really came out focused. I think our second half was better than our first half, certainly. But I thought we did some really good things.
I like we were able to spread the minutes with nobody really playing more than 20 minutes. [Jasmine Thomas] played 26 minutes, but everybody was 20 or less. So that was a really nice opportunity.
And I think we were led, again, by at this time of year you really need your upperclassmen, your seniors, to step up, and these two next to me certainly did that and set the tone for everybody else to kind of follow suit.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Porschè or Taylor, how does it feel to sort of get a game under your belt and sort of maybe develop a little bit of a comfort level heading into the tournament now?
TAYLOR ALTON: I think this was a good game for us, just coming in. We talked about it's going to be hard playing four games in four days, but I think for us it was really good, get on the floor. We were really talking about it like it's a good chance for us to feel out the floor, get a game under our belt, like you said, and just kind of get better ourselves so we can really make a strong push these last three games, which is our goal, to be here on Sunday.
So for us, I think, it was a good opportunity just to kind of warm up a little bit and obviously make some good things happen.
Q. Did you have any idea this was going to be a 3 point shooting contest kind of?
PORSCHÈ POOLE: No, we just took what the defense gave us. Today we happened to be on. Usually we drive to the basket and try to get shots in the lane, but today we just happened to be open for 3s, and we hit them.
THE MODERATOR: Taylor?
TAYLOR ALTON: It did go a little bit back and forth, so we want to focus on that for future games, just that we're not trading baskets so much. But the rims were feeling good tonight.
Q. For both of you, looking ahead to Purdue, it's a team you guys played recently. How do you guys match up with them? And you guys beat them by a lot the last time. And they beat you by a lot the first time. So how do you see it?
COACH MERCHANT: That was an overtime game.
Q. Still 15 points.
COACH MERCHANT: I don't consider overtime games beating them by a lot.
PORSCHÈ POOLE: You know, I think Coach put a great plan together, personnel wise, how to guard different players. And, you know, it really has to start with defense. We have to get out, get stops, try to run. And the last game, a lot of people stepped up on their playing, played great defense. That's what we're going to need tomorrow.
TAYLOR ALTON: We even talked about it in the locker room just now. Our first meeting obviously was by far the worse game probably in the Big Ten. Then when we got them at home, it really wasn't our best performance either.
So, you know, I think we're just going to kind of focus on us, like Porschè said, work on defense and just do what we can do to kind of stop who we need to and be successful that way.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies.
Questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, you talked about being able to get players, a lot of different players, minutes. Can you talk specifically about Becca Mills and Jasmine Hines showing something off the bench as freshmen?
COACH MERCHANT: Yeah, it was a good start to their Big Ten Tournament, that's for sure. But I think they were led as I mentioned in my opening statement, I think Lykendra didn't play a lot of minutes, got into some foul trouble. I thought she was aggressive out of the gate. I thought Porschè and Taylor set the tone, too.
I think, as I said, they followed suit. They're talented kids. The thing with Jasmine Hines, she could do more of that if she makes her free throws, and today was a good night for her at the free throw line. And she's kind of been suspect there at times, so it was really nice to see her knock down some free throws. That obviously put her in double digit scoring.
And I thought Becca really gave us some good minutes, too. I mean, she was really aggressive offensively. I thought she played some solid defense as well.
So I thought they both gave us really, really good quality minutes off the bench as freshmen.
Q. How do you see the way you guys match up against Purdue, obviously a really tight tough one the last time in overtime you played them?
COACH MERCHANT: Good question, Josh. You know, they're really, really talented. I mean, they're big. They're athletic inside. They can block shots. Their guard play is as good as anybody in the league.
I think they're led with a great player in [Brittany] Rayburn, and then you've got [Courtney] Moses and KK [Houser], and I think their depth and their ability to change who they are offensively and defensively is a challenge.
I mean, they can put Antionette Howard at the 3, and then the next possession they can move her to a 4. And they become a little smaller, a little bit quicker.
So they can just kind of change with who they're playing. And their depth is obviously really impressive. And they've got a senior group. They've got five or six seniors or so that have been here and done that.
And so it's going to be a tough challenge. They run great stuff. I mean, Sharon does an amazing job there. I think she's really got them playing well, and they had a little bump in the road like we all do in the league.
It's a tough league. But, I mean, the last few games for them, I mean, winning at Michigan is a tough thing to do, certainly, then turning around and playing their last game against Indiana, I thought they played extremely well and shot the ball and got their transition game going.
So it's going to be a battle for sure. And they're well coached and certainly battle tested.
Q. Before the game you were asked about getting the win tonight being critical for your guys' NCAA tournament positioning. But I kind of get the sense from you that the job isn't done for your team. Could you talk about that a little bit?
COACH MERCHANT: Well, I mean, the only way the job's not done for any team here is to win the whole thing. So that's kind of the goal. I think everybody wants to take it out of committee's hands.
But we felt like it was important to win this one. I think you gotta call it kind of what it is. Indiana struggled a little bit this year. Hasn't been their best season. And so because of that, a loss here could put you in a tough position. I feel good about the way the team's performing, 20 wins. Our RPI is very good. We've got quality wins over Penn State twice, Nebraska, Purdue.
So I feel good about our resumé. But it's just you're not in that realm defending yourself, and we have 11 days until that selection show.
So we're just going to try to do everything we can to put ourselves into position to be successful.
Q. Lykendra got a lot of rest because of fouls. How crucial is it to keep her out of foul trouble?
COACH MERCHANT: Yeah, I talked to her a little bit about that. I said, you know, it can't be a situation where I play you by choice, not because I have to sit you down.
So my thing to her is just being a little bit smarter. She's just an aggressive kid. And I thought she it's really too bad she was in foul trouble, because you could just see she had that kind of look in her eye. I thought she was making some quality post moves down there and rebounding the ball and doing some things.
So hopefully they let a few more things go. But she's got to be a lot smarter.
Q. With so many young players on this team, how big was it for you to have so many people get in tonight and get into a rhythm and get some game action here in the tournament?
COACH MERCHANT: I thought it was big. You look at our guard play. Kiana and J.T. played the point for us tonight, and they had nine assists between them and no turnovers. And you throw Ché in there and you're looking at 11, 12 assists and one turnover.
So I felt like our the one thing we talked to J.T. about was, you know, Kiana has never been here before, as good as she is, making All Freshman team and being a solid staple for us. We didn't anticipate anything but her best effort and for her to be the player she's been.
But you just don't know. And J.T., this was her third trip here. This is her third time around. We talked about as a group we felt like her and A.P. were going to be extremely critical coming off the bench because they had the experience and the wherewithal and understanding of what's at stake. You really hoped Becca and Jas Hines would do what they could and Schiff was going to give you kind of her mad dog minutes, as we call them.
I guess when I look at it, you know, I felt like it was a quality performance and we were able to rest some key kids. So that was good.
Q. You were able to limit Indiana, Sinclair to just four points, two in each half. Can you talk about the game plan and how important it was not let her get going tonight?
COACH MERCHANT: That was big. That was the kid we were first and foremost worried about out of the gates. Kind of ranked them a little bit in order. And I thought she was the one we needed to do a great job on.
And you could see when Jasmine went down for them that she had really elevated her ability to score so much so that Wisconsin went to a box and one against her. And she's a very talented quick release shooter and a pull up jump shooter. So we felt it really important that we took care of her.
The two kids that I was frustrated with, our team, a little bit that bothered me that got away from us were the [Alisha] Goodwin and McCurty kid, Quaneisha, because those two kids were their X factor kids we felt, and Indiana is a team that you don't know always who is going to come to play.
But those two kids can get it going. One has enough in her game that she can so I was disappointed in how we defended her in the first half, and same thing with Quaneisha, because I just felt like they did the things we said they could do and we just didn't really respond well, so I was disappointed in those two things.
But to answer your first part, I really thought we did a good job on [Aulani] Sinclair and worked extremely hard to limit her touches. And when she did, make sure they were challenged shots.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Indiana head coach Felisha Legette Jack as well as Sasha Chaplin, and we'll go straight to questions for Sasha.
Q. Sasha, could you give us your thoughts on the game in general?
SASHA CHAPLIN: I just think we went out there and just fought to the best of our abilities, just trying to keep fighting, stay positive throughout the game. And Michigan State played a very well game, and we just have to learn from this and get better for next season.
Q. Can you talk about them out there? Looked like they blitzed you guys like the start of the second half, getting the reads and everything else.
SASHA CHAPLIN: I think we were anxious to get out there and just play. And Michigan State just came out there in the second half and kind of started shooting, hitting 3s, and all we could do is just try to stay composed as much as possible and try to calm down and just play Indiana basketball.
Q. What did you feel like, maybe it was the 3 pointers or something else, what was the biggest the hardest thing to defend, the biggest difference between you guys and Michigan State tonight?
SASHA CHAPLIN: I think the biggest thing for us was definitely the turnovers. It kind of played a key factor in having them get transition baskets, which kind of shifted the momentum. So that was the biggest thing for us.
Q. First, the injury with Jasmine, more specifically the injury to Georgie, how did you have to adjust your role on the team especially as the big man down low?
SASHA CHAPLIN: Just knowing that two of our players got hurt, it was an adjustment. But we've been through this situation before, and the team just try to come together and play to the best of our ability.
As far as my position, I just tried to go out there and play basketball as best as I could and help the team as much as possible.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Finish up with questions for Coach.
Q. Could you just talk a little bit about Candyce and Quaneisha getting some solid minutes off the bench and what that says about the future for the team?
COACH LEGETTE JACK: First I'd like to congratulate Michigan State on their performance tonight. I thought Suzy did a great job of coaching. Her team's responded well to her.
Candyce and Quaneisha is kind of interesting. I think that Michigan State has a real special point guard, because usually freshmen don't play like that. They usually need time to grow into a system. And clearly our kids are trying to grow into the system.
And it's really fun to see Candyce really emerging into that system late in the season. And this game was a very tough game to play against because that speed was tremendous. But I think she's played a little played more composed than she did in the past.
I think this summer we'll get her stronger and getting her watching a lot more film so she can become a better point guard for us, along with Andrea Newbauer, but I thought Quaneisha showed grit. She's a kid that's really, really a passionate person and really wants success, and sometimes she's in her own way. But I like our chances in the future with her.
I think she can catch the ball, run the floor, and shoot 3s. Once you get the hang of the dynamics of these officials and how officials referee at this level, in high school it's not as fast and she's not used to that.
And it's the talent level in the Big Ten is tremendous. And she had to make that adjustment as a really frail bodied freshman. But I think she's going to get better. And I like the fact that she's on our team.
Q. How frustrating was it in the second half when Michigan State started hitting all their 3s, went 7 for 10 in the second half? What was it like trying to defend that?
COACH LEGETTE JACK: I thought we played silly basketball, because I thought that it was very easy to find [Taylor Alton] since she was coming up the trail.
And we needed to adjust to where she was. And she hit those first two 3s and it was like: Prove it. She shoots 80 percent from behind the arc. She's four for five from the free throw line. She's not coming in. That should have been an easy stop.
You know [Annalise Pickrel] hitting 3s and [Becca Mills] hitting 3s, that's a little different, because that's not statistically sound that they're going to be the ones. But that [Taylor Alton], she's the one that burst it wide open early in the second half. And that's something we talked about in the locker room.
So we didn't adjust from the locker room to the court. And we had a senior player out there. So it was a little frustrating.
Q. You talk about Quaneisha. Talk about the veteran leadership on this time. You'll have Aulani, Jasmine and who is the other one, Sasha, they'll be back next year. What do you think those players will bring to this team for next season?
COACH LEGETTE JACK: I know Aulani was hurting. This was not a great performance by Aulani Sinclair. I know she want a do over for this game. There's no do overs in the game of basketball. It's all about the next game. There's no next games all summer long.
I hope she'll let this one burn a little bit because no one can stop Aulani but Aulani. She's good enough. We had plays for her and she didn't come through as much as she should have.
And so she's going to feel it the most this summer. I thought Sasha gave her best. Those early two fouls, the one was undisciplined. The other one was just her foot was there and the kid ran over it and you call it, you call it. It's a foul. But nothing you can do about that.
But her being on the bench early did not help us. And when she did got back out there she'd done some fun things. So a lot of players that were going against that hurt us that season has been seniors.
So I think Sasha will have a chance to show her ability. And what's neat about Sasha, she lasted the entire season. This is the first time ever that she played an entire year. We're thrilled by that. That is the blessing that we talked about in the locker room.
So hopefully they will get that. Jasmine is a kid that's never been coached. She's just been great. And this was kind of good to have her sit down and watch and sense how the game feels from the bench perspective. And the role she can play for us next year. I'm not certain what her role will be. I'm going to be curious how she learned. And I know she's an unbelievable kid. She wants to get better. But until we get her out there again, we won't know.
Q. Coach, what do you feel like the team has to do either next year or the following years to get to the level of a Michigan State or a Purdue or the top teams in the Big Ten?
COACH LEGETTE JACK: You mean get back to that level? Because we've been to that level. And it's unfortunate that our injuries were in key positions and it didn't allow us to be at that level again.
But I like our youth. I like our fight. I'm not certain what team could go through what we went through and handle it as gracefully as we did.
It's unfortunate. It is what it is. But I like the kids that we've got coming in. I like the kids that's in the bush that we're trying to get in the hand. And I think that our kids are going to continue to grow. That leadership was up in the air this year. Nobody wanted to take ownership of this team.
And it hasn't had that cultural experience yet. But we have to get this team beyond 20, 25 wins so they can understand what it feels like to win here women's basketball. I think once we get that feeling in our hands, I think it's going to really be exciting times at Indiana for both basketball programs. But we have to figure out how to get them there and we're going to have to get lucky with some injuries. We were lucky my first three years we didn't get injured. We had seven players. We had nine players. We had 12 players, and we got no injuries. Significant. So we were able to push back the fear of success.
And we felt that success. In the last couple of years, injuries and come to the edge and they're afraid and they turn around. And that's been an interesting situation. But I like our young kids.
They're wide eyed. Last night they were in my room and they really believed they were going to have great success today. They really, really believed it. It didn't happen. But I like the fact that they went into the fight thinking they could actually win.
And at this stage in the game, when you've won six games, have the eyes look like that. I saw what eyes look like when you lose when you think you can win and you don't believe it. But these eyes didn't say that to me last night. And I just really love these kids. And these kids are fighters, and we certainly haven't won a lot of games on the basketball court but I can promise you one thing: These will be winners in life.
Q. You talked about Michigan State the second half run, but it seemed like that momentum really started in the first half. You were able to get within 10 and they got a couple of layups, and got within 11 and couple more layups and that jumper right before halftime which looked like pretty good defense. Seemed like it maybe took the air out a little bit.
COACH LEGETTE JACK: Starting the game off minus the ball twice, two turnovers. With silly turnovers like that, that's silly. You can't give a team like Michigan State who is an NCAA team the ball right away. You give people like Porsché Poole momentum and energy, and that's veteran players making those decisions. Rather, you get a five second call, give the ball to the official, get back on defense.
But we threw the ball just all over the place right away. And so that's not going to help you. Then we fought and they capped their momentum and it's herky jerky, they have a 12 point team. You can't tit for tat with a team like that. You have to get a couple of stops.
We weren't quick laterally on the perimeter. We were addressing that need and our recruiting class that's coming in next year. But we weren't really quick, and we tried to play the matchup with this group. And Michigan State brought out the water. So we had to go play the player, and we had to back off because they were so quick. Backed off, they hit those 3s on us.
We chess matched them. We had a lot of things in our tank to throw at them. Everything we threw at them, they were ready. Tonight the best team won.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.