March 10, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Head Coach Sharon Versyp, and student athletes KK Houser, Drey Mingo, and Courtney Moses.
COACH VERSYP: I'm thrilled and very proud of our team and this group. They just have another level. You just saw the switch kind of click when we played Illinois at home our last home game. And then it turned to March. They just had a different mental focus, energy. And February, we knew we struggled a little bit and there's reasons for that.
But we came out and we know that we wanted to win the Big Ten championship, and I've never been so proud of a group of young women.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for KK, Courtney, and Drey.
Q. Drey, a year ago, you stood in street clothes as your teammates won the Big Ten Tournament. At that time you didn't know whether you'd be back or not. Just all things considered, with what you've been through, how sweet is this?
DREY MINGO: It feels amazing. I'll never forget, Coach V looked in my face after we won last year and said, we will get back. I'm so happy that we did. I'm elated right now.
Q. You gave Sharon a big old hug after your TV interview. Was that part of what she told you last year, just a reminder what she told you?
DREY MINGO: Yeah, definitely. And to thank her for giving me this moment and this opportunity.
Q. Not only to win the title, but to have the type of game you had, you seemed focussed yesterday when we talked to you about playing in the title game, but to have this type of game, just kind of your emotions of the way you went out in this game.
DREY MINGO: Just credit to my teammates. My teammates just kept giving me the ball, and I just tried to finish the best I could for them. But credit to my teammates for it all.
Q. KK, can you talk about the job Drey did? Didn't miss a shot, from the inside, really sort of controlled everything.
KK HOUSER: Drey was awesome tonight. She just came out with so much fire and energy. And right from the get go, we were just feeding her and feeding her and feeding her, and she was unstoppable. I wouldn't want to play against her.
I'm speechless. Drey played amazing, and it really fired up our team.
Q. Courtney, how you pounded it inside and when the two post players picked up the two fouls, did you feel like you had them on their heels at that point?
COURTNEY MOSES: Yeah. The very first play of the game it went straight to Drey, and when Drey scored, I just knew that the posts were going to go off tonight and Drey was going to have an awesome game.
We just kept going to the post. That was the game plan. And we executed what the coaches want. And like KK said yesterday during press, when we execute, good things happen.
Q. KK, they got it down to nine there in the second half. You guys needed a couple of buckets and found a couple there in a row with Courtney there hitting the back to back 3s. How big at that point was it to allow you guys to maybe breathe a little bit again in the second half?
KK HOUSER: Those are huge buckets for us. We know they're going to make a run. They're a great team. We just wanted to hold them off.
Courtney came up so clutch for us. That really got us going, fired us back up to finish the game strong.
Q. Courtney, just from where you guys were out in February, two and five in that month, what has changed so dramatically with you guys?
COURTNEY MOSES: I would say that during February, we really took a step back and everybody just looked at theirselves in the mirror and said, what could I do better, and stepped up to the challenge. And we know we want to send the three seniors out with an amazing end to the season.
Q. Drey, you've had considerable success against Michigan State in all three games this season. What's it about the Spartans that allows you to have such good games?
DREY MINGO: I would just say executing the game plan. I think we did a good job pretty much in all those three games, except for the one we lost at home. But I would just say executing the game plan.
Q. Courtney, you've watched pretty close as Drey has gone through some things over the last couple years with the sickness and then being out just last year. How nice does it feel to help her to this win?
COURTNEY MOSES: It's awesome. I actually didn't realize Drey didn't play last year when we won. So when you guys said that earlier, I was like, KK, Drey wasn't on the court with us?
Obviously I'm very excited knowing that, to get her back there. And Drey is just an awesome person and she deserves it.
Q. KK, so you guys did bring your Indianapolis magic with you this week?
KK HOUSER: Yeah. We walked in. We made it our home. And when we got here, there was no looking back.
Q. Just talk about the start, how you guys didn't miss a thing in the first few minutes. Were you surprised? Were you aware that you were in that much of a zone?
DREY MINGO: Michigan State is a very great team. They're really aggressive and they're really physical. We knew we would have to dig our feet in and get started early and get off to a great start. So I think that's what we tried to do.
Q. Why do you think that Purdue plays so well in this title game? Is it a coincidence? Are you guys lucky? Does Coach Versyp recruit a bunch of gamers. You're always in the title game. You win it a lot. What about this tournament game?
COURTNEY MOSES: Since I've been here, I know every year, we've been playing for something bigger than ourselves. Last year we were playing for Drey, and this year we're playing for Coach [Terry] Kix.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. I think Drey maybe squeezed some life out of you there after that TV interview. But just your emotions of watching her do what she did tonight, get the MOP and then especially after last year being in street clothes.
COACH VERSYP: When she went through her incident, she never thought she'd play ball again. I looked her in the eye and I said, I'm not sure if you'll play ball, but you'll still going to be a doctor and you're still going to be fine.
She became she was able to play. I said, your dreams aren't going to die.
And then last year when she was part of the Big Ten Championship, I looked her dead in the eye, I said, we will be back and you will play well and you will lead us to a championship.
And she didn't suck the life out of me. She put more life into me, because she just she's a walking miracle. She's an inspiration, and I'm just so happy that things worked out the way it did for her and our team.
Q. Your ability offensively in the first 15 minutes to really pound them inside and get them in foul trouble. That was the whole game right there after you were able to hang on.
COACH VERSYP: Yeah. We put a couple of new wrinkles in, but how they played defense, they're really on the high side, down low, so we tried to attack the baseline with a pass. Dee Dee fed the post and Drey real well in the beginning, and we were trying to spread them out and attack them.
When we executed, we set screens, we just scored. And when our players do those things and they score, then it just builds confidence. So we keep going back to it, and we got those two in foul trouble, which obviously helped us immensely.
Q. In the last game in West Lafayette, you had little runs where you couldn't score to end the halves, and then to start this game, you had the perfect 8-for-8 or 8-for-9 start, how important was it to know the caliber of defensive team Michigan State is?
COACH VERSYP: I wasn't surprised because they're playing really well. And when we execute I think Nebraska is a great team. When we executed, we did some good things inside, outside. So I felt if they were going to stop us one way, we were able to score another way.
And we had lulled ourselves to sleep a bit and they were coming back, and then we were able to knock two 3s, which were the big change.
Both teams are exhausted, so it was just whoever was going to get out to a great start and able to finish shots, I think, was the one who was going to control the tempo.
Q. What's this title mean knowing everything you've gone through with Terry [Kix] and the season long situation with her. But to cut down nets and have a championship, what does that mean?
COACH VERSYP: I mean, it's extremely emotional at a very high level. And these players stepped up to another level. And like Courtney said, they're constantly looking over. And when Terry was there, it's the best time. When she's not there, then they worry.
And for her to be here this weekend, couldn't have asked for any better celebration and exclamation point to win the tournament and for her being here for these three days.
Q. Why was Drey able to be so successful against Michigan State in all three games, really?
COACH VERSYP: I think when she's posting up, she does a pretty good job of being able to shoot with her left hand or right hand. But I think her positioning is very good.
And so we feel that there's a mismatch sometime when we have Taylor in and Drey's at the four spot. We feel that we have a mismatch. So we feel that she can post up and be stronger and more effective.
So I mean it's more or less trying to see those matches. And then once a kid is in the zone, it kind of just keeps going, and she definitely played incredible tonight.
Q. Coach Merchant mentioned yesterday that she texted you saying her son was in the hotel room, saying, boiler up. What was your reaction to that and did it seem like an omen, I guess?
COACH VERSYP: I don't know. Suzy and I are very close friends. We have a great friendship. She wished me luck, and I wished her luck. Now my boy is turning into a converted himself to a boilermaker rather than a Spartan. I guess he just likes the boiler up thing.
I think it's nice when you have colleagueship like that. And Suzy did a phenomenal job with her team, and her son can come out and boiler up with me any day.
Q. We talked last week about bringing the Indianapolis magic up here, but KK alluded to it, but do you like how they made this place their home and felt they looked comfortable and you feel like they played comfortable all weekend?
COACH VERSYP: As soon as we stepped on the court, I said, look at the court. I do a lot of team building, a lot of mental imagery. And the first day we stepped on the court to practice from 8:00 to 8:30. We were here early and we stood around the circle and said this is like home. This is in Indianapolis. The same court. Close your eyes and envision the WNBA Championship that we all were a part of.
And that we're going to win a championship and it's collective here, and just kind of mental imagery all of that. And then each day, we always talked about it, step one, step two, step three.
So we made it our home in our brain, and physically it came to fruition.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Michigan State Quotes
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Head Coach Suzy Merchant and student athletes Kiana Johnson and Jasmine Thomas. Opening comments, Coach.
COACH MERCHANT: Well, obviously disappointed, especially the first half. I mean, that was kind of where the game was lost, basically. And that was frustrating.
I did like our fight in the second. I thought we did some pretty good things to make it interesting and to hear the crowd trying to get back into it.
But we just played very flat, defensively, and I thought obviously, offensively, we had some really good looks. I mean, we didn't make layups, and I think that was the difference. If we could have scored early, I think that puts more pressure on people to score at the other end. And they do go hand in hand. So just was not our night.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kiana and Jasmine.
Q. Jasmine, it looked like your teammates may have been fatigued going into this.
JASMINE THOMAS: I mean, maybe it could have been a factor. Three games in three days is no joke. But I don't know. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, so it was kind of up to us to manage our bodies.
Q. When you guys played Purdue last time, for either of you, you went down there with a really big focus on defense. And tonight, I think they started out 8 for 8 or 9 for 9. What was the difference early on with you guys on defense?
KIANA JOHNSON: I think it was our mentality. We weren't aggressive on the defensive end. Our posts were giving good looks. We couldn't get over the back screen, and we didn't have help side defense. That's what it was.
Q. Even though you were down big at halftime, you guys came back and almost made a game of it or did make a game of it. What changed for you? What did you talk about at halftime that allowed you to come, you know, have some fight left in you?
JASMINE THOMAS: We weren't playing our basketball. I mean, like mentioned before, started at the defensive end, and that's not where our focus was.
So in the locker room, we kind of talked about locking down defensively and slowing down offensively.
KIANA JOHNSON: Going off of that, felt like on the offensive end, we were individuals instead of a team. And we succeed when we play team basketball.
Q. What makes [Drey] Mingo such a difficult matchup?
JASMINE THOMAS: I mean, we knew going in she was a hardworking post player, probably one of the hardest workers in the Big Ten. I mean, she just doesn't stop. If she's not open in one area, she'll fight until she is. So I mean, that's what makes her tough because she never quits.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Looked like the players were leaving their shots short. Was that the lights?
COACH MERCHANT: I don't know. I know we talked about that. We haven't played three games in three days, but it is a group that has played extended minutes. I mean, even in the beginning of the year when we had basically five people, six people, blowing people out, even in games where you should have been sitting them, they were used to logging lots of minutes.
So I guess I don't number one thing is we're not going to make an excuse. We played badly. We had shots. I don't know if you need your legs to make a layup. I mean, just throwing that out there.
I mean, you're two feet from the basket, and I'm not sure you need to be elevating to a point that you need all of your legs. You just need to focus and finish.
So to me, we were not very sharp. And I think had we scored a little bit earlier to start things out we talked about being more actionary versus reactionary, and I think it was completely the opposite. We just kind of took whatever they did.
Drey Mingo single handedly our team had 14 points and she had 14 at the half, for crying out loud. We're not that bad of an offensive team.
I talked to the team about consistency. That's what's been hard this year, to be honest, is like you can't have everyone's going to have an elevated game or two, but if you look at Purdue, for example, a lot of their successes come from the same people mostly stepping up.
Drey, I feel like Drey, [Courtney] Moses and KK [Houser] are pretty consistent players and double digit scorers for them, night in night out, and they get contributions in other ways from other players.
For us, it's not been like that until recently. We've had one kid that I feel like going into the last 10 games I knew exactly what she was going to give us, and that was Jasmine Thomas.
So that's been a little bit of our Achilles' heel is that we need everybody. We don't have a deep bench, and we need everybody. So when one person isn't as sharp, it affects our entire ability to do some things. That's why we practice defense so much, because we think we can at least defend sometimes. Most of the time.
Q. You will have some basketball ahead presumably with the tournament. What will you do to get the disappointment out of their heads and focus on the next step?
COACH MERCHANT: I haven't even gone there yet. It's still disappointing. I think you've got to feel it a little bit. You've got to be disappointed in order to kind of regroup and decide what kind of team you want to be.
And I feel good about our team. I think I'm very proud of them. It's just disappointing that that wasn't the team that showed up here the last two days. And it was frustrating.
And I'm frustrated for Jasmine and Schiff [Courtney Schiffauer], too, because they rely on their teammates to be there for them.
So to answer your question, I'm really not worried about getting the disappointment. I hope it fuels them a little bit, that they use it to think about what kind of player they want to be the next time they step foot on the floor and what kind of aggressor we want to be.
And it was disappointing, but I give Purdue a lot of credit. I thought Drey Mingo was amazing, absolutely amazing, and I'm really happy that she got her extra year and what a story and what a class act she is. And very, very proud of what she's been able to accomplish with all of her adversity. I think she represents the Big Ten and all of us very, very well. So give more credit to her and her team than certainly the disappointment of our team.
Q. Last time you guys played, Annalise [Pickrel] was a really big factor for you guys. Why do you think she wasn't able to get going tonight?
COACH MERCHANT: I don't know. This entire tournament, I couldn't find the Annalise that we've had. I don't know where she went. I was asking her. I don't know. We've got to find her. he's a tough matchup. She's obviously a big three- man for us and can face up as a four as well. And I'm not sure why.
She just and obviously we had some other kids playing a little bit better in that Penn State game. And sometimes it isn't necessarily what she's not doing; it might be what somebody else is, so in that situation.
But I still don't feel like she's being the player she can be. And she's gotta come back to us. She really does. I thought today, I mean, in particular, we had a few kids that were not the players that they can be and have been at times.
Q. Kind of the same thing, I guess, talking about Klarissa [Bell] and she didn't score a point. So what was going on, I guess?
COACH MERCHANT: I have no idea. You should ask her. I don't know. I asked our players. They didn't know. She's kind of tough to read sometimes like that.
So when it just kept being consistent at both ends of the floor, maybe sometimes it's better to sit down and give somebody else a try. And when we did that, we made a pretty good run I thought that second half. I think we gave her opportunities.
That's what I'm talking about with her a little bit is the consistency piece. I mean, she was way more aggressive and confident obviously the Michigan thing, and then obviously very good defensively, but dropped offensively yesterday, and then today was kind of so so on both sides of the ball.
So I don't know what happened. I don't know if her legs just caught up. I don't know if there was something going on outside. But I'm not sure. I don't know.
And she's a tough one. I mean, she's got a lot of talent and skill. And so one of the things that she has to really work on in the off season is what kind of player do you want to be, and that has to be consistent. You really have to want to take on challenges and connect with your teammates.
And for some reason it wasn't there tonight.
Q. Can you just kind of expand on the way that Jasmine Thomas has been playing here. I think this was the eighth straight game in double figures in all tournament.
COACH MERCHANT: Wow, it's such a blessing to have someone play so hard like that on both ends of the floor. She's doing so much for her teammates. And that's the frustrating thing for me because I'm kind of a fiery, competitive person. And when I see someone doing that, I don't understand how other kids cannot jump in and play just like that or find a way to bring that kind of emotional connection to the team.
And that was what was hard for me tonight, because I thought JT [Jasmine Thomas] was like really bringing it and we couldn't get anybody else to join her. And we've had that happen in the past, and that's not a good situation for us.
So to comment, she's just been unbelievable. You couldn't write a better story as a senior, as a captain. We owe this entire season to be 24 8 in a championship game is largely, largely due to Jasmine Thomas and her will to win.
Q. Outside of maybe duct tape and handcuffs, what could you guys have done differently to defend Mingo?
COACH MERCHANT: I don't know. We probably could have gone zone earlier. I just that's not what got us here, though. I think you know that about me. You know where I came from and who I've played for in the past. So it's hard for me to pull the trigger sometimes with zone. That's a true statement.
I felt like I was a little bit worried about their shooters. And when I see zone, I see open opportunities for Courtney Moses, and she got away from us finally over time. It took some time, thankfully, but she did get away from us there. So maybe a little bit more of that pressure so we could play more gaps and help and that kind of thing.
But I don't know. I don't understand. We were really good defending her that second time down there. And I thought our post defense against Penn State was really good. So it was a shock to see each post player have three fouls in like three minutes. And she has 14 points, and I don't know how long that took, but it wasn't very long.
So that's, again, the consistency thing that I didn't quite know what to do with.
Q. If you wouldn't mind looking big picture for just a minute, what can you expect out of your team in the NCAA Tournament? And maybe even bigger picture than that, what's it going to take for a Big Ten team to make a deep run into the tournament and why don't you think that that's happened in a while?
COACH MERCHANT: Geez, I don't know. Sometimes I think it's matchups. I think the women's game still has a little ways to go. When we have these home sites, things are manipulated with seeds that I'm not sure maybe are accurate. I know they try to be, but at the end of the day, you want your home people playing on the home court that might adjust a seed just one notch, just to make it fit.
And then a 7 10 really is maybe not a 7 10 game. Maybe a 7 seed is really a 4 seed.
So I think that could be some of it. But you're right. The time we go to work, I think Penn State there's a lot of us who have an opportunity. But I think you have to look at Penn State and watch their success.
They were a Sweet 16 team last year, which is a nice run, and they want to take another step. And I think their defense and their athleticism will allow them to do that.
I know they wanted to win this thing here today, but in some ways, maybe just getting a little taste of the things not going your way can inspire a team like that to kick it up a notch.
So I feel like they have a chance to be a Final Four team, I really do, given the right matchups and the right situation. I feel it's an excellent team and Coquese has done an amazing job.
I think there's a lot of really good teams in our league, a lot of really good battles this year. I hope to see six I think last year we had seven in the tournament. I'd love to see that again. But you just don't know. You really don't know.
I think Ohio State was the one that was a little bit on the bubble, but I'm not sure.
And then, you know I don't know, I don't know if that layover has anything to do with it or not. There's other leagues that have the layover that we do. ACC is finishing up. I think ACC, SEC. So they have some layover, too, and those are teams that have been in Final Fours.
I used to think that was the problem, but you look at it and say it's hard to say that when you see Big East teams and things like that in the tournament. But it's all right.
I think our league has a lot to be proud of, student athlete wise, coaching wise, performance wise. It's a tough league top to bottom, so I expect the committee to reward us and hopefully put us in positions where we can make runs.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.