Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant answers questions during a news conference at their NCAA college basketball tournament site in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, March 21, 2010. Michigan State is to meet Kentucky on Monday in the second round of the tournament.
March 21, 2010
Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant
(On Kentucky's pressure and slowing the tempo down) "I think the thing that makes Kentucky really special is that they make it really tough for you to slow them down. We faced teams in the past, such at North Carolina and Ohio State that try to turn you in the backcourt and create some havoc back there. The thing I think they do really well is keep it going in the quarter court, unlike other teams. Once you break that first round wave, then you can kind of settle in. It's not like that with Kentucky. They can switch one to five screens, so you're denied everywhere. It makes it pretty difficult just to make an entry pass. Cetera mentioned doubling ball screens. They are very, very good at creating tempo that way. I'm not sure you can. I've been watching a lot of film obviously, and I think Matt does a really good job of making sure that the tempo is at their pace. Allyssa said that big plays, that's not really the message as much as you have to make plays outside of the offense because of the tempo that Kentucky plays. It's not like in the past where we can design a play and know what we're looking for because of the way that they take on out of what you do. Sometimes, you're just going to have to take it to the hole and make reads. We're going to have to score away from a set situation."
(On the ball handling of Jasmine Thomas and Brittney Thomas) "We hope that their turnovers keep going down. I know that Kentucky has a goal of 20 turnovers for 20 or more points off of them, so they have a 20/20 thing going. They are very, very good at it. They are turning people over in SEC left and right. It doesn't matter who they're playing. We really have to work hard at that. The nice thing about having two point guards on the floor is that you have that second ball handler to help a little bit. I also think that when we're in a situation where one through four, that you're going to be in situations where you're going to get a lot of heat and you have to be able to handle it. It would be nice to say that we're able to clear it out and bring it down, but that's just not the case with Kentucky with how they trap and create tempo."
(On the possibility of changing the starting line-up) "No, we know what Kentucky does. The last thing that you want to do is take a secondary ball handler off of the floor. Cetera will play a lot of minutes. She and Lykendra have been a nice one-two punch. They sub for each other and there have been times where we've played them together. I think we have options there, but I'm not going to change the starting line-up. We've been pretty successful with what we've been going. I think Jasmine Tomas' speed is going to be needed against Kentucky. There is no question about that to try to match some of their quickness. One through five, they are the fastest team that we've played."
(On the importance of having good ball handlers on the floor) "Both her (Kalisha Keane) and Aisha Jefferson are pretty good at that. Knowing that your fours, if they do enter the ball into the point guard spot, can have the ball reversed through them and they can handle the pressure. That's one positive thing with our team. It certainly isn't a disadvantage to have fours that can handle the ball and make decisions on the fly. Both of those kids have done that all year. Obviously, I think Kalisha is a little better at it than AJ because she's a little bit more of a guard creature, but AJ has done it too. It's her senior year and she's kind of about making plays right now."
(On the size advantage against Kentucky) "You guys keep talking about that. I haven't seen them struggle too much this year with a whole lot of anything. The pace at which at they try to get you, eliminates you're ability to get easy looks inside. They're doubling ball handlers and are really up in your space, so the guards have a hard time getting the ball to the post players. It's not only getting it to her, but getting it to her at the right time where she can have the advantage on a pin and seal move or an up and under, or whatever the case may be. I'm not sure that the height thing is all that big of a deal."
(On Kentucky being difficult to prepare for) "There is some truth to that and I hope that we will be difficult to prepare for too. It's a one day prep, so it should be difficult on everybody, not just Kentucky. We're a little difficult to prepare for too. They run a different style, but we've seen similar forms of it, maybe not the pace at which they play for 40 minutes, and the quickness of their post positions, but I certainly feel like it's not going to be foreign. I've said this coming out of the Big Ten, but with all of the coaching changes in the Big Ten, we're not just that slow conference that everybody thinks we are. We've played against high paced teams that get up and go and want to get into the 80s and 90s. We've also played teams that walk it down the floor and pound it inside. I look at our nonconference schedule and we played the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten. Notre Dame was a full court pressure team with quickness everywhere and great guard play. You look at them and North Carolina, and then Oklahoma State is a pretty solid basketball program that we played. If you really look at it, I feel like we're really well prepared. The difference is that it is really hard to stimulate in practice in an hour and a half of how Kentucky is going to play. It's really got to be a mental-visual thing through film work. They have to put themselves out onthe court while they're watching, because you just can't go down there without a scout team and try to stimulate that."
(On A'dia Mathies) "She's big time and will be a big time future WNBA superstar. I think she's extremely talented, and I don't think that there is a weakness. You can say well, she doesn't shoot it that well from the arc but she was two for three yesterday. She makes them when they need them. She's got a scorers mentality and great ability to cross over and pull-up. She's as good of a guard as we've seen, if not the best. It was pretty impressive and she has no fear. Kentucky is relentless on defense, relentless of offense, relentless on the boards, and she epitomizes that mentality."
(On the crowd and Kentucky playing virtually a home game) "I can't imagine that it wouldn't be a positive for them. That's for sure. Cetera alluded to it a little bit, but one thing about the Big Ten Conference is that it's a really well attended conference. It is very rare to go into a gym and see 1,200 people. Its 8,000, 10,000, 12,000, 6,000 or 7,000 every single night on the road. It's very hostile. When we played at Ohio State, there were 10,000 people there. We've been there just a little bit. I'm sure the SEC is tough also. You're playing at Tennessee and places like that. I've played at Kentucky in the past too when we played them in the NIT when I was the coach at Eastern Michigan and have experienced their fan base. I've never forgotten this, but when Mickie DeMoss was there, we played them in the first round and we had seniors and we didn't win the game. When they were coming out of the game, just the class at which Kentucky fans handle their basketball, they know the game, they know when to cheer and they know when to get behind their team. They can appreciate kids giving effort. I really thought that the Kentucky fans were a class act group of people that love the game. So I'm sure they'll be here rooting on their Kentucky Wildcats in full form. We saw a little bit of that yesterday. There was quite a crowd of Kentucky fans there yesterday."
(On Allyssa's conditioning) "The nice thing about our team is that we do have some depth, so it's not like we're relying on her to play 40 minutes. She hasn't done that all year, so I don't see that being an issue. I certainly think that their posts are going to get up and down the floor and try to take advantage of their quickness. They've done that all year to everybody, so I don't think that we're different. Transition defense is going to be very, very important one through five. Allyssa has been doing the bike, so we're a team that's in pretty good shape. If she was a 40 minute kid, she would struggle a little more, but we can ride her for three or four minutes and get her out. She can give it everything she has for the period of time that she's out there. I guess that's not the number one thing in my head that I'm worried about. There are a few other things that are going to keep me up at night."
Cetera Washington Junior Forward
(On limiting turnovers) "That's a huge thing. We know in the past we have had a lot of turnovers. We watched film yesterday and saw that Kentucky's full-court press, ball-screen defense and everything they do is just trying to create tempo. It will be key for us to keep our composure and not play as fast as they're playing."
(Will you be one of the girls defending UK guard A'Dia Mathies and how will you try and stop her?) "Basically just try to stay in front of her and not give her any space. We are going to try not to let her get the ball. Knowing that I have my teammates behind me there and to help me out, especially with Allyssa (DeHaan) there to reject her shot, it is good knowing that she is down there in the paint."
(How do you deal with the hostel situation of the Kentucky crowd since they are so close to home?) "The game against Ohio State on their home court really helped us for this game. They had a huge crowd and it was a home game for them. We just really have to block the crowd out and stay composed."
(How do you not get caught up in Kentucky's fast-pace style of play?) "I think it's just really about keeping your head. Once we see one of our players playing fast we just have to let each other know let's not play at their tempo. We know how to play Spartan basketball. When they are pressing us and throwing double ball-screens, we just have to keep our composure and make the simple passes and the simple reads and get baskets on our end."
(Is this the fastest team you have faced all season?) "I think so. Anyone of them can push it. It is two or three dribbles and it is up court within seconds so I would say this is the fastest team we have faced."
Allyssa DeHaan Senior Center
(Does this Kentucky team remind you of anybody you have played in recent past?) "We compared them to North Carolina; they just like to create a lot of havoc. They like to play really fast which can make their opponents play really fast. We've been there and done that and coach talked about it last night during film that it is all about making big plays on the offensive end and just doing what we need to do and keeping our composure. It's just about making big plays."
(What do you think about UK freshman guard A'Dia Mathies?) "She is a great player and definitely looks to score. She has a scorer's mentality, but we're a defensive team and we have some pretty big stoppers on our end. Kentucky vs. our defense is going to be a fun match-up for us. I think that we'll be alright."
(Knowing your situation, how much do you think that you can play?) "With this whole back situation, I think it gets better everyday. That was a big step playing in the game because I have kind of taken a break during practice the last week and a half but it gets better everyday and I think that I'm going to be ready to go. Regardless of how I am feeling, I know that it is my last go around at the NCAA tournament so I am going to put all the pain and physicality issues aside. This is it. This is my last run."
(What did you think about Freedom Hall yesterday and what was your experience like here?) "There is a lot of history behind this place and it is really fun. I thought we had a great turnout from the Spartan crowd. It's going to be a bit crazy with all the Kentucky fans here but we welcome that and we take pride in silencing the crowd. That is kind of our thing. We have been there and done that. It is a fun go at it. We are excited."
(Can you talk about the height advantage your team has on Kentucky?) "I think we are a post-driven team. We have our strengths everywhere but we are really strong in the post and we saw that the other day against Bowling Green State. There was just a big height difference so I think that will be a big advantage for us tomorrow night. Whether it is a guard posting up another guard in the paint or a post player getting a pass in the paint, that is where we score so that is a big thing for us."
(Have you all been trying to get back to moving the ball through you to the wings or was that just a one game situation?) "I think we try to move the ball through the post players every game. That's just our strength. If it is not inside we just kick it out and our guards drive and they have their shot. We are strong in the paint and that is where the ball needs to go."