Love a good elated Jeff Walz press conference.
JEFF WALZ: As I always like to try to start off win or lose, I’d like to congratulate (Texas head coach) Vic (Schaefer) and his team on just an outstanding year.
We played exceptionally well tonight and we did a great job defensively of making sure we knew the matchups and we knew who we were guarding even when we got switched and we still knew what that person does and we played about as dialed in defensively as we have this entire season.
Now we played pretty darned well the last month defensively, but tonight was exceptional. Vic has got a great ball club. I consider Vic a friend. These games are tough because, you know, it’s nice when I’m cheering for him and he’s not playing us, but he’s done a fantastic job here and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to play each other again in the NCAA Tournament along the way.
Q. In that second quarter, you had sit with foul trouble what did you think of your teammates and the way you clamped down defensively?
MYKASA ROBINSON: We went on our biggest run it was awesome. Everyone stepped up. They played great. I love this team, so anything we do together, I’m just happy for everyone.
Q. When you talked yesterday, Louisville being away from home (to open the NCAAs), is a rarity in the NCAA Tournament, and here you have the home crowd against you. But tell me I’m wrong; it looked like you had swagger because of it, and what did that do for you as far as energizing you to play like you did tonight?
HAILEY VON LITH: Before coming out into that game, Coach told us in the locker room, like how many times can you quiet the crowd. That was something that we were focused on.
JEFF WALZ: We did a pretty good job of that except for the jackass as that was sitting behind our bench. So I tried to quiet him myself. Just speak the truth.
OLIVIA COCHRAN: Don’t mess with us.
Q. Thanks for that, Coach, but maybe if —
JEFF WALZ: I can add more if you like but I’m not sure my athletic director would appreciate that or Liz in the back, my long lost friend. (Laughter).
Q. I was wondering if any of the other players wanted to chime in on that and how you guys fed off that and the swagger you guys seemed to have tonight?
OLIVIA COCHRAN: We made sure, we try to stay tight-knit and together. Every day we always say what won. So that’s what we are; we won, so we have each other’s back win, loss, draw, it don’t matter. We going to have each other back and we going to play hard and we going to play together.
Q. There was a lot of chirping going on and you guys got the best of it on the scoreboard and you had words with Sonya Morris after the game. What was that about?
HAILEY VON LITH: I wouldn’t say there was a lot of chirping going on in the game. I think it was a pretty clean game. You know, I respect the Texas players. I don’t really want to speak on what happened at the end because I don’t want it to dim down the fact that we played really, really well. I have all the respect in the world for Texas, no hard feelings.
You know, sports can get chippy and the moment you play in the heat — at the end of the day I’m going to let it go. No hard feelings. I assume that they will do the same, and yeah, I’m just proud of our win. I don’t want to focus on what happened at the end.
Q. In the second half, it seemed like you were in attack mode. Did you put pressure on yourself to put this game on ice?
HAILEY VON LITH: Actually, I didn’t feel like I had pressure in that game. My teammates played very well. I didn’t really have to do much. I just scored in my spots and I didn’t have to force or nothing. My teammates were taking care of business.
I was just playing free. My teammates were hitting shots so they couldn’t double me in the gap or double me off screens. I was just able to play in the open court and it was really fun.
So I would say my teammates played so well that I had no pressure on me.
Q. Did you feel like tonight was about as balanced of a performance as you’ve had? I think everybody got on the stats sheet in one way or the other whether it was scoring, rebounding, assists. Overall, pretty balanced night.
OLIVIA COCHRAN: I feel like everybody executed their role well tonight. We all came in with the mindset, like I said, we have to play as winning so everybody completed their role well tonight.
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, I think we talked a lot about finishing all 40 minutes, and I think tonight we put that together.
THE MODERATOR: I think perhaps he was looking for an answer from each player? No? Do you have a follow-up question.
Q. No, I’m good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for the question. We’ll come back to our Austin media.
Q. Hailey, I think you all had like 17 layups of your 30 made baskets. Can you talk about the mindset that you all came in with to attack them, even though they have got size inside?
HAILEY VON LITH: Yeah, I think their bigs are a really big part of their team, but they are also not super deep in that position. We knew that if we could get ahead and get some of them in foul trouble and get them to not be as aggressive around the rim, then that would play to our advantage. So we went into our post, and our post finished really well. I can see here we had 38 points in the paint. That is really good for us.
I just think we didn’t want to let their length deter us from getting around the basket and our posts finished really well today. That worked out for us.
Q. A lot of the pregame stuff was Rori Harmon being back in the lineup for them. How effective were you in limiting her? You picked up the two quick fouls but over the course of the game, she still finished with only three assists and you were able to control what she was able to distribute tonight. Can you talk about the success you guys had on what she was able to do or not do?
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, Harmon, she’s a great player, it’s awesome to see her back out there of course. But I think it just a great effort with team defense. We all put in a lot of pressure on her, from Morgan, from me, from CC to Hailey, yeah, we just really tried to wear her out.
HAILEY VON LITH: I would say we had great personnel scout on her, but we also had great personnel scout on others to know when not to help off of certain players to go pick up Rori because she loves to kick out and get her shooters shots. She loves to dump to her posts and get her posts shots.
I think the fact that we held her to three assists was a big factor for us because she gets other people shots, and for us to take that away it made everyone else have to score one-on-one more and that’s not necessarily what they wanted to do. Yeah, I think all around it was a great team effort on just knowing personnel.
Q. Vic Schaefer talked about you guys were tougher than his team. How much pride did you take in being the tougher team tonight and how can you carry that into Seattle and maybe get to a Final Four?
OLIVIA COCHRAN: Just executing my role. Doing whatever my teammate need me to do. If it getting on the floor and getting a rebound, getting a loose ball, blocking shots, taking charge, I just do whatever I need to do for my team to win and I feel like that’s what being tough is, just executing your role and playing your part.
HAILEY VON LITH: Yeah, I think a lot of people have questioned our toughness this year. Last year we were an extremely tough team. Like we were known, that was our thing, we were tough, we were going to guard. This year we’ve let big leads get away from us. We let defenses punk us a little bit.
So that’s been a question of whether we were tough. You know, we kind of got tired of hearing it. So we wanted to go out and prove that we’re the same Louisville tough that this program has been for a long time now. So that — I would say, that’s where it comes from.
Q. For Hailey and Mykasa, how have you adjusted your roles getting into this postseason or your expectations, knowing that you have to step up your games, but try to involve everybody else in terms of balance?
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, personally for me, this is my last go around, so I have told my teammates: I’m putting everything out there, and whatever we have to do to win, I’m willing to do. I know that I’m surrounded by great players, so it will all work out.
HAILEY VON LITH: Yeah, I would say what I’ve really just tried to do in this postseason is make the right read every time.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve tried to change my role necessarily. I think I’ve just tried to make the right read when I need to pass and make the right read when I need to Score and make the right read on defense. So that’s all I’m trying to do, and I think I’m betting getter at it, so hopefully we can keep rolling and carry this one out.
Q. You three have played in big tournament games and there’s others on the team that have played in big tournament games. How much is that a factor right now that you guys have been there and you’ve been in pressure situations? I thought tonight you guys looked like a team that had played and been there more than Texas did.
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, I’ve been doing this for quite a while, I would say. I think it just gives us — (laughter) — for a little bit. Just the experience that we have, we can tell our teammates that it’s going to be okay. We can control the tempo of the game and we’re poised and keeping everything in our control.
OLIVIA COCHRAN: Just staying as one, being together and just having fun with it.
HAILEY VON LITH: Yeah, I would say, you know, this team, we’ve been growing closer and closer. You want to talk about leaders, I think we have people that have stepped up and wanted to lead and control the tempo and the mood of this team. But we also have girls who are willing to follow and be led, and that’s really important, too.
So I think we just have a great combination of veteran leaders and people that are willing to listen to those veteran leaders, so it makes it pretty easy to stay calm in moments like that.
Q. Going back to Seattle, a couple hours from home, how much does that mean to you to go back and try to get another Final Four trip in Washington?
HAILEY VON LITH: Yeah, it means a lot. You know, I haven’t been to see my family in a while. You know, a lot of my grandparents have suffered from some illnesses lately, so they haven’t been able to travel and watch me play. Just getting to play in front of those people in my hometown going to be really special for me and it’s really important for my parents, too, getting to bring me back home.
It was the perfect situation and we executed beautifully and we got there. Like I’ve been saying this whole tournament, we just need the opportunity and we got one for next game. So we are going to take advantage of it.
Q. For the record you can cook the bad fans in this fan base as much as you want.
JEFF WALZ: That’s okay. He was just a complete jackass, but hey, there’s one in every group.
Q. Did you feel that your team out-toughed Texas, and did what Hailey said, brought back that Louisville tough? What is your thought on toughness tonight??
JEFF WALZ: I thought the past month and a half, we’ve been playing extremely well. You go back, I think we might be 9-3 now in our last 12 with an overtime loss at Notre Dame and then a three-point loss at home to them to end our regular season. We make it to the Conference Finals and get beat by seven or eight by Virginia Tech.
So I’ve been pleased with how we’ve been playing the past month and a half. And tonight, I thought we did an outstanding job. My staff did a remarkable job of putting scout together, making sure we sat down and we discuss what we want to do on each player, who we are going to double off of, who we are backing off of, what we are going to do when they come off ball screens, and we followed it to a T.
In the first quarter, we had a couple where we didn’t switch on a little bit of their dribble-drive action, it was a handoff guard-to-guard, and Rori did get a pullup or two. And then we got that adjusted. I thought we played great.
We were down in the rebounding margin, I believe seven, after the first quarter. Yeah, we had been out-rebounded 13-6 in the first quarter. We end the game out-rebounding them by eight. Toughness, it does matter.
But I will say we shot the ball pretty darn well, too. We got to the basket and we got layups. And then we came up with — you know, we look at all these stats, the points from: Our turnovers, 14-10. In the paint it was 38-20. Our second-chance points, 17-10. Fast break, bench, all of it, we won all of those categories that are important to us.
So I thought our kids competed and played their hearts out.
Q. You had Texas from the tip-off, you controlled the game. How surprised were you that Texas gave you what they did? And you certainly had a great game plan, but you certainly would have expected them to probably come to the table with a little bit more than they did.
JEFF WALZ: I thought Texas played hard. I’m not going to say they gave us anything. I mean, that’s crap. We earned it. We threw that damn ball in the paint the first possession of the came to Olivia Cochran and said, we are going right at your bigs, and she earned it. It’s not like they didn’t play hard and they backed down. Do not write that because that’s a lie. That’s an insult to Vic and his players. They came out here and competed. We just executed better. At the end of the day we executed.
You go back and you look at calls out of time-outs, baseline out of bounds, sideline out of bounds, our kids executed, man. We executed the other night as well. But please don’t say Vic’s kids didn’t play hard. That — that is not true. I thought we just earned it. We played our ass off.
Q. You just alluded to, you threw it in to Olivia, first possession and went right after their bigs. Vic had talked about he talked to his players about not being bullied. Were you out to try to intimidate them at the beginning or —
JEFF WALZ: No, we weren’t out to bully anybody.
Q. — do you feel like you did —
JEFF WALZ: I don’t like that damn word, either.
Q. — do you feel like you did —
JEFF WALZ: No, I just thought we went right at them.
With their size, if you play scared, you’re done. If you’re afraid to throw the ball into the paint because they have great size, you don’t have a chance.
I mean, the first play of the game drew up, because I knew they would probably be trying to stop Hailey, which I would, too.
So it was a simple screen across, we dribbled down, screened across, she set a great screen, threw it right into to Olivia and she went up strong. I thought we set the tempo of we are not going to be scared to throw the ball in the paint, because they are big. I mean, they are big, they are strong and we kept going in there. We did a great job on some offensive rebounds, some big plays where like the momentum could start to go either way. Liz Dixon get the offensive rebounds, sticks it back up and gets fouled. That’s not bullying anybody. That’s just, we played hard and we were not scared.
And that’s the whole thing. You can’t be scared when you get into an NCAA Tournament, and their size can be intimidating. But I will say, it helped that we had played them in the Bahamas, because when you watch them warm up, s--- it’s pretty impressive. They are long; they are big; they are agile; they move. I mean, it’s not like you have a bunch of stiffs out there that can’t move. They do a really good job, but we went after them, and that’s what you have to do.
Q. I know yesterday Hailey alluded to the game plan of not allowing their bigs, you talk about their size, getting the offensive rebounding and getting the second chance points, your team only had ten tonight. How were you able to accomplish that?
JEFF WALZ: The final box, they had — what did they have — is this my final box? How many offensive rebounds. They had 12 offensive boards, is that correct, in the game? And 32, Jak, who I think is going to be a great player, a young lady that we actually tried to recruit, also. She comes in for 11 minutes and gets three of them.
So we did a great job on the glass to keep Taylor Jones, hold her to only one offensive rebound and Gaston one. I mean, Rori Harmon came up with two. So we knew, we had talked about it. At our shootaround today it got to a point because we weren’t boxing out. I said, I don’t care if we play today. The next time we are working through their stuff, if you don’t go find through somebody, I’m going to make you run the damn stairs, I don’t care.
It’s amazing how we boxed out then. It’s amazing to me how if you tell kids these days, if you don’t box out, you’re going to lose, okay. They might not box out. But if you say you’re going to have to run the stairs, it’s like, I ain’t running no stairs. And we were fantastic. Every single one of them put a body on somebody, and that’s what you have to do.
Olivia Cochran, I said it, zero rebounds in the first half, zero. But she was phenomenal. See if you just look at stats, you don’t realize what she did. She made sure that Taylor Jones, Gaston, whoever, was not going to get the rebound. So she boxed them out. Then everybody else was able to come in and clean it up.
I thought Nyla Harris, six rebounds in 13 minutes as a freshman; that’s a pretty impressive performance, four of them at the offensive end.
Q. When you have an alpha like Hailey, it seems like the others just follow her lead because she plays a fearless brand of basketball. How big a luxury is that to have? Not every coach has an Alpha like her.
JEFF WALZ: The kid is a baller. The kid is in the gym. She works on her craft. She takes great pride in it. I joke with her because outside of my office is our lacrosse field. I’m like, we could bring the world champion sprinter in here, and start at the end zone of lacrosse and go to midfield. And I said, let’s bet 50 bucks, and she bet $50 on herself that she would win. And then she would probably lose by like half of a field and then go double or nothing because she thinks shows going to win. The kid has got courage, and she has a will about her that she’s like, I don’t care. If you tell her, you can’t do that, oh, s, — it’s going to get done.
But what I’m most proud of her for is these past two ballgames; the past month and a half, she let the game come to her. She picks up early fouls in our Drake game, played about seven minutes in the first half. Her teammates had her back. It was like, we gotcha. We’re here.
And then tonight, Mykasa picks up two early fouls, I’ve got to sit her. They are like, Kas, we got you. And then for Hailey goes 8-for-15 and in the first half, what was she in the first half, because I think that’s an important stat, second period, halftime — at half, she’s 4-of-8. And she was patient. It is not like she was hunting shots. She let it come.
When we felt we had mismatches in other areas, she was patient. You know, when Rori Harmon is on you, you’re trying to go at the others because she’s so darn good at the defensive end of the floor and then all of a sudden, CC starts to make a couple shots, they switch her on to CC and now we are going back to Hailey and she was patient.
When we play like that, it’s pretty impressive. I was proud of her, really proud of her. I think the kid’s an All-American.
Q. This is your sixth straight Sweet 16 appearance. How have you been able to have that tradition and establish that kind of success?
JEFF WALZ: It’s all coaching. Players are terrible. (Laughter).
It’s players. It’s players that believe. Players that know we care about them, okay.
We challenge them, every single day, and we hold them accountable, not just on the basketball court. But off the court, and sometimes — I said it at our beginning of the year, our tip-off luncheon, I said, this is going to be a team that’s going to take some time, okay. You’ve got to be patient with us. And we have several of our fans out there that weren’t. Oh, it’s a bad year, it’s a bad year. Well, if it’s a bad year, I’d hate to see what a really bad year looks like. Because I don’t think it’s too bad because it’s not over yet.
But we have figured something out, and I’m not saying we have all the answers because we don’t. But we have figured out how to get our kids to play the best when it matters. You know, it’s not like we’ve won — I think we’ve won one conference, a tournament championship, okay, one. Because three games in three days is not what we’re built for. It’s just not what we’re built for. But you give us a game, day off, rest, scout, play, the next, we’re pretty darned good. And we figured it out.
Now it don’t guarantee you wins, but man, for the past two ballgames here, edge our kids have played pretty damn hard. They know I believe in them and what’s exciting for me, they believe in me because I do some stupid stuff, some crazy stuff on the basketball court. I had everybody, friends texting me going, “How in the world do you run a play to got a layup with 16 seconds? You should be showing with in the backcourt,” in our Drake game.
I was like, “I watched how they played so we are attacking.” Most people would like to pull it out and see if we can burn some clock. Let’s score. You know, we are in transition and I think it was 19 or 20 and we throw it up the floor for a diagonal skip-three, and CC drains it.
And you know, it’s a situation where we had a 15-point lead last season in the quarterfinals of the ACC, our first game in the ACC tournament, a 15-point lead with about four and a half left. Took kids out, maybe some subs because we are trying to save kids for three games in three days and we lost. I’m not doing it.
I tell people all the time, I learned it the years that we had Angel McCoughtry here, and Geno was up there with Maya Moore and he always told me, “When you take out Angel McCoughtry, I’ll take out Maya Moore.” And that’s — so I’ve always done that. Like I’ve played in games where all of the sudden you start taking some people out and a couple threes go in, you turn it over and before you know it, you can’t stop the momentum that’s rolling.
So like we needed to keep attacking and we did, and that’s what you’ve got to do because there is no, sorry, they came back and beat you. There’s no tomorrow.
But we have respect for everybody we play. That’s why we also took a shot clock violation at the end of the game. I wasn’t trying to score. I was like, okay, we’re good. And that’s just what we do.
But our kids, we’ve had players that truly know, there’s nothing better than getting text messages from kids that have played here for eight, nine years ago wishing us luck in tonight’s game. Some people out there might not like the way I do things, and I really don’t care, okay. Because they might see me on the sideline and go, that guy, he’s nuts. He yells at his players. But my players know I love them and at the end of the day that’s what matters.
And this program is not made for everybody. Because if you don’t want to work, do not come. And everybody, when you recruit, they are like, oh, yeah, want to compete for a championship, I want to do this; and that’s what they tell you and you’re banking that that’s what they mean but some of them don’t mean it.
So not everybody is going to last. But I’m thrilled. I love my kids. You know, the ones we have had here, I say it all the time, the Angel McCoughtrys, the Patrika Barlows, the Candyce Bingham, 16 years ago, that believed in us.
In this program, when I took this job here, I say it all the time: The biggest thing that we had going for us was I had recruited Angel McCoughtry at Maryland, and I knew her and her family. And when I got this job, she told everybody on that team, “Oh, yeah, he’s good, he’s good.” Well, when your best player is saying that, then the rest of them will buy in and believe you. And that’s how we have been able to keep this thing going for 16 years.
Q. Last question for me. Mykasa talked about the apple juice being the motivation. Were you privy to apple juice and can you attest to how good it was?
JEFF WALZ: I have not. I’m glad it was apple juice and not something, you know, bourbon, vodka. I’m all for that. Apple juice sounds good as I’m waiting to get back for to the hotel for a Tito’s and soda. I’m trying to get an NIL deal.
THE MODERATOR: I think on that note, we have concluded our press conference.
JEFF WALZ: Is it done?
THE MODERATOR: It is done, Coach.
JEFF WALZ: Can you get me a deal?
THE MODERATOR: Oh, no, no, I can only end the press conference.
JEFF WALZ: They are here, right?
THE MODERATOR: They are. Right down the street, right down the street, Coach.
JEFF WALZ: Put the word in — I have seen it. I wanted to the take the big bottle home and put it on the bar at my house. Conversation piece. Thank you all — I just want to thank you all.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely.
JEFF WALZ: You guys are amazing to be out here and covering women’s basketball. We all greatly appreciate it because it doesn’t happen everywhere, and it’s a shame so many people don’t get opportunities to see the product that is put on the floor because these young — these young ladies work their tails off; and our big thing at Louisville is trying to get people to just come one time and that’s including media, because if you come once, you will normally come back. So thank you all so much.