Pac-12 women's coaches teleconference: It's tourney time
Charli Turner Thorne isn’t happy with her team’s finish to the regular season, Scott Rueck’s women are “dialed in” and Cal is No. 1 in the country in clapping and chanting. These musings and more from Tuesday's Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament teleconference with the teams’ head coaches:
Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne
Turner Thorne did not mince words about her team’s 0-2 trip to Oregon to conclude the season. “We didn’t play well either game,” she said. “[Against Oregon State] we were horrible; we didn’t execute anything we talked about.”
Turner Thorne would have liked Arizona State to finish as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed so as to avoid No. 1 Stanford as long as possible, but she isn’t being picky right now. “At this point you’re like ‘Hey, bring it on,’ right?”
On her team’s toughness: “We want to get it back. We want to get back to not letting things bother us… We want to play great team basketball for 40 minutes.”
Arizona's Niya Butts
A lot of coaches were asked about what it would take to beat Stanford this year, and Butts was one of them. She pointed out that it’s almost impossible to take Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike out of the game and that it would take two halves of good basketball.
On what she wants her team to get done in the Pac-12 tournament: “You always hope to finish tall and hope to go out and have a good showing… [We want to] put together two halves of good basketball.”
Colorado's Linda Lappe
The Buffmaster pointed to injuries as a major reason why Colorado is staring at a No. 9 seed in the Pac-12 tournament a year removed from making the NCAA tournament. The loss of Chucky Jeffery from last season also hurt. “[Chucky] did a lot for us in scoring and passing and [with] the energy she brought,” Lappe said.
Consistency has also been an issue. “It has been tough for us to put together two good games and even at times two halves,” she said, further pointing out that her team needs to have the right mindset to try to string together a couple of good games in the tourney.
Utah's Anthony Levrets
Levrets has become good friends with Washington coach Mike Neighbors, and it just so happens that the two will face each other in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. Since Levrets has also made the move from assistant to head coach at the same school, Neighbors sought advice from Utah's head man. “The biggest thing is you can’t change everything, you have to do what you think is right,” Levrets said about the advice he gave to Neighbors. “You can’t be somebody else… You gotta trust in yourself that you’re going to make the decision that is right for your group.”
The Utes are 0-2 against the Dawgs, but both losses came by one point. Reflecting on the losses, he said that one single possession didn’t cost his team; it’s about doing things better overall. “We’ve been good enough to compete but we haven’t been good enough to finish,” he said. “Hopefully we do things we did against Washington just a little bit better.”
Washington State's June Daugherty
The Cougars split the season series with the Ducks (their first opponent in the tourney), with the home teams securing sizable victories. “They’re talented and they play so hard. It’s going to be an exciting game,” Daugherty said of Oregon.
Daugherty listed three keys to playing Oregon and Paul Westhead’s fast-paced attack: Limiting turnovers so the Ducks don’t get easy scoring opportunities, securing defensive rebounds (Oregon outrebounded Washington State by 24 in Oregon’s victory; Wazzu outboarded the Ducks by four in the Cougs’ win) and getting back defensively in transition.
Although she is a junior, this is Tia Presley’s first time playing in the Pac-12 tournament, as her last two seasons have been cut short by injury. “She is so excited to play in the Pac-12 tournament in Seattle,” Daugherty said of the Cougar guard.
Washington's Mike Neighbors
There have been a ton of good freshmen in the Pac-12 this season, which is why Mike Neighbors thinks Kelsey Plum’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honor is such a big accomplishment. “I hope she’ll sit back one time and really appreciate what she accomplished,” Neighbors said.
If anybody has the blueprint for beating Stanford, it’s this guy. However, he was cautious in saying that what his team did to the Card in Seattle is a guaranteed recipe for success. “I don’t think what we did that night [against Stanford] works every night. We took a calculated risk by letting them shoot three-pointers, and they didn’t happen to make them,” Neighbors said. This allowed the Dawgs to continue packing it in, thus making it difficult for the Card guards to find Chiney Ogwumike.
Washington was also very good offensively against Stanford: The Huskies shot 41 percent from three and 47 percent overall against the Cardinal in that 87-82 victory in Seattle (Stanford returned the favor Thursday by beating the Huskies 83-60 on The Farm). “Since [we beat Stanford], they have played a defensive lineup and they’ve become really hard to score against. You’re going to have to be good on offense [to beat Stanford].”
USC's Cynthia Cooper
Cooper is working with her team on closing out games, and it’s working as of late: After losing six of eight, the Women of Troy swept their road swing to Utah and Colorado to close out the regular season. “We’re starting to develop that killer instinct,” she said.
On trying to find consistency to win four games in four days (USC enters the tourney as the No. 5 seed): “You just take it one game at a time and try to have some recovery measures,” she said. “You prepare yourself all year to get ready for this tournament.” Cooper also mentioned she’d like it if there was a day in between the second and third rounds to help with rest and recovery, “but this is the schedule,” she concluded.
UCLA's Cori Close
The injury bug has bit UCLA hard this year, at times playing with just seven able bodies. To try to conserve energy with such a short bench and with hopes of making a long run in the Pac-12 tournament, Close mentioned that her team might play a little more zone than usual and perhaps won’t press as much as they usually do during the regular season.
While the season has been disappointing from a win-loss standpoint due to all the injuries, Close has been encouraged by the team’s growth and thinks that the underclassmen’s high regard for seniors Thea Lemberger and Atonye Nyingifa could lead to a special finish. “Thea Lemberger and Atonye Nyingifa have earned the respect of our teammates, and I think there is a lot of power in that,” Close said. “The job of the underclassmen is to keep fighting so [the seniors’ careers] can be extended… I think you’ll see our team compete incredibly hard and fight for our seniors.”
Oregon State's Scott Rueck
The Beavers enter the Pac-12 tournament as the hottest team in the conference, having won nine straight games. “I think the wins are a byproduct of playing right all the time,” Rueck said. “One of the strongest attributes of this team is their consistency, especially with a young team. I think we’ve played extremely efficient since mid-January.”
According to Charlie Creme, the Beavers are one of the last four teams in the NCAA tournament in his latest bracketology projections. Luckily, Rueck says, his team has been very focused on the task at hand. “I haven’t needed to give a motivational speech in more than a month, they’re so dialed in,” he said.
Oregon's Paul Westhead
Westhead expects a close one with Washington State this time around now that the game will be played on a neutral court. “This is probably going to come down to the last three or four possessions – up two or down two,” Westhead said. “You go to your fire at the very end and we’re pretty evenly matched so I think it’s going to be a terrific game.”
When asked about what is his team’s biggest struggle to get wins, Westhead turned his attention to the defensive end. “Most games we play pretty darn good, especially offensively. We’re running our break to score enough to win,” he said. “You get caught late in a game where you give up too much defensively and the offense can’t sustain [its production].”
Cal's Lindsay Gottlieb
Gottlieb expects Brittany Boyd to play in the Pac-12 tournament after being held out of the lineup against Washington in the regular season finale due to a mild knee sprain. “She is the toughest and most competitive kid I’ve seen. She probably could have gone Saturday if I let her,” Gottlieb said.
The Cal coach also had great things to say about her fellow Pac-12 head coaches, pointing out the jobs Scott Rueck and Charli Turner Thorne did, in particular.
The Golden Bears play with a lot of swag and are one of the most animated teams in the nation when it comes to pregame handshakes and dances. “We’re definitely No. 1 in the nation in clapping and chanting… Those moves all come from me,” Gottlieb quipped.
Stanford's Tara VanDerveer
The Pac-12 Coach of the Year was not available for the teleconference.