2014 WNBA Playoffs National Media Conference Call Transcript
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to our media for joining us. As you know, the WNBA Playoffs presented by Boost Mobile get underway on Thursday with a pair of ESPN2 telecasts. We open with Washington at Indiana, 7:00 eastern on ESPN2, and San Antonio at Minnesota at 9:00 eastern on ESPN2, and joining us from ESPN2, Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck. Ladies, thank you very much for joining us, and we are going to get right to the question session.
Q. This question is for both ladies. Rebecca, you said a few weeks ago in an ESPN telecast that you felt the Chicago Sky was the only team that could take down the Atlanta Dream in the Playoffs. Do you still feel that way, and then also do you think that any Eastern Conference team can compete with the Western in the WNBA Finals?
REBECCA LOBO: I don't remember saying the first one, about Chicago being the only team that can take out Atlanta. I don't necessarily and if I did say that, then I change my mind, especially with the way Atlanta struggled at the end of the season. They just are not playing their best basketball in the last few weeks.
I really think the East is completely wide open. That being said, I think the WNBA champion is going to come out of the West. Phoenix and Minnesota have been the best teams all season long. They've been the most consistently excellent teams all season long. The only thing that would really surprise me in the WNBA Playoffs is if Phoenix or Minnesota does not end up with the title.
CAROLYN PECK: I agree with Rebecca that I think the East is wide open. It'll be interesting, too, to see how Chicago can get all the pieces back together and play the way they did the first four games of the season. I think that Indiana is a team that's unpredictable because of the will of Tamika Catchings, but I would agree that I think Phoenix is the team to beat. They're just clicking with all cylinders. And then looking today, I think that they have six or seven of their players in the top ten in plus minus efficiency, I mean, that's unheard of with how productive they are at so many different positions.
Q. This is for both Rebecca and Carolyn. I'd like your take on the Western Conference race. Obviously Phoenix is coming off a record breaking season while the Lynx were maybe not as dominant as they have been in past years. To what extent do you think Phoenix is the favorite there, and should the two meet in the Finals, how do you see that going? In the Western Conference Finals, that is?
REBECCA LOBO: I'll start. I'm going to be out covering the West. Carolyn will be in the East, so I'll start with this one. Phoenix has been the best team all season long. They're also the only team, I believe, who hasn't had a player miss a game because of injuries. Penny and Diana sat out a game late, but that was rest, not injury related. Minnesota has been interesting to me all season long because I've thought that once they got healthy, they would be a team who could win a WNBA championship.
The question right now is how healthy are they, with Seimone Augustus missing a game later in the season, a game down in San Antonio, but I think that Minnesota is a team where this past week or four or five days between the end of the season and the beginning of the Playoffs can really help them getting that rest. It'll be interesting to see how healthy Seimone is, where Rebekkah Brunson is, but San Antonio, end of the season, really strong, winning their last three games, including beating Minnesota. So I think that's going to be a tough series for Minnesota.
But when you look at the team who has been dominant from beginning to end, that would be Phoenix, and I think they are probably everyone's favorite, and of course LA, who knows with LA because I think all season long the question with them is when are they going to start playing consistently and at their top level, and they're a team that I think anybody would think is dangerous, especially with the first two rounds where with a three game series, they can be a dangerous team.
CAROLYN PECK: I'd agree with you, Rebecca, and especially with how Kristi Tolliver is shooting the basketball. She keeps shooting it that way, LA is dangerous. But I think what gives Phoenix the edge is their defense. I think because they play they are so big, and Sandy Brondello has really made an emphasis defensively, and they're playing with a hunger defensively that Minnesota played with last year.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about San Antonio, in 2007 2008 they got to the Conference Finals and then the WNBA Finals, can you kind of sense that there's something different from this team compared to maybe the teams that have come since those two seasons?
REBECCA LOBO: Well, I think one thing about this San Antonio team that has to be a bit of a motivating factor is Becky Hammon. They know it's her last year, this last opportunity for all of her teammates to play with her. I would imagine that's got to be a rallying cry for San Antonio. They're another team who's finally kind of getting healthy with Jia Perkins back in the lineup, and she played extremely well against Minnesota in their games this year, leading the team in scoring in those games.
This is a San Antonio team that I'm eager to see in person. This is my first time getting a chance to cover them in the past two years, so I'm excited to see if they can replicate what they did at home and in Minnesota this Thursday. They haven't beaten Minnesota, I think, in two years, or maybe even longer, in Minnesota. It's going to be interesting to see what they can put on the floor on Thursday night.
CAROLYN PECK: I had the benefit in early August, too, or end of July, to be in San Antonio. Dan Hughes really attempted to light a fire under Danielle Adams, and I think she's going to be a key factor for them, and being productive when she's on the floor. She can't take plays off. He made that point.
Q. Rebecca and Carolyn, looking at this first round series between Phoenix and LA, is there one or two key match ups that you're looking for in this series, and what do you think LA has to do to have a chance against Phoenix?
REBECCA LOBO: Well, Carolyn already touched on it, and its’s Kristi Toliver. She, to me, is going to be the one that determines how far LA goes. As important as Candace Parker is, as important as Nneka Ogwumike is, this is a team that you need a strong presence at the guard position, and Kristi Tolliver is that for them. She's the reason they beat Minnesota late in the year, and she just is vital to their chances of winning a WNBA championship, especially because she's the only consistent three point shooter they have at the guard spot on that team. She's the key. You know what you're going to get from Candace as long as Candace is healthy enough to play. You know what you're going to get from most of the other players. How good is it going to be really good Kristi Tolliver or is it going to be spectacular Kristi Tolliver, and they're going to need the spectacular version in order to beat Phoenix.
CAROLYN PECK: I agree with you. With Brittney Griner in the middle, she covers so much ground and allows the defensive Phoenix to run you off the line, so they're going to have to get some penetrate and kick opportunities, and Kristi Tolliver is going to have to knock down those shots.
Q. Carolyn, in the case that Minnesota may not get far in this Playoffs, what can you talk about their run in this four years? Will it go down in history, or will it be just a blip on the radar?
CAROLYN PECK: Well, I think it's too soon to tell, especially if they are healthy and Cheryl Reeve can turn them up like she normally does come playoff time, I think that their book is not finished, because when you've got a player like Maya Moore who has come on the scene and done what she has done this season, to go along with what Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen have brought in the past, I think it's a team that will continue to make runs.
I think that with the unlikelihood that they're eliminated early, I think that they will be a team that we can continue to read about.
Q. Ladies, you've talked about how great Phoenix is when they're, quote, clicking on all cylinders. Let's take a look at Atlanta for a moment, if they're clicking on all cylinders. Do they have enough to not only make it out of the East but do they have enough to finally possibly make a legitimate capture of the WNBA championship?
CAROLYN PECK: I'm starting in the East, and Atlanta is the one team in the league that has beaten every team in the WNBA this season. I haven't seen them clicking on all cylinders, and I have seen a rookie in Shoni Schimmel put on a show, and when she does that, then the rest of the team she just picks up the tempo of the game when she comes in, and you see Erika de Souza light up when Schimmel is on the floor with her, and when that transition game is happening, that opens up things for Angel McCaughtry, and that makes this team extremely dangerous.
If they will lock in defensively and stay disciplined offensively and you see that especially with Michael Cooper on the sideline, he has really helped Angel McCaughtry understand good and bad shots and playing within a system. It's a more controlled chaos this season, and if they play that way, they're a very dangerous team.
REBECCA LOBO: I'll just add on to that that dangerous is a perfect word to describe Atlanta. They're just not nearly as consistent as Phoenix and Minnesota. I think because they're dangerous and because of their abilities that they have when they're playing really well, I think they can win the East, but because of the consistency that both Phoenix and Minnesota have shown in the West, in a five game series, I think that that consistency will win out over a dangerous team.
Q. Talk a little bit about, in this season and over the past you've seen them all. There have been playoff match ups where the records have been so divergent. In the East basically all four teams are vying to make the Playoffs, and the two teams that didn't make the Playoffs could have made the Playoffs with a swing of one or two games. On the other hand, in the West two teams have almost never lost and then the other two teams have records under .500. What does that say about the match ups that in some ways it's easy to say that the teams that have five or six losses should be the heavy favorites, but on the other hand have they been challenged enough or are they just that superior?
CAROLYN PECK: Well, I think first when you look at the East, I think there's a lot of youth in the East, and I think that there have also been some key injuries that have played a part. When you look at Angel McCaughtry even with Atlanta has missed a few games because of the tendonitis in her feet, you had Tamika Catchings miss 17 games with Indiana, you had Chicago who played without EDD, Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince, Courtney Vandersloot for six of that, so I think a lot of that had to do with the East and the lack of .500 teams that are in the Playoffs. I just think that that makes it extremely competitive and makes these Playoffs even more interesting, now that those players are back.
REBECCA LOBO: I'll just add it's the same way in the West, with the injuries that Minnesota has had, out in LA, some injuries that they're dealing with, Candace Parker, but also the games that Kristi Tolliver missed when she was playing for the national team overseas. I think that is a big key to why I'll say it again, Phoenix has not had a player miss a game to injury, actually maybe late in the season Erin Phillips missed one, but they've had very few missed games because of injury, and it's one of the reasons that they've been able to be as consistent as they are.
But also this season, yes, Phoenix and Minnesota for the most part were better than everybody else, but that was partly because of the injuries to Chicago, partly because of Indiana missing Catchings. It all comes back together.
Q. I know you have your favorite within the West, leaning towards Phoenix or Minnesota, and then in the East you pretty much say it's open, but is there any sleeper team that you have an eye for each of those conferences to make a run in the Playoffs?
CAROLYN PECK: Well, I'll go first. In the East, for me a long shot, though, would be Washington, and the reason being is that Mike Thibault has the experience, and he knows how to get the most out of his players. When it comes playoff time, he's going to have a scheme, and Kia Vaughn continues to play the way that she is to go along with Ivory Latta, they could make a two , three game series out of the series that they're in.
REBECCA LOBO: And if there's a sleeper team in the West, I would say it's San Antonio. I think San Antonio would be the team that would most surprise people if they came out of the West. We talked plenty about Phoenix and Minnesota and talked about how dangerous LA is. I think most people would be the most surprised if San Antonio was in the WNBA Finals.
Q. I'm calling from Atlanta, so I spoke with Coach Michael Cooper this afternoon at the media luncheon, and he was well, a lot of questions regarding Chicago. Will they come with full force, meaning will they be 100 percent going into this first game, the first Conference Semifinals with the Dream?
CAROLYN PECK: Your question is will Chicago be 100 percent?
Q. Yes, correct.
CAROLYN PECK: From all that I understand, Vandersloot is back, and so that would put all of their players available to play in the first round.
REBECCA LOBO. Carolyn, I was just called out, so I'm going to call you out for the ALS challenge. How's that?
CAROLYN PECK: Thank you so much.
Q. You are quite welcome. I can't wait to see your video. That's going to be fun. You were talking about Chicago. I'm a Chicago based reporter covering the Sky for this season and the previous seven of the nine seasons that they've been in existence. As far as the East goes, are you thinking that Chicago could be a surprise move there, or are we saying it's all Atlanta, there's no chance for anybody else?
CAROLYN PECK: I don't think that Chicago, if they were to come out of the East, would be a surprise. I think it would be expected. At the end of July, I believe, when I did their game in San Antonio in talking to Pokey Chatman, you feel the pressure because at the time I believe they were on the outside looking in with the potential to get in, and she said she didn't feel pressured, she was excited because she saw that all of her players would potentially be back and be healthy, and when you look at the moving parts like I talked about with not having Epiphanny Prince early and you didn't have Sylvia Fowles, then when you get those back you lost Jessica Breland for a couple games and Delle Donne. Then you have all those pieces back, and I think that they have the recipe for a team that could win an Eastern Conference championship with a big three, and when you've got Prince, Delle Donne and Fowles, I think that that's a good trio with the supporting cast around and especially Allie Quigley coming in and playing the way she has this season.
So if Chicago were to come out of the East, I wouldn't say that it would be a surprise. I think this Atlanta Chicago series is going to be one of the funnest to watch.
THE MODERATOR: Carolyn and Rebecca, thank you very much, and to the media, we do have our coaches ready to go, so we would like to start that portion of the call.
And we would like to welcome to the call our three head coaches, Sandy Brondello from Phoenix, Michael Cooper from Atlanta, and Lin Dunn from Indiana. As I understand, Coach Cooper also has a pending engagement. What we would like to do is begin with questions right away, and those of you who have a question for Coach Cooper, we would like to do those first if at all possible. Thank you.
Q. Coach Cooper, the lineup that Pokey Chatman played Sunday made it look as if she was doing everything possible to avoid Indiana and get you in the first round of the Playoffs. I wonder if you've brought that point up to your players. It seemed like she was dissing you a little bit there. Obviously you were missing Angel McCaughtry in two of the games that they beat you and they were missing a lot of players all season. Can you read anything at all from the season record of these two teams against each other?
MICHAEL COOPER: No, I think this is going to be a very fun series, I think a team that we're kind of going to be able to do different lineups. Obviously Angel is a big part of what we want to get accomplished as far as our success for our season, but it's going to be fun. I'm a firm believer you never lose games on purpose because basketball is about winning, and sometimes you get what you ask for, and they feel we're a good match up for them. It doesn't matter whether we play obviously Chicago, but if we have Indiana or Washington, it's still going to be a tough first round series and I think all the teams can attest to that.
Q. Why do you think they think you're a good match up for them?
MICHAEL COOPER: I don't know, you'd have to ask Coach Chatman that, but again, Sylvia is always a big issue that we have to deal with, and again, the one game she didn't play we blew them out. But still, it's going to be a fun game, and maybe they feel that their size is different as far as the rebounding goes, but they've only seen us play really well one game, and now you get to possibly see us play well three games.
Q. Can I just ask you, I know obviously a lot of attention on kind of the personal challenge you went through this year and missing a little time. Going through something like that, you always hear people say that it sort of changes them. Have you noticed any change in you? Does it give you any sort of different attitude when you've come back from that?
MICHAEL COOPER: Of course. It makes you take things in perspective and take one game at a time. I love the game of basketball, especially here in the WNBA. To be away from it the time that I was was really an eye opening experience. My health is good. The doctors gave me an okay to come back and return. The only issue I'm having is I have a bad case of lymphedema which doesn't allow me to project my voice as far as I want to, so I rely a lot on my assistant coaches, especially Coach (Karleen) Thompson, on telling the players what to do on the floor. But when they come to the huddle I get an opportunity.
But the games that I missed were really it made me love this game even more because I just love basketball, I love women's basketball, I love being involved in it and around it, and it kind of hurt our team, I think, for those five games that I was out because we were playing some good basketball until my illness. The bottom line is I'm back, I'm as healthy as I'm going to be. I'm praying to God that I get even healthier and for our team to get rolling again.
Q. Coach Cooper, two questions: One, can you sort of, I guess, talk about obviously you were gone some of the time and it did impact your team, but you haven't played as well in August I think as you guys want to play. Can you talk about how you turn that around in terms of going into the Playoffs first, and then second, we know what Shoni Schimmel does well when she's playing well. What do you need her to do that she hasn't done as well? What do you need from her in the Playoffs that she hasn't done as well in the regular season?
MICHAEL COOPER: Good question. I think first, prior to my illness, we were playing good basketball, and that's because we were playing team defense, and I think that's going to be important in anything that you want to do as far as be successful in basketball to win a championship. And with our good team defense, that was allowing us to get out in transition and get out in the break and really do the things that we do well, and that's running.
Once I had my illness, I think we kind of lost that a little bit, so for us to recapture that, and again, late in the season we played a Phoenix team that didn't have two of their key players, and I thought, but our momentum and our team defense kind of came back to us, and then that filtered into the Tulsa game for us playing well.
So in order for us to be effective this particular round, we're going to have to get back to playing team defense, and when we play good team defense, we rebound the ball well and, being the No. 1 rebounding team in the league, we're able to get out and do what we do well, and that's run the basketball.
Your second question, Shoni has been a magnificent player for us on the offensive end. We don't ask any one of our players to be great defensive players but be good, solid team defensive players, and that's the concept that we're preaching to her and trying to get her to buy into, and she has. But again, if she can't contain these guards for one or two dribbles to allow our team defense to come over and help her, it's going to be a long night just not for her but for our team. So we had to get her out of the concept of, okay, let somebody score on me because I can get it back at the other end. That's something that we've washed away.
Shoni has been a great player for us. She's learning. She's really learning the pace of the game now. That was one thing that I really saw in the last two or three games that she played. It's not just a fast pace, you have to play at your pace and change the pace of the game up, and she's done that, and as long as she continues to grow in her knowledge of the game and get better defensively, she's going to be a great pro, and she's going to be a great player for us.
Q. Coach Cooper, you kind of already touched on it here, we had spoken when you were here a couple weeks ago and you had mentioned that the team defense was lacking since your return. Can you speak to any other adjustments you may make, whether it be on the mental side of things, and what you guys are doing to mentally prepare for the challenge that lies in front of you?
MICHAEL COOPER: We have to be a tough minded team to play against a very physical team like Indiana and Chicago. Chicago being our opponent first, we have to come in knowing that how they feel they can beat us is they're going to pound us on our boards. As far as the physical part, we understand that, but they don't understand the mental aspect.
They've had success the last two or three years as far as playing and making it to the WNBA Finals, but it's totally different now because there are a lot of teams, especially the three other teams that are playing the East that feel that they belong, too. The physical presence is out there because it's going to be our mental toughness, our mental ability to get to that free throw line and knock our free throws down. It's going to be our mental approach of sticking with our defensive schemes that we’ve developed.
Q. Coach Dunn, before you guys came on, I believe it was Carolyn Peck that made the comment that the Indiana Fever is a team that's unpredictable because of the will of Tamika Catchings. Do you agree with that statement, and why or why not?
LIN DUNN: Absolutely I agree with it. When you've got a player like Catchings, a three time gold medalist in the Olympics, an NCAA champion, a WNBA champion and an MVP in the league that's so mentally tough, I think she brings some of the characteristics that Coach Cooper was talking about, not only do you have to be physically tough but you have to be mentally tough, and when Tamika is on her game and she's fresh, and now that she's coming back from being out 17 games, I think it does make us unpredictable.
Q. For Coach Brondello, you almost looked like a magician this year coming in and taking this team to the very top. What have you done with the Phoenix Mercury? Is there anything you can attribute to your extreme success this year?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Well, I think the biggest thing is I focused on defense, and that was the focus all season long, and in the past it's not something that really was one of the strengths or that I really worked on. Credit to the players. Obviously I have a veteran team. I have some talented players, have some great players. They bought into the style of play that I wanted to implement, and they keep growing. They have great chemistry.
So I think that's the biggest change this season.
Q. Coach Cooper, since you and the Sky have not really played each other full strength, what do you think are the most important keys for the series? And for Coach Brondello, what do you think is the biggest obstacle as far as combatting complacency for the Mercury in the Playoffs?
MICHAEL COOPER: I think for us it's going to be rebounding, definitely. We're going to have to rebound against a very good rebounding basketball team, and last but not least, I think it's going to be execution of our offense. If we come down and just take quick shots and hoist the ball up there, that's going to allow the Dream to do exactly what they want to do, just rely on us taking quick shots and then them coming down and executing their offense.
If we rebound the basketball well and execute, this is going to be a very good series.
SANDY BRONDELLO: And for me, look, I have a veteran team, and I think they've shown their will to win this year. We've really just focused on one game at a time and coming ready to play in each and every possession basically. I don't imagine it's going to be any complacency because these girls want to win. We know it won't be easy, though. We know LA can be obviously a very tough match up if we allow them to be.
I think we'll be ready for the battle.
Q. Coach Cooper, with all the injuries that Chicago has had this season, all the players out, do you feel that you have a good read on what they bring to the table and what they might bring to the table now that they do have everybody healthy? Are they kind of a wild card in that regard?
MICHAEL COOPER: They bring a lot to the table. They're a healthy ballclub now, and with Angel's couple of days off that she's had, we're as healthy as we're going to be, so it's going to be a very good series, I think. I think they're strictly an offensive team that plays a little bit of defense that rebounds well, and when you have those dynamics working for you, it makes you a very fearful team. We just have to do our job and stick with the things that we've been working on that's going to be beneficial to us in the game, and last but not least, we can't let them control the tempo. We've got to make it an up tempo game and make them run on makes, misses and turnovers and do a good job.
Q. Does it make your job harder to prepare for them because they probably look a little different than in any other games that you've played against them this year.
MICHAEL COOPER: For sure. I think the key is going to be keeping Sylvia off those boards and not let her control the game from underneath the paint. But you know, we're not looking to stop all their players, we're just looking to stop one or two of them. I think sometimes you have to make those players play defense. But it's going to be a chess match, and the first one is here in Atlanta, and we'll come out and do the things that we do, and it'll be up to Chicago to make their adjustments.
Going into this, there's some specific things that we want to do. I'm not going to tell them here, but if we do those, hopefully we'll be successful.
Q. Lin, what are your biggest concerns with Washington?
LIN DUNN: Well, I think Washington is very well coached. They value defense. They throw different schemes at you. They don't let you get comfortable with the two man game. You're going to be iced, they're going to show, they're going to hitch, they're going to go through, so they mix up their defenses, and I think you have to be mentally sharp and you have to counter what they do, and I think that's what makes it such an interesting chess match.
I've had lots of match ups through the years with (Coach Mike) Thibault when he was in Connecticut and now in Washington, and it's just realizing what they're trying to do and the type of adjustments they've made since the last time you played them. They never do the same thing consistently, they're always challenging you with changes.
Q. Sandy, you guys have talked about how you haven't accomplished anything yet, but speaking strictly about the regular season, this is a season obviously that will go down in WNBA history. Has the significance of that struck you, and to do it in your first season, do you take a measure of pride in that?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Well, obviously it's hard to get any wins. I've been in the WNBA for such a long time, and you never take anything for granted. Obviously coming into the season, who would have thought that, but I knew that we had a good team. I thought we put a good actually the core group is back. Having Penny Taylor healthy is obviously a big step, and Brittney Griner's development has been fantastic this year, particularly when you compare it to that first year.
Look, it's been a good run, but once you get to the Playoffs, it's zero zero. It doesn't really matter. It's more about who's going to play best on that day. I think we should have confidence going into this Playoffs, but we know it won't be easy. I mean, the history with LA has always been very competitive. We know both teams will be up and playing great basketball. But hopefully we have that right chemistry and obviously we're built on defense this year, and then if we can get those appropriate stops, we can get out and run and execute on the offensive end.
Q. Coach Brondello, you talked about defense and buying into defense. Are you particularly proud of the fact that this is such a fantastic offensive team and individually skilled offensive players who have bought into defense?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Yeah. It doesn't surprise me really. I mean, I think anyone can play defense. As Coach Cooper said, we're really built on team defense. Yes, we have Brittney Griner, and obviously when you have that big shot blocker close to the basket you can change up a lot of things. DeWanna Bonner has been she's our key stopper on our perimeter. But it's everyone else, and I think it really helps that we have intelligent players. Attention to detail, learning the little things about how to do it in each situation, we're basically covered.
I think once they had the rules, obviously they could build chemistry within it, and they enjoyed playing it because I just changed it instead of playing maybe offense, just play offense, okay, let's play defense, and we still wanted to run. I didn't want to take away their strength on the offensive end, but we just had a little different focus.
To their credit, they've bought into it, and they've enjoyed playing this style.
THE MODERATOR: Sandy, Michael, Lin, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your time, and good luck as we start the Playoffs.
We have our four players with us, so we are going to switch gears and welcome in at this time from the Chicago Sky, Elena Delle Donne; from the Phoenix Mercury, Dana Taurasi; from the Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry; and from the Minnesota Lynx, Maya Moore.
Q. Diana, how are you as a team feeling leading up to this first series here?
DIANA TAURASI: We're excited. We're excited to get things going. It's been a pretty long regular season, so we're just pretty anxious and ready to go.
Q. Angel, the analysts talked about how your level of play has changed now with Coach Cooper in terms of taking better shots and being a little bit more sort of selective in your shot making, in your approach to the game and the Playoffs. Is that something that you agree with, and if so or if not, why?
ANGEL McCOUGHTRY: It's something I definitely agree with, taking better shots definitely helps the game a lot. I feel like getting my teammates involved definitely early, it helps our chances in winning these games. So definitely his approach has helped me a lot, and I've definitely taken it to my game.
Q. Angel, they talked about consistency with this team, that that has been obviously the Achilles heel with the Atlanta Dream. What have you told your teammates about how important it is to be consistent because every win means something as opposed to the regular season because you're trying to advance in the Playoffs? What have you said to the team personally about coming together and playing with some consistency?
ANGEL McCAUGHTRY: Well, definitely, consistency is definitely the key, and it's been a little tough for us as far as consistency. We've been up and down, back and forth. But I think we've moved forward from that. We feel like it's a new season. We don't want to dwell on what's behind, we can just only move forward and keep doing what we've got to do to get better.
Q. Elena, first of all, you've played as much as I can think 22 or 23 minutes since you came back from the long time off with the lyme disease. How much time do you think you're ready to play now in a game, and also, given the circumstances of this season, do you think you're going to stay in the pool for the U.S. team at the World Cup, or do you think you're going to decline that?
ELENA DELLE DONNE: I think it's still going to be kind of a game day decision on how much time I'll be playing. Obviously I've been getting a lot stronger and healthier as I've been playing, so I'm hoping we'll be able to continue to up my minutes and hopefully get into the starting spot so I can just start the games now and continue on that way.
And with USA Basketball, I'm definitely going to go ahead and go to trials and do everything I possibly can to make that team. Like I said, I'm feeling a lot healthier now, so there's no looking back.
Q. This question is for Diana. Earlier today in a media session, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, "We don't believe that we are the underdog. We still believe that we are the team that everyone wants to beat." Diana, is that a bold statement for a No. 2 seed? Do you and your team take exception to that?
DIANA TAURASI: They're the defending champs. They're the best team in this league.
Q. This is for Maya and Diana, and I just wanted to go off the rails a little bit and ask you guys probably about the most famous female athlete in the country today, and that's Mo’ne Davis, the little girl who's lighting up the World Series. She said that you and Skylar Diggins are her idols, and I'm just wondering if you had a chance to have lunch with her today in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, what you might tell her about being a 13 year old athlete at a high level and what she needs to do to get through the next few years.
MAYA MOORE: Yeah, that's been a pretty fun story to follow. She's definitely standing out because of her ability at such a young age. For me as a middle school kid, I was just really dreaming, just working hard, trying to put myself on a competitive team so that I could get better and just continue to dream, continue to look at the future that I want, you know, while at the same time working hard in the moment. I would say don't look too far ahead, but dream and at the same time work and put yourself in a competitive environment, you know, with good quality, character people that are going to look out for you and lead you with wisdom just because she is getting so much attention at a young age. But just keep having fun.
She's, I think, getting a lot of people excited about little league in a way that wouldn't otherwise be if she wasn't a young girl.
Q. I don't know if you noticed when she went on ESPN on Sunday night and told the world that she wanted to play for Auriemma at UConn and be the point guard for the Huskies and then jump into the WNBA. How do you think he'd like coaching somebody that's probably more famous than him?
DIANA TAURASI: It wouldn't be the first time for him, so Geno can handle that. It's a pretty cool story to follow. If I had anything to say, just enjoy the moment, have fun, and listen to your parents.
Q. Do you think when you were 13 years old that you would have had the guts to say you wanted to play for a program that won eight national championships?
DIANA TAURASI: I mean, really when I was 13 I couldn't name you a college. That's how different it is these days with media, social media, with ESPN. Everyone knows about everything, even little 13 year olds. That's pretty cool.
Q. Angel, Coach was saying obviously when he was out with his illness, the team went into a little bit of a slide. What did it do to the team when he was not there, and how has it helped to get him back?
ANGEL McCOUGHTRY: It was tough. We knew he was going through a rough time, and it was on our minds, and during that time his dad had died, so our hearts were grieving a little bit for him. But we don't want to use that as an excuse of our ups and downs. It was kind of like a piece of the puzzle missing, and we were just glad to have him back. I commend him for his spirit because he definitely keeps a smile on his face; you wouldn't think he just went through all of that. I definitely commend him coming back so early. He didn't have to come back this early, but he definitely wanted to be with the team and sacrificed himself, so I definitely commend him on that.
. Diana, with what you guys have done this season, this is a team that a lot of people said they expected to see last year, and after you guys didn't quite live up to those expectations, what mindset did you go into this year with? Did you see any of this coming with the records and the milestones that you guys achieved?
DIANA TAURASI: Not really. I mean, during training camp there were moments where you would look around the locker room and we could sense that if we put things together, if we headed the right direction, it could be a special season. But to predict that we would have won 29 games, I don't think anyone in this locker room or the coaching staff would have put any money on that. It's been a wonderful year so far. I think we've got to commend our coaches. They've really done a great job of keeping us ready for every single game, and I think that's paid off for us in the long run.
Q. And particularly on defense with the turnaround that you guys have had up at the top of the league in a number of categories, how critical has that been to the overall success of the team?
DIANA TAURASI: You know, it's like anything, when you focus on something a little bit more, you should get better at it. Coach Brondello has made it a point since day one that that was going to be our staple and we were going to be relentless at that for as many possessions during the game as possible, and we've been able to do that.
Q. Maya, obviously a lot of people are thinking about Phoenix Minnesota, but you guys have to start with San Antonio. There will be a lot of emotion with Becky Hammon retiring. I wonder if you could maybe talk about San Antonio and keeping your focus on that series and not looking ahead.
MAYA MOORE: Well, it's easy for us. We respect San Antonio. They are a very well coached, smart team. They've got a lot of very capable three point shooters, and I think they work really well together. They play a very good team game to where everybody kind of knows who they are and they know their role, so they know who they are, and it's not a team that's going to necessarily hurt themselves.
We have a lot of attention on them, and obviously it helps we just played them a few days ago. We're fresh on each other's minds, so it's definitely going to be a tough series, but I think that we have what we need now at this point in the season to pull through.
Q. Elena, last year you guys for the most part stayed pretty healthy. I'm wondering, this season it's been so difficult with injuries and illness. Has there been some times recently where you feel like this team has come together and is playing as well as you guys were last year, and is that something you feel like you can take into the Playoffs?
ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, you know, there's definitely glimpses where we see the whole team back together and things just really clicking. Obviously we haven't been able to play together for a long time, but we're just hoping that all this adversity will help us in the Playoffs. Like last year it felt like everything was going great and then we finally hit adversity in the Playoffs and just obviously didn't pull through there. Hopefully now it's kind of been an opposite season for us, tons of adversity, and we're hoping that will get us going through the Playoffs.
Q. Maya, you guys have closed out the season with some losses such as to San Antonio and to Los Angeles that surprised some fans, and one headline appeared yesterday, "What is up with Minnesota?" Can you speak to the losses that closed out the season and what you guys are doing to prepare for the season with San Antonio?
MAYA MOORE: Yeah, you know, the course of a regular season, things are going to happen. You know, there's a very small difference, I think, in this league between winning and losing every night, and sometimes you've got to be reminded of that.
So I think for whatever reason we weren't as sharp as we needed to be to close out the games. It's a good reminder of why we've been able to be successful, so it definitely is something in the forefront of our minds, the focus and the determination we need to have for 40 minutes on the defensive side of things. We're not worried about our offense, it's the defensive side that we know is most important at this time of year.
We are in a good place, had a good practice today, and I think we have enough experience and enough leadership to take those losses and learn from them and let that be added motivation to play even better for these Playoffs just because San Antonio is a good team. They're somebody who, like I said earlier, they're not going to hurt themselves. They're very disciplined and well coached and they're scoring bunches because of their three point shooters.
I think it's very easy to be focused and motivated and determined to bring everything that we have for this first round.
Q. How is your health as a team right now?
MAYA MOORE: We're fine. It's nothing no team is ever 100 percent at this point in the season, and so our team is no different, but everybody is practicing, everybody is ready to go, and energy felt really good today in the gym.
Q. Elena, I wanted to know how your reinsertion into the lineup, how that's gone, and I know you guys have had a lot of transitions and how you've adjusted with your reinsertion into the lineup?
ELENA DELLE DONNE: It's gone pretty well. We were able to finally put some wins together and get ourselves into the Playoffs, which was the goal all year long. I'm hoping that I'll be in the starting lineup now. Now that we have everyone back, it'll kind of feel like back to old times, which is always a great feeling.
Q. Elena, can you kind of size up the series with Atlanta, what you think about them and their strengths as a team, and what do you need to do to be able to beat them?
ELENA DELLE DONNE: Well, obviously they've got a great past in the Playoffs and are getting to The Finals almost every year. Obviously that's difficult. But they're a phenomenal transition team. Offensively they really get the ball up the floor, so that's something we're going to have to focus on, and in practice the whole focus has been on our defense, getting back in transition defense and being able to guard them in a pick and roll situation. That's really the focus at the moment.
Q. Do you feel like you guys might be a difficult team to prepare for simply because you haven't had the cohesiveness all season, it's been a lot of moving parts, and now that you are finally healthy, would any team, in this case Atlanta, have maybe a tough time preparing for you guys?
ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, it could be difficult, just because I believe we've only been together at full strength for two games this season, so that's pretty crazy to think about, but obviously at this time of year, everybody knows each other's players, everybody is pretty well scouted. We just have to really take care of business on the defensive end.
Q. Elena, even going back to Delaware you have been sort of a pied piper; kids sort of gravitate towards you and I've heard some kids just idolize you. I wonder what that's like, how much you enjoy knowing little kids who go out and say they practice harder because they watch you. What does that mean to you to be that person, especially to young girls?
DELLE DONNE: You know, it gives me chills when you say that, and I love the kids right back just as much as they love me. To think about the people I looked up to when I was younger and how amazing I thought they were and how much I wanted to emulate them, I take that very seriously and try to be the best role model possible for anyone who's looking up to me.
Q. Diana, you've played on so many championship teams, both USA Basketball and overseas and UConn and WNBA. At what point in the season did you sort of feel that this had that potential, and how do you know that you have that chemistry as a championship team during a season?
DIANA TAURASI: Well, I think it's something that you build day by day. It's a certain synergy that for whatever reason makes everyone connected. There's nothing you have to say, there's nothing you really have to do as far as trying to be a championship team. It's a behavior you do every single day. And I think for whatever reason, this team has locked in from day one, and it's kind of carried us.
THE MODERATOR: Elena, Diana, Maya, thank you very much, and we wish you luck as you start the Playoffs this week.