My March Into The Madness

The NCAA Tournament is one of the most popular events in the sports world. Much like the Super Bowl, it has the power to attract the average non-sports fan to arenas and television sets around the country. The only thing more exciting than office pools, cracking the code on bracketology and watching all the action, is being on the court.

As we settle in to enjoy the madness of this month, NYLiberty.com will sit down with some players to discuss their experience and favorite moments in the NCAA Tournament throughout their collegiate careers.

Sure, not every one of them was able to walk away with a ring or Championship trophy, but as you’ll discover it’s more about being there than anything else.

Today, we’re chatting with guard Lisa Willis. Willis finished her career at UCLA with 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and was the first player in Bruin history to record back-to-back 100 steal seasons.

What was your most memorable moment of being part of the NCAA Tournament?
I think my most memorable moment was hearing UCLA’s name being announced on Selection Sunday. There were people who said that we didn’t have the talent. There were people how said that we were too young. So when UCLA appeared on the screen, it was a sense of accomplishment. And for me personally, I had been working hard since the previous season to make sure I could do my part in getting the team there. It felt great to see the name UCLA on the big screen, even though we were headed to play J-Mac and Minnesota at Minnesota. [LOL]

How did you prepare yourself for such a highlighted event?
Overall, I like to be focused on the job at hand. I’m a pretty silly person, but I cut it out a little bit -- maybe because I was nervous -- and imagined what I needed to do best to help the team win. But right before game time I listened to gospel music. That’s a routine that I have had since I was in high school. I guess it helps me feel like I will be victorious, no matter if everyone says we’re supposed to or not. So that’s how I got hyped.

What did you take most from that loss in the Tournament?
I learned that the game of basketball is played at least 40 minutes. I learned that the turnover in the first five minutes of the game is just as important as the turnover in the last five minutes…kind of. I would remember the turnover in the last five minutes more. So in the Tournament, if you play the game as if you can’t get it back or play as if the game is on the line, (1) It makes a matter game for the fans, and (2) if you do, in fact lose, you know that you gave it your all and there will be no “shoulda, woulda, couldas.”

As a team, what were some of your game day preparations for the Tournament games?
In my opinion, game day preparations were not my favorite, but I know they were necessary. I’m the type that wakes up ready for the game: LET’S GO! But that wasn’t how it went. We had a team breakfast, shoot around, a little rest, team lunch or pregame meal, a nap and then off to the gym. In college, you can’t make a half court shot at shoot around and win money, so WHAT’S THE POINT? Just kidding.

Do you feel like your play improved during the Tournament?
Well I was never fortunate enough to stay in the tournament long enough for my game to improve, so not really. But I can say that my experience from the Tournament helped to improve my game for the following seasons.

Did your team win in any dramatic fashion to get a Tournament bid?
My senior year, getting a bid for the Tournament was not looking good as the season came to an end, but we weren’t ready to go home yet. We had the PAC-10 Tournament coming up and we just told each other that we had to win from here out if we wanted to play a post season. So the competition progressively got tougher (that’s the point) and we ended up playing Stanford for the championship game. It was more of a challenge because they always host of the PAC-10 tourney in San Jose, a.k.a - Stanford’s backyard. So we’re like great! But nevertheless, the BruWINS -- excuse me, Bruins -- prevailed. We won the conference Tournament and got an automatic bid in the NCAA Tourney.

Has there been anything that’s come close in life to the excitement of playing in the Tournament?
My first WNBA regular season home game in Los Angeles was just that exciting. My first preseason game, wow, I was pretty much a nervous wreck. But the time we made it home to play, and all my family and friends and associates came to support me, I was all ready to go.

Catch Lisa Willis and the Liberty at The Garden all summer long, click here for ticket information on season tickets and game plans.