Playoff Coaches Conference Call
Dan Hughes, San Antonio Silver Stars: Opening Statement
Obviously, this is the best time of year and we here in San Antonio are pleased with this part of the season. We're not a team that has necessarily been to the postseason, but we have players that have been to the postseason so they understand the excitement and intensity that this time of year brings. We're actively in preparation for what I think will come out to be a great series with Sacramento.
How personally gratifying is it for you to make it to the postseason?
Dan Hughes: I really haven't had a chance, well, anyone in this situation, you don't really get a great chance at reflection until the season is over. Having been with three different WNBA teams that have evolved to the playoffs, this one was by far the toughest and the longest journey to get there. There is a little satisfaction when you wake up in the morning and know the past two years the way you felt today is significantly different this year. I haven't gotten to the point where I have really reflected on it, but in my coaching career, I think this was the biggest challenge that I personally have faced, so I would just like to really keep our focus and when the year is over, I'll look back and feel very good about what this team did.
What was the initial feeling entering San Antonio?
Dan Hughes: The first thing, to me, I didn't feel a healthy situation. I didn't feel something that people wanted to attach themselves to. Part of it was building a message and a process and a culture that people would want to identify with, be it players to come here, be it players that played here, be it community, be it other people. That was the first thing. If we started doing things right, then the potential maybe to attract people from all different areas that we need might happen. Even though it was two years ago, we were fortunate that Vickie Johnson chose to come here to San Antonio, that was a beginning. We weren't there yet, but I felt like, here's a very good free agent that wants to come play with us. That's been the initial feeling when I came in and what we've tried to build. Then, obviously, personnel has to grow and some of the experience as well. I've been very fortunate to have my coaching staff with me for three years and that has been a huge asset to me as we build this program.
It seems that San Antonio has had a real nice season due to the deal for Becky [Hammon]. Did you think it would turn out this way?
Dan Hughes: It's certainly the upper end of my expectations. I had an awful lot of respect for Becky from competing against her, but to be honest with you, even in my high expectations, I think she's certainly fulfilled that and in some cases, taken it another step beyond. I appreciated playing against her. We've competed against her about 30-40 times on the other side so I had a very knowledgeable feeling of what it was like to play against her but when you coach her, on a day to day basis, you realize how special she is as a student of the game, how well she understands what you're doing with each other and how she fits in and only a few players that I have been fortunate to be around, has been able to get to that level, and she is one of them.
Can you talk about what matchups you like in this series and what you are expecting?
Dan Hughes: The matchups are an interesting situation if you look at it. I think it's a real pull and tug on both ends, if you look at the teams. From a rebounding standpoint, I think that's always a challenge when you play Sacramento but from a matchup standpoint, that's tough. I think defensively, there are a lot of similarities and I know, with playing us, you better be efficient with the basketball. Defensively, I've always admired the way that Sacramento plays I hope we imitate that in a lot of ways and things we do, but you have to be efficient against Sacramento. If you create offense for them, because they go get second shots in a bushel, then I think you're playing into Sacramento's game. We have to be really strong in those areas. If you look at personnel, there are areas within their team that are real challenges for all of us. I think we present the same thing back at them. I think it's just a real interesting series from that standpoint. Some of the aspects that we do well, we can shoot the ball well, I think we can be efficient offensively and kind of go at the things that they try to do defensively. It's an interesting matchup and I think it's potentially the best series of all of them that are coming out of the first round.
What are your thoughts on Yolanda Griffith and the possibility of her retiring, and thoughts on what she's added to the game and what it's like to compete against her.
Dan Hughes: I think she's been a tremendous player for this league and if she wanted to retire right now, I would certainly support that, even before the game (jokingly). I'll tell you when I learned to appreciate Yolanda. One time I was traveling in Europe, in Italy, and I went out to eat after the game with a number of WNBA players and I got the chance to, as we were sitting and eating, I got to know her a little bit as a person as well as the competitor that I've seen in the league all this time, and I loved the competitive greatness that she carries. She carries that on the court and she carries that in her life. She is really a competitor at the right time. She's been a great player in this league. She's done a lot to help establish this league in a lot of ways. I think Yolanda is a player that obviously, even today, in her impact she is a focal point of what we have to defend against Sacramento.
Does playing Shanna Crossley quite a bit in the absence of Becky Hammon, or playing her limitedly. Is that in preparation to get her more experience and confidence for the Playoffs?
Dan Hughes: Yes. I think she's really earned it, to be honest with you. When we lost Erin Buescher, one of the things that concerned us was looking for that consistent third scorer to compliment what we're doing. Shanna has kind of stepped up into that role, and certainly in some cases as we try to get our team healthy, she had an even greater opportunity, as far as minutes, to do that. She has become a real viable third option for us to score from, and I think her play has been quite impactful for us. We only play her an average of 15-16 minutes and I see her, compared to the other six, who obviously, some of them are excellent, but Shanna's efficiency in those 15-20 minutes that we have played her on the average have probably earned her a situation where now she will probably get 20-25, going forward.
How does this team compare to the other teams you have coached that made it to the Playoffs?
Dan Hughes: With this team, the chemistry has been special. We had to come together quickly, and I think we did. We had to absorb injuries and different situations, and I think we did. It's wrong to say that we don't have Playoff experience, but it's correct to say that they haven't done it together. We're going to play a team that's been together and the core has been there a lot. They've got to develop that sturdiness that comes with a strong chemistry, and how we play and how we play with each other in the Playoffs, like we did during the regular season, for us to be successful. But, they have been a special group in that area. They have really faced those types of tasks well, to be honest with you, and that to me is the difference. It's probably as good of a team, in that aspect, that I've ever taken into the playoffs and I think they played together well, when we played well. We'll see where that takes us. I just wish Erin Buescher could have been a part of this because she also complimented what we're doing, but the team, even without Erin has found a way to kind of bring out some of our other talents. The chemistry will be tested, but I think we're pretty sturdy in that area. We'll see how it plays out.
You mentioned injuries. How is everyone doing? Are they ready?
Dan Hughes: I think we will be. I'll be honest with you, we prioritized health down the stretch run. We said health was number one, winning games was number two and getting ourselves ready for the Playoffs was third, in that regard. We tried to prioritize and I think we have a good chance to try and be as healthy as we've been since, probably July in some cases, going into the Playoffs and I think we should be at full strength. I think we should be fairly ready to go and that's our hope going in and we feel like we're going to be close to it.
Could you speak a little more about your players that have postseason experience?
Dan Hughes: I think it's real vital, especially when you're facing a team so playoff sturdy such as Sacramento. I think our ability to understand the way you kind of take care of business on a day to day basis, and the way you kind of take care business in the course of the ever flow of the game. You can't replace players that have been there and been through it, and have had success going through it. Obviously Sacramento has that. We have it too, we just need to do a great job of messaging, from those players and those players being a rock that we can play to in those moments, because we do have a lot of people that have been in situations, have been in the Playoffs and have been in big games and understand what they need to do to be successful, and we'll lean on them pretty good, to be honest with you. That was our design in building this team, was to have people that would be helpful to us at this point and we'll go through this first experience together as a team and kind of take one step at a time. I do think their experience will be pivotal to the rest of our team which is king of going through this for the first time.
Jenny Boucek, Sacramento Monarchs: Opening Statement
Well we're just really excited as a group. We feel like, you know, this is what you do everything for - all your hard work and you just get a chance to see the fruit of your labor. We're just excited to go in and see what we can do.
Coming in at the beginning of the year as a new coach, you came into a franchise that had a stable core. As a new coach coming in, which is more desirable, as opposed to some different aspects of coming into a situation like that, and the challenges that it presents - like maybe Dan Hughes that came in and had to build from the beginning?
Jenny Boucek: There are fun things in all of the different situations. Different people would argue that different situations would be better for a first-year head coach. For me, I was honored - and I am honored - to be going to war with a great group of women who want to compete for championships, who have high standards, and the challenge is great. So that's been a lot of fun for me and I could not have asked for a better group of women to help me with my first year of coaching - a very mature group and we're all in it together, doing our part. It's been great.
I was just wondering what the status is on everyone with injuries. You've had a lot of injuries this season. Yolanda Griffith, how she's feeling, and Ticha Penichiero and what is going on over there.
Jenny Boucek: We have had a lot of adversity as many teams have this year. But relative to where we were a short time ago, we are feeling better. Yolanda is definitely playing in a lot of pain. Rebekkah [Brunson] is playing in a lot of pain. Ticha is playing in pain. But they are better and they are able to be on the court - not always in practice. We have not had some of them in practice for awhile, which is not good. But they are able to play the games, so we are as healthy as we've been in a little while now.
Yolanda has a history of kicking it up a notch in the playoffs, as do many players. Do you anticipate her playing more minutes?
Jenny Boucek: You never know for sure. You have to go with what is going on in the game. We have many capable players but this is the time for the stars to shine. This is the time for your experience and your wisdom and your franchise players to really take it to another level. We have players on this team that have not been there and we have some that have, so we expect the ones that have been there to really set the tone and I know our younger players are looking to them to do that. And Yolanda, I have no doubt, will kick it up a notch and give it everything that she has and I'm sure you'll see another level from her.
They say that what happens in the regular season has little-to-nothing to do with the postseason, but you did face San Antonio twice in the last not-even two weeks. Do you think that because you have played them so recently that will give you a good feel for them now for when the games really count?
Jenny Boucek: Yeah, I think so. It's not an advantage to either team because both teams are in the same situation where it has kind of given us a step forward in our scouting and in our preparation, which is helpful. But it is helpful to both teams, so I do not think there is an advantage there, but definitely there is a familiarity between our two teams and you know, there is a lot of similarity between our two teams as well. So it should be a really, really good competition.
Paul Westhead, Phoenix Mercury: Opening Statement
We're delighted to be in the Playoffs this year, unlike last season when we were packing our bags and saying goodbye, so it's fun to be alive and well and we're looking forward to a series with Seattle and we're in good health and everyone's ready to go.
At what point did you see that things in your system were clicking?
Paul Westhead: I would say a little bit over halfway through the season last year, not just coincidental with the arrival of Penny Taylor and the return to sound health of Kelly Miller, we started running, what looked like the best break that I knew, and as the season progressed from there, it just seamed to get better and better so by the end of the season, we were running on all cylinders and I think that probably helped us when we got back together this year. It took us a while, but from All-Star break on, our team has been getting out and running about as good as I've seen them.
What have been some of the keys to the success you've had this season that will help you in this series?
Paul Westhead: We could use a little more help in that series, but when we get out and run, we can score a bunch of points. Seattle is an interesting team. They're very good at getting out and going and getting their people on the move, so it's a challenge for us to get points and get some stops also.
Does Diana give you any scouting on Sue Bird?
Paul Westhead: No. She doesn't tell me anything other than what their favorite restaurants are and things like that. We've never had any conversations along those lines. I know they're good friends, but I think they keep all of that off the court and when they're on the court like all of us, they get after it.
Can you explain your Diana's role in your Rover defense?
Paul Westhead: If I knew how o explain it, it would probably take me about an hour to explain it. I know what her role is, but that doesn't mean that she necessarily does that. It's kind of a running joke with us a little bit in that she kind of has some freedom to pick her spots where she thinks there's trouble. Sometimes that's down inside, sometimes it's higher in the zone. So with the name Rover, she has the ability to kind of move around, rove around, as she sees some needs. It really isn't etched out to where when the ball's here you need to be here like the other slides in the zone. In her case, or whoever plays that position, they have some flexibility to make some adjustment.
How comfortable are you with her on Lauren Jackson based on their familiarity with each other?
Paul Westhead: Diana is a tenacious defender, but size is not to her advantage in that match up, so we'll use that selectively, but that's not a good one on one match up for us in the long haul.
What was it about Seattle that gave you trouble this year, opposed to some of the other teams?
Paul Westhead: In our games against Seattle, they've all been pretty high scoring, so they have us all we could handle on the defensive end because of Lauren Jackson, because of the other people, they can score inside and outside and she's such a threat anywhere on the court. I just think they're a very good team. That's the issue. To be honest with you, we didn't play poorly against them in any of the games, I just think they played extremely well and the last time we played them, in the first quarter, they shot 76 percent from the field. It's pretty hard to do much better than that.
Are you going to rely mostly on Tangela Smith to defend Lauren Jackson or are you going to give her as much help as possible?
Paul Westhead: We do different things. Tangela has played her in the past and has done a good job for us. We've experimented with playing smaller people on her like Diana Taurasi has played her at times. We've also had Penny Taylor play her as well. There's no easy answer out there. Someone who leads the league in scoring and rebounding, we're not the only ones that are having that problem. She's just an outstanding basketball player and you just try and do your best to contain her.
How big was getting Tangela in the draft and what has she brought to your system?
Paul Westhead: We made that decision the day of the draft and we felt good when we made the decision. Now that the regular season has ended, we feel very good about the decision. She stepped in and has been very good in the fast break world, which we kind of hoped she would. She can score from the outside. She's got terrific speed and I think she's at her season high in rebounds and points, so she's thriving at what she's doing and it's been a terrific help for us. I can't envision that if we would have selected anybody else in that spot in the draft that they would have been any better. In fact, I'm totally happy that Tangela is with us.
Penny Taylor has been big for you guys as well. What has she been able to do for you all?
Paul Westhead: The more you see Penny Taylor, the more you like her. She obviously scores and rebounds, but she defends, gets in the passing lane, takes charges frequently, and she's first or second on the team in assists. If you just see a game or you just see a stat you see that Penny Taylor had 32 points and 12 rebounds, she must be good, but when you see her day to day, you see how really good she is. She's a very clever and talented basketball player.
Are you concerned, with the tempo that you play now, going through a three-game series. Would you slow down and adjust or keep up your speed?
Paul Westhead: My approach has always been, when you get in situations like that, when in doubt, go faster. We're pretty well conditioned to play that speed game. We've played four games in eight nights on the road and it didn't seem to have any impact on our pace. Particularly if you're playing against the same team, if the pace of the game is so quick that it seems to be affecting your team, you have to wonder what it's doing to the opposition. Because we're more geared to do that then most people so if both team seem a little tired going into game two or game three, I think if we play faster, it might be to our advantage.
How much has Ashley Robinson changed with the complexion of Seattle's defense?
Paul Westhead: Ashley is a terrific defender. We know that. Of course the people here in Phoenix know it because she was here, before me, but they still know of her talent and skill in that area. It just gives them an added dimension inside of shot blocking and rebounding which, with their scorers, is a nice mix. I think that's a good fit for them and we'll be aware of her talent, especially down around the basket.
Anne Donovan, Seattle Storm: Opening Statement
I'm really excited for the Storm to 1) have qualified and 2) to have finished the regular season with somewhat of a momentum going into the postseason. We are looking forward to the opportunity of starting fresh and seeing if we can make our way through Playoffs with the kind of momentum we finished the season with. I thought we played much more consistent basketball towards the end of the year and I think we're excited to see what we can do with that first Playoff game being here in Seattle. It's very exciting to be in the Playoffs for the fourth year and we're looking forward to the opportunities ahead.
How tough has it been playing through injuries and finally clicking?
Anne Donovan: I feel like we're playing good basketball at the right time and although we all would have liked to have had more consistency during the regular season, that doesn't really matter or factor in right now. Other than Janell Burse, we've got some healthy bodies. We've been able to adjust a little bit towards the end of the regular season, thanks to the schedule and I hope that we go into the post season with healthy, fresh bodies that I know are hungry.
Can you talk about Phoenix, their speed and how they have developed over the past years?
Anne Donovan: A lot of credit goes to and both Seth Sulka and Annie Myers for finding the right personnel for their system, because it is not a system for every player. Although I think every player in the WNBA would like to play in the run and gun style, it's not for every player, but I think Annie, and Seth, have done a great job identifying the players and then developing the players. I think the emergence of Penny Taylor this season has been the difference in Phoenix getting to the next level. Diana is one of the best players in the world. Cappie had a phenomenal rookie year, then another one again this season, but they needed somebody else to emerge and Penny has done that in a big way. Then you have your small role players that are just significant in Tangela Smith and Kelly Miller. They've just done a great job identifying the players that will help this team succeed.
Is it a strange situation that one minute you're coaching against players them pretty soon you'll be coaching them with USA Basketball?
Anne Donovan: Yeah, but it's great to see them. Every time I do see them, I remind them that I'll see them in December and I look forward to everybody staying healthy and once that time comes for us to put on red, white and blue and get to work again.
Mike Thibault, Connecticut Sun: Opening Statement
I'm glad to be on the call because it means we are doing something well enough to get in [the playoffs]. We're happy to be playing, looking forward to getting started on Thursday. It's going to be a pretty wild playoffs in general. I think any of the eight teams remaining have a great chance at going a long way and maybe winning a championship. We're looking forward for us to get started.
Mike Thibault: I knew that would probably be the first question. I do not know yet. Today, when we practiced, she did minimal stuff. She did some shooting and some warm-up stuff, but we're not having her go 100 percent, all out. We will try to do some more of that tomorrow. She's probably going to be a shootaround decision the day of the game. We'll see how she reacts the day after a practice, but she is still pretty sore.
The last few games of the regular season, you seemed particularly frustrated. Is there anything you are doing differently?
Mike Thibault: Well, a couple of things. I think, obviously, we miss Asjha at the end of games, I think that is a huge part of it. I think the other part of it is - and my players know this about me, I am very cranky in the last 10 days of every regular season, regardless of where we are. I am nitpicking about all sorts of little things. I do not want bad habits to jump into our game and I'm trying to prevent them if I can. Once you have made the playoffs and you are in a position where you can't change a whole lot, teams tend to relax. I just have a hard time with that and maybe I need to relax a little bit more. But the other thing is I think finishing games - we just missed the same shots we've been making earlier in the game. When you miss layups and turn the ball over needlessly, that probably frustrates me more than anything else. As everybody has heard me say over the last week, I felt that -not so much the last game on Sunday, but in a couple of the previous games - we did not get to the [free throw] line and that was frustrating. But I think the demeanor changes both for me and my team once the playoffs start. So I think we will come out in the right frame of mind and whatever happened in the last week, we tend to cleanse out of ourselves in these couple days of practice, so I am looking forward to it.
Where are you at with your team this time compared to the last couple years when you were the heavy favorites?
Mike Thibault: Well, it feels a little bit more like our first couple of years, in that we are not the favorite right now. I kind of like the underdog role a bit. That is maybe helpful to us. Obviously, last year after being in the Finals the previous two years, I think that everyone felt that we automatically had the best chance. Everything comes down to how you are playing momentum-wise, the injuries that you have, the momentum and we were just flat by the end of last year with the injury to Nykesha [Sales] and Lindsay [Whalen], the one year getting hurt, and Katie [Douglas] the other year getting hurt. I kind of like where we are this year coming in. We are a little bit under the radar. We have played very good basketball in the second half of the season, despite the last few games, but we have played good basketball. Our team feels like we can duplicate that in the playoffs. Then after that, it is a little bit of good fortune with injuries and, you know, who gets off to a good start.
One big thing, obviously with Katie getting hurt last year, do you feel that maybe she has more motivation this year? Because she has talked a lot about proving herself in the playoffs, and it seems like she has a lot to prove after missing four of five games last year in the playoffs.
Mike Thibault: Yeah, I mean, I am sure she feels that. I think our whole team feels that. It was very frustrating for her to go through what she did. You're playing great basketball and then you get an injury that is pretty debilitating and although she tried to play and got injections and everything else to try to deaden the pain, she just could not do it. I think she feels like she is a big part of everything we do and whether you can help it or not, you feel like she let her team down and she did not let us down. Her body could not play and, you know, every championship that is won and we did not have that and I think that is why she is chomping at the bit to get started in this one.
I was wondering if you could elaborate on how valuable it is to have a player like Margo in the middle as a defender and also what she has supplied you on the offensive end.
Mike Thibault: That is a great question. On the defensive end, the fact that she can change the angle of people taking shots coming to the basket. She is a huge defensive presence. Before she came to us, we were what I could call a middle-of-the-pack defensive team. Teams were shooting, you know, 42 percent from the field against us, whereas the last couple of years, the defensive field goal percentage has gone down. The two previous years to this, teams were shooting 38 to 39 percent against us most nights and that is a huge factor. And what happens that sometimes even when you sub her out, teams are so used to her being in there that they forget and stop going to the basket sometimes. On the offensive end, she is a little bit different from your normal post player. You expect when you have a 7'2" player that they are going to down on the low block, but that is not how she grew up playing the game. She grew up with face-up skills over in Europe and as much as I would like her to be more of a factor on the low block - and she has worked at it to get better - she really does stretch defenses because she can make three-point shots and you can't guard her as conventionally as you might some other post player.
Brian Winters, Indiana Fever: Opening Statement
We had a successful season this year, and we finished out the season 21-13. We faced a bit of adversity, losing Tamika Catchings at the time that we did, which was a very tough time in our schedule. We had a lot of road games and a long West Coast trip, but we weathered the storm and finished up the end of the season strong. We are looking forward to the Playoffs, hopefully Tamika will be able to play, and we will have to see how that goes. We are looking forward to playing the Connecticut Sun this Thursday.
Coach, both Tamika Catching) and Asjha Jones have injuries going into this series, how do you prepare not knowing if either of these players will be able to play or not?
Brian Winters: Asjha Jones's injury is less severe then Tamika's, it's been a slightly sprained ankle and they wanted to rest her for the playoffs, so I believe she will play. I am preparing thinking that she will play and play a lot. Tamika's is a lot more serious, she has missed a lot of time, but she is starting to play a little bit in practice. You never know how her type of injury (plantar fasciitis) will heal, we will only know when she starts to play and gauge it from there.
How hard is Tamika playing/practicing as she gets ready for Playoffs?
Brian Winters: Tamika has practiced a little bit, not full blast and we will have to see how she feels and how she does. The plantar fasciitis injury is a difficult injury; we will have to see how her foot reacts to playing a few days in a row. Hopefully she can give us some time on Thursday, we don't know how much she will be able to play, it's day-to-day as of now. If she is feeling good and she thinks she can help us, then we will put her out there. If she doesn't think her foot is healed well enough and that she can't play, then we won't put her out there. It's Tamika's call; I will not play a player that is hurt or that playing her could worsen the injury. We are hopeful that she will able to play a certain amount of minutes against Connecticut on Thursday.
Does this team have a mental road block when playing against Connecticut, since they won the season series, how do you get past that?
Brian Winters: I can only worry about what will happen on Thursday, I can't worry about the past, and we are preparing for that, the past is ancient history. As a competitor every game is new, every game is different and that's how we are approaching it. We are going to come out hard and play well, we want to play good Fever basketball. When you get into the Playoffs you play against all good teams, whether it's Connecticut, Phoenix, Detroit, you always have to give it your best shot., and play your best to win in Playoff competition.
Connecticut has struggled a bit, do you see them as a team that has gathered themselves and that poses some problems?
Brian Winters: They are a quality team; they struggled a bit coming out of the gates this year, the second half of the season they have played very well. They have had their injuries to deal with (Nykesha Sales, Asjha Jones), they have had their ups and downs as well, but they are definitely still a quality team. They all have been in the playoffs/Finals, and they are an experienced veteran team. They don't have Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) anymore, but they are still a quality team with all those experienced players. As far as our game plan, we will try and play the best we can, they are a well-coached, good team.
Has your team learned to play without Tamika Catchings and did people pick up their roles at all?
Brian Winters: We did that to a certain extent. Tan White became a starter and played a lot of minutes. We had to change our line-up around a little bit; Tamika Whitmore coming off the bench was very helpful for our team. Some other players had to step up and do well for us, but we are a better team with Tamika Catchings.
To compensate for losing Tamika Catchings, you moved Whitmore to the bench, have there been any other slight moves that you had made?
Brian Winters: Tamika Catchings brings so many things, she is such a versatile dominant player. She led the team in so many different categories, scoring, rebounding, assists, and she's the best defensive player on our team. In the meantime our main go-to players have been Tan White, Tammy Sutton-Brown, and Tamika Whitmore, those three have been our next three scorers. Different people have stepped up at different times and have done several things for our team.
Bill Laimbeer, Detroit Shock: Opening Statement
Well, obviously we're the defending champions and we've gone into the playoffs losing four straight, but that was not necessarily by design, but we didn't try to really play hard to win the games anyways. We played hard but I did not allow the horses enough to win those games, which actually got them kind of mad at me, which is good - they are a little feisty right now. We had a good, sound, spirited practice today and we are optimistic about our chances in these playoffs. We have pretty much the same team that we had last year, with the exception of Ruth Riley. Our core remains intact and they know what it takes to get it done.
How much did Cheryl Ford practice today and what was she able to do?
Bill Laimbeer: Cheryl did all pre-practice drills, which is lay-up line, running figure eight, running fast break drills, running some secondary offense dummies up and down the court. When it came to five-on-five, she stepped aside. At the end of practice when we were working on new plays, she stepped back in. So there was no five-on-five contact; it was a lot of running up-and-down dummies. I thought she did better than I would have expected. The mobility seems to be there running up-and-down the floor. Wind-wise, it remains to be seen, but she has been working hard with what she can do in the pool and on the Stairmaster. Overall, I thought it looked good for her today, but she has a long way to go.
Do you expect her to be playing in the first round at all?
Bill Laimbeer: I think it's too early to tell right now. I think we will see how she is tomorrow after running hard today. We will see what she is capable of doing tomorrow, whether she can expand herself into a little bit more of a five-on-five and then take it from there.
You talked about Cheryl. Even if she is ready to go, I would assume you are looking at using her in a limited basis and you guys have played more than half of a season without her. Is it as big as we tend to make it out to be?
Bill Laimbeer: I do not really have quite the answer to that I think that obviously with her, we are a better basketball team. Even if it were a 15-20 minute stretch, I need that extra body out there right now, to buy that time at the forward position, at the power forward. So if she is able to go 15-20 minutes solid, boy that is a tremendous bonus for us. If she is able to play, I will start her, no question about it. But other than that, do we still have the wherewithal to get the job done? Absolutely. I think our guard core is second-to-none. They are outstanding, they are poised. They are talented. Between [Swin] Cash, [Katie] Feenstra and/or [Kara] Braxton, and then obviously Plenette Pierson coming off the bench, we have enough weapons to play solid enough defense to get the job down. But at the same token, you put Cheryl back in the lineup, we are going to have some adjustments there also. It might throw off our timing a little bit, so we will have to compensate for that also.
You mentioned in your opening remarks that your players are the exact people from last year. Were you looking to get more role players some minutes in crunch time and close-game situations? And is this something that goes back to your days as a player?
Bill Laimbeer: Well, I will answer the question in multiple ways. We secured the best record; we pushed very hard. We only had 11 players this year and with Cheryl being down, we only had 10 for half the season. And we pushed very hard. I played [Deanna] Nolan and [Katie] Smith; they were -if not two and three in the league in minutes played, then they were three and four; they both played 35 minutes a game, every game. So we pushed our players to the limit to get the best record. That we could have set a franchise or been one of the all-time elite teams, record-wise, has absolutely no bearing or importance to us. The most important thing was to get rested and try to get healthy for the playoffs. I would like to say that I wanted to see more players that did not get a lot of time to see what they could handle, but the reality is it was just about resting the players that are going to get the job done in the playoffs. While competitive players, like especially Smith and Nolan did not like it - especially Smith, she wanted every game, play 30-plus minutes every game to win the game - I was not going to allow that. If we happened to win the game, using other people out there, okay, great, wonderful, congratulations. But I was not going to put our playoff future at risk - not only risking injury, but getting them a chance to rest and recoup after a long season. Does it go back to when I was playing? Absolutely, we used to put people on IR the last couple games of the season to make sure they could not play and could not bitch at us about not playing.
Talk about Tyresa Smith - from down our way, Delaware - and what you saw in her.
Bill Laimbeer: She's her own PR machine, before she got here, everyone in the world knew she was coming here. We expected to be in the playoffs for almost a month - that was our mindset. If we happened to have some kind of injury at the guard position, it gave us an extra body to bring in, to maybe fill some time. She is athletic; she can create her own shot, which is why we got her. And I think, more importantly, as a practice player. When you get in the playoffs, you work so hard with your starters; you play so many minutes that you really do not get a good practice the next day. We needed more bodies - we had only had 11. We needed more bodies to enter the playoffs, to give us a chance to practice and to have a scout team. But also, we are taking a look at her for next year. She was intriguing to us in the draft - we could not get to her because we do not have a lot of draft picks anymore. So we could not get to her. She is the type of player that fit our system and now we get a chance to look at her in practice and now we have her rights for next year.
It is kind of ironic for her. She gets picked by Phoenix, who ends up winning the West, and gets cut before the season and now she is with you guys going into the playoffs.
Bill Laimbeer: Well you know, she is a good kid, but unless something happens with an injury, I do not see her getting on the court in the playoffs.
Can you talk about Swin and her winning attitude, how she sort of turns it up a notch in the playoffs? Do you relate that to her being from Connecticut, where winning championships is sort of what everybody did?
Bill Laimbeer: I think she had that before she went to Connecticut. AAU she was a champion; high school she was a champion. So she had already been there. At Connecticut, she got put into a very, very good system. I think she makes big plays, very timely plays. In our 2003 championship, she made two of the most unbelievable plays that won games for us. She is a gamer, no question about it, and she competes. She is a smart basketball player. Smart basketball players I love because they do not make a lot of mistakes and when you get into the playoffs in the heat of battle, especially at the level we play at, you want those players that do not make mental errors. You want players that make plays and she is one of those.
Has she gotten better year-by-year? Even though she had the injury the one year, do you feel like her game overall has gotten better each year?
Bill Laimbeer: She has expanded her game so much. Her perimeter game is better than it has been in the past. I thinks she understands her role a lot better these days, with all the players that we have not only added players, but players like Cheryl Ford that have grown up to be stars of their own right. She has really found a comfort zone and fitting into the situation, but all that really matters is winning a championship.
If Cheryl comes back or if she does not, how does it affect your lineup in terms of Feenstra and Braxton and trying to figure out who starts? What is the plan for your frontcourt?
Bill Laimbeer: Feenstra is our starting center and Kara Braxton is our backup center. We can play small ball with Cash at the four. I will not start Plenette Pierson, I like her energy off the bench. Or I could start someone like Ayana Walker who we just signed and knows our system very well - she was here for three years. So I have lots of opportunities. I just need a little bit of somebody in the starting lineup if I wanted to go a little bigger and keep Cash at the three. Or I can put Cash at the four because Katie Smith can guard any from one to five. So those issues do not bother me. So the question you asked, Feenstra is our starting center.
That being said, someone like Janel McCarville who is so versatile at center - who takes that assignment and how do you try to handle her?
Bill Laimbeer: Well, the way they match up, Feenstra will guard her. She is not going to chase Cathrine Kraayveld around the perimeter. So, you know, we are just going to try to make sure that we keep her under control, space her, make her take perimeter shots and keep her off the glass. Standard defensive package.
Do you anticipate Tausha Mills to get much playing time in this series? I know you said that you were waiting to see how much of the offense she picked up.
Bill Laimbeer: I do not know yet. New York is pretty mobile on the perimeter. It also depends on Cheryl Ford, whether she plays or not. If she does not play, then she will be inactive then Mills and Ayana Walker will be active. If Cheryl Ford does play, then either Mills or Walker will be Inactive. One of them will be active, one of them will not be. It depends on what the coaching staff feels is happening at practice during the week. It also depends on what they feel our best match up will be between the two of them. Do we need strength at the position or do we need mobility at the defensive end at that position? It is something that we have got them there both for and it is something that we will make a game-by-game decision.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming series with the Liberty? What do you see that they do well?
Bill Laimbeer: They shoot three-balls well. They are young and energetic. They move well. They penetrate and kick out for three-balls, those are pretty much their strengths. They'll run a little bit, no question about that and they will be well prepared, we know that going in. We have some size advantage. We will try to exploit that - our strength is rebounding, no question about that. They are a scrappy little team that gets after it and wins games by hard work.
How different has your team's mindset been this year compared to a couple of years ago when you were defending your first championship?
Bill Laimbeer: Well defending the first championship and going into the playoffs, Swin Cash was unavailable because she had just injured her knee. Having said that, we were still an inconsistent ball club, mentally. We were really unclear how to defend a championship; we were young and naïve. This time around, I don't see that at all. We have an injury with Cheryl Ford. Our team is much more focused on the task at hand. We're much more confident in our ability to play a solid game from start to finish and not be as erratic as we were back then and I think our guard play is much more mature than it was before. They are solid both offensively and defensively. Teams don't make giant runs on us and we don't go in to take as much as we used to.
Obviously, you had injury issues the last time you played the Liberty. Does the fact that you guys split with them and two games went into over-time concern you a little bit going into this match up?
Bill Laimbeer: Any team concerns you no matter who it is. If we are playing Connecticut, we are 4-0 and they are a very dangerous team. The WNBA is strong top to bottom. You have to bring your best game every night to win and if we don't we're going to put ourselves at risk to be beaten. I think that if we come and we play well and we play focused and hard, we are going to win the Championship and I believe we have the talent to do that. But any team you play, whether it is New York or Connecticut or Indiana or San Antonio or even those that may not be in the playoffs - the Chicagos and the Washingtons - if you don't play your best game.
Pat Coyle, New York Liberty: Opening statement
We are thrilled to be in the 2007 WNBA Playoffs. We have a formidable task ahead of us, and we are looking forward to Friday night.
You beat Detroit twice in the regular season, how much stock do you put
into that going into the Playoffs?
Pat Coyle: We don't put much stock into it, it's the regular season, and the Playoffs are a whole different animal. The intensity, everything is at such a higher level during the Playoffs, you can't make much of what was done in the regular season.
Do you believe you have a shot of doing some damage now that you guys (New York Liberty) have clinched the final playoff spot?
Pat Coyle: I think with such a young team, I am not really sure what they expect. Our expectations are to play hard, and play as best we can, whatever happens will happen.
Can you talk about Ashley Battle and what spark she brings to your team?
Pat Coyle: I think AB (Ashley Battle) has done a great job coming off the bench and giving us tremendous amounts of energy. The one thing about A.B. is that she has been around a lot of pressure situations, I expect her to come in and to do the job she's been doing and provide that energy.
Do you think she (Ashley Battle) has learned a lot of that coming from a championship team in the Connecticut Huskies?
Pat Coyle: I can't speak for the people in Connecticut, but AB really gives us that extra boost. The pressure situations that she dealt with in Connecticut helps her give a lending hand to the younger players in the preparation part of their first Playoff experience.
Following the final win of the season and clinching the final Playoff spot, what was the feeling after never given a chance to win games once you traded away Becky Hammon?
Pat Coyle: Two years ago we decided we were going to change the selections of this team for the health of the organization we really felt like we had to make these changes. We are moving in the right direction, as much heat as we took, we felt like we made the right moves to further this organization in where we wanted to go. We have taken the right steps, we are a very young team, but we are definitely in the right direction.
What has enabled to give you some success against Detroit, especially in areas which other teams have struggled?
Pat Coyle: Detroit is a terrific team, they can go 2-3 deep, they are the defending champs for a reason and they are well coached. You look at some match-ups in the league, and for whatever reason we seem to match up well against them.
How do you plan to position certain players offensively and defensively?
Pat Coyle: We are looking at the games we played them, we won't make a lot of adjustments, and we will just tweak certain things. We are going to go out and do what we need to do to win.
How much did the roller coaster of the regular season affect you and how much does that focus the youth of your team?
Pat Coyle: We got off to a quick start, and then we had a seven game losing streak, but when you look at it you're never as good as you think you are and you're never as bad as you think you are. We have proven that we are young, and we have been up and down night to night; the one thing that I realized is that we have really gotten blown out this year. We're very completive this year, a bunch of those close games we could have won. Down the stretch when we needed to win games I think we learned from our previous mistakes.
Are you guys going to prepare a lot for Cheryl Ford?
Pat Coyle: We are assuming that Cheryl (Ford) and Swin Cash will be playing, and will play at full strength. We will approach the game either way, Detroit is so talented and deep, both are great players, but their bench is one of the best in the league.
How has the development been of your rookies, and how much will you rely on them coming into the Playoffs?
Pat Coyle: They have been in big games and both of them have gotten quality minutes. The two of them have come along for us and have really done a great job for the team. I think we have a lot of depth in our front court, and they all have been mix-matched.
One of the strengths for your team was that you don't have one go-to player, but what do you think of Janel McCarville rising to the occasion now as the go-to star?
Pat Coyle: I think that has been our strength all along, we don't have that true superstar; we have got it done with blue collar players. New York is all about everyone contributing night in and night out.
Sometimes Janel McCarville gets down on herself when things don't always go her way, do you have a plan for getting her to re-focus?
Pat Coyle: Janel is a really emotional player; she won't back down from anyone. I think she's finding her way again. I have no intentions of doing anything with trying to calm down the emotions that Janel brings.