Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw during NCAA teleconference for women’s Final Four coaches:
COACH McGRAW: This has been a dream season for us. I think when you looked at us in the beginning of the year, nobody predicted us to be in the Final Four, and certainly the improvement we’ve made throughout the year.
But how well we’ve played throughout the year has been just so fun to watch. Skylar Diggins leading the team in just about every way possible, but great performances by Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Lloyd. We’ve had some fun along the way and we’re so blessed to be back for the third time.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Could you talk about just the fact that teams like you and UConn and some others, even a Stanford that has really become very adept at what I would say is read and react offenses and I know you guys have said but have players who can freelance and can react and how that makes it difficult for defenses to stop you. And then the second question is if we have a Final Four first‑timer in Cal, if you can sort of talk about what it meant to your program back in’97 to make that Final Four breakthrough and how you build on that after you get that spotlight?
COACH McGRAW: The Princeton offense is a really fun offense to play in because it’s all reacting to the defense. I think there was so many options. There’s never a point where you have to go from A to B. There’s always different options and the ability for the guards especially to be creative and to play to their strengths and to move without the ball, I think, is it’s a great offense for this particular team because they are such smart basketball players they read the defense so well. And it’s effective against man and zone.
So I think the transition game into the Princeton offense gives my players a chance to use their own creativity. I don’t like when the point guard looks over and says what are you going to run. And fortunately I don’t have to worry about that because Sky pretty much can make up her own mind. So we’ve been blessed there.
I don’t like a team that runs a lot of sets. I want it to be more of an open game.
Second question, I think going to the Final Four for the first time is an unbelievable experience that you just treasure. The first one is always special. You remember that team, those players, those kids and just the joy, especially when you’ve overachieved to get there. When you’re a team that was not the No. 1 seed and yet you still managed to get there, I think it makes it even more special. And I think they’re going to enjoy them mentally.
Q. Couple of years ago lost three times to UConn and turned the tables at this point in the Final Four. Now that’s kind of reversed. I’m wondering, was there a mental obstacle that you and your team had to get over that year and if that’s the case how did we do it? And then this year do you feel like you have a mental edge because of the three wins over UConn?
COACH McGRAW: We beat them in 2001 and won the national championship, I think that was a big moment for us to finally get to that point and to win a national title upsetting UConn in the semifinal. And I think that game certainly gave us and our program kind of a great momentum swing.
And in the last couple of years, I guess the last two years, we faced them and come out with the win. And I think we just‑‑ we go into the game with a lot of confidence and we know it’s going to be a battle. But I don’t think there’s an edge really either way.
I think coming into the last two games we won a couple. We lost one. And I don’t think we felt any differently than we feel right now.
Q. This Sunday there will be two Hoosiers on the floor together for the last time in Skylar and Kelly Faris, and they both really elevated themselves to a pretty exalted position in storied programs. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on those two and what they’ve done and how they’ve represented their schools?
COACH McGRAW: I certainly have a lot of thoughts on Skylar. Miss basketball, state champion in Indiana. To stay home has meant a lot to everybody in the state of Indiana. Certainly up here in the community it’s been amazing the support that we’ve gotten.
And I think people like the home‑ talent. They appreciate that kids stay close to home. When we went to Indianapolis for the Final Four we got a huge crowd. The entire state was cheering for us. So I think it’s a bonus to have a player like that stay close to home and help us grow our fan base and create more interest in the women’s game. And to be Player of the Year candidate the past couple of years, Player of the Year in the Big East, it’s just brought even more notoriety to women’s basketball and certainly to the state of Indiana.
Kelly Faris has had a fantastic career at UConn, and she’s had tremendous success there, and I’m sure that they will miss her next year.
Q. Realize some conferences are changing but what are your thoughts on seeing three Big East teams this year in the Final Four? Is it surprise? Delight? Pride? Annoyance?
COACH McGRAW: Well, I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled for the Big East. I think it proves we were the best conference. I don’t think that there was any question when you have two No. 1 seeds coming out of the same conference but to see Louisville join us in the Final Four I think shows what depth and strength we had in the Big East.
And it’s a little sad to think that next year we’ll be gone, the year after Louisville be gone. A shame it has to end but a way to go out. And we’re very, very happy and take a lot of pride in that.
Q. When you have a rivalry that’s gotten as intense as Notre Dame and UConn, how much of a plus can that be for the game as a whole? Does any sport need to have a rivalry just like this one?
COACH McGRAW: Yeah, I think they do. You’ve got the Yankees and the Red Sox, and I think there’s always big games that attract the casual fan to the game. And so I think that’s what we’re doing for women’s basketball.
I think it is the most heated rivalry in women basketball and it’s a game that everybody enjoys watching. And we enjoy playing. I think it’s a fun game. And you know it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war. So I think that makes it even more fun to watch.
Q. What is the advantage of having been here the past two seasons, the team, knowing what they’re going to go through and that sort of thing, and also is there any added weight just because they’ve been there twice and not achieved their goal?
COACH McGRAW: I think that going in knowing what to expect is good because you’re prepared for, you can prepare the freshmen for it.
I think it gets to be a little more of‑‑ I’m not sure what the word is. It’s not quite as fresh and as fun to be stuck in for five hours of interviews and so many other things that because you always want to get out and enjoy it. You don’t really have that chance to really spend the time with your team in New Orleans, because you’re always doing something else.
So I think we’re going to have some fun on our own, I’m sure. But I think we do have at least a lot of experienced players that know what the grind of going through all the media work is going to be and all the practices and the open practice and I think they’ll be able to focus better because they know what to expect.