Thursday, March 24, 2016

Transcript: Washington Head Coach Mike Neighbors, Chantel Osahorr, Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton Pre #3 UK Hoops vs #7 Washington Sweet 16 ~ 2016 NCAA Women's Tournament Lexington Region Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky Comments

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Washington women's basketball team. We're joined by head coach Mike Neighbors. Questions for Coach.

Q. You all did what you did in the second round. You've had a pretty good road record all year. What's been the key for you guys to play as well as you have away from home this season?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 I think when we get on the road we eliminate a whole lot of distractions that you have at home. You see your surroundings; you've got a lot of friends there. When you get on the road, it's a really small travel group. I think this group is a really tight knit. We've had a cool vibe about our team all year long, and it's turned out that's what it is. They kind of like to be together.

We've been on the road a lot. We've had to travel a long way to get to Maryland and back and on get to here. I wouldn't have done that with a team that doesn't get along, but this team gets along really well. I think being on the road eliminates a lot of distractions and you can really focus on what's at hand.

Q. What was your thinking process behind taking it back to Seattle and bringing them back to the Eastern Time Zone? Do you worry about jet lag or any of that stuff moving forward?

COACH NEIGHBORS: I've talked to a lot of people faced with that decision before and making a day back and forth. Everybody wishes they would have slept in their own bed. I let the kids go back and enjoy the excitement. If we would have just stayed up there and maybe spent the day in DC and touring monuments or something, we would have never gotten to go home and let our fans see us and their friends that we were talking about, being away, plus we would have been away for a significant amount of time. We are on Spring Break, so that was a factor. We weren't going back and having to rush with classes.

And I don't know if y'all traveled lately on one of these charters, but it was not like we were in a bus or train or something. It's pretty nice. And they had their own rows.

I asked them. I've really learned to trust this team. I got some input. I knew what I wanted to do, but it didn't matter what I wanted; they wanted to go home. So we did that and turned around and we had a really hard travel trip in Baltimore. It was way out. We had a lot of traffic to deal with and all kinds of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" moments. I don't know if you've seen that movie. This trip's been great. I don't think you'll see any effect on it.

Q. Could you talk about Makayla Epps and your impressions of her?

COACH NEIGHBORS: 
Yeah, any time a kid's capable of putting a triple-double on you, she better get your attention. She can dominate the game without having to score. She can dominate the game without having to get shots. She's a very, very impressive leader. You can tell that she's the one that gets them rallied together.

Obviously growing up watching her dad play, I'm from Arkansas, so I remember the days of him playing.
Then when we recruited her, you could tell who she was immediately, her styles of play. She presents a lot of problems because she's so aggressive. And we've got a player like that too, so we have to guard somebody like that in practice every day. And when she can hit you scoring, she can hit you rebounds, she can hit you with assists, she makes a really hard weapon.

Q. Coach, longtime girlfriend Amy (Ratfliff) usually works at the scorer’s table at Kentucky?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 Amy and Holly both, the twins.

Q. They recused themselves for this game, right? 

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 Yeah, you see them in purple back there. That's a big deal for these guys. I gave our kids a little lesson on Big Blue Nation and how deep it runs. When the brackets came out, obviously, we were doing the distance relationship thing. She lives in Lexington. She travels out a lot. They live four, five miles from here. They would have probably been working this if we had not been in it. So it's neat to be here and playing. They're two of our biggest fans.

Q. Can you talk about your familiarity with Lexington? You're probably out here quite a bit? 

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 Yeah, I gave the bus driver a shortcut yesterday. There was a backup on New Circle, getting off on the exit, so I told him if you just shoot on right past, if you take a right down there, we come in the back way to Double Tree. So he said, “Yeah, that's a good idea,” and we did. So we remarked about this. It's strange to be on a road trip and know exactly where you are. We're going to have a cookout at 4401 Hartland Parkway tonight at 6:37. It's right there on the corner. It's a dangerous intersection and a lot of wrecks there. But we'll be grilling. We've got a new grill for this. If they get the deck clean, we'll be grilling out at 6:30 for the games.

Q. Your kids, I imagine, are in Arkansas? 

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 They're in Arkansas. Je is, yeah.

Q. Are they going to come out for this?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 It's Easter weekend. My mom and dad do the biggest Easter egg hunt in Washburn, Arkansas. There's only 80 people there, so it's not that big of a deal. But they're not going to be here. It's Easter; it's a big holiday. They're a little superstitious too. The last time they came to watch us play on a long road trip, we were the No. 1 seed when I coached at Xavier. We were the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament and we lost in the first round to the eight seed. It was a massive upset. So they've kind of soured on the idea of coming to tournaments.

Q. You mentioned you gave your kids a tutorial on Big Blue Nation. What did you tell them and how did you prepare them?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 We walked into Craft Center yesterday and our kids have their pictures and cameras out taking pictures and videos. You're like, oh boy, they're a little bit excited about their environment. And that's good. I wanted them to be excited. Coming into a place like Rupp Arena, I expect there to be 20,000 people out there. When I said that, they kind of got big eyes. I said we may have 200, and they went crazy.
They were like, “We're going to have 200 people, you think?” They were excited about the 200 and not intimidated by the possibility of 20,000. But just to explain to them how tradition rich this area is with basketball and how knowledgeable they are about basketball and how much it means to the student- athlete experience.


I want our kids to soak it all in. I want them to experience every single part of this, because that's why they do it. We do have four great teams here that can exemplify good student-athletes when it comes to being on and off the court.

Q. Is there any update on Mathilde Gilling?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 Yeah, she did not tear her ACL, which is great news for all of us. She's just been a tremendous person on our campus and in our program for four years. And that would have been a terrible way for it to have ended. But she does have an injury that's going to be day-to-day. It's going to be pain tolerance. She's yet to practice. We'll see what happens this afternoon. But we're hopeful, obviously, that she'll be ready to go because she's been our only sub for the last several games.

Q. I'm wondering how many defenses or otherwise you've seen thrown at Kelsey (Plum) and how she gets past all that?

COACH NEIGHBORS: 
I think we've seen everything. Unless somebody invents something new, we've seen it all. We adopted a motto at the beginning of the year: Just make them wrong. Whatever they throw at us, let's make them wrong. We've got plans for every single type of thing to do, and we've seen it, and we've simulated it in practice over and over and over.

So it's really kind of nice for us because we don't have to spend a lot of time trying to predict what a team's going to do. We get in the flow of it and have a couple things to do regardless of how they guard her, and we adjust throughout the game. If you've watched her play for any amount of time, you know it doesn't take her long to figure things out.

Q. Going back in time a little bit, how did you figure out how to best make use of Chantel (Osahor) and having a unique skill set put her in that frame?

COACH NEIGHBORS:
 Yeah, we got lucky when we found her. I saw her more initially as a great passer and shooter; then you learn that she can score around the basket and she's a great defensive player too. So she's our backup point guard. And she's not your prototypical point guard. We run a lot of our action through her in the half court. Kelsey will bring the ball up court and then she throws it to Chantel, and Chantel makes those reads. There is not a more instinctive passer in the country. I'm not saying passing post. I'm saying passer, period.

She sees this like chess. I always use that analogy. She plays basketball like a chess player. She's a couple moves ahead of all of us, including me. She'll say some things: “Coach, I think this if we did this.” And lo and behold, she turns out to be right most of the time.

So we had to learn to manage her minutes. Obviously, her freshman year we didn't have a good plan for that. We tried to make her practice every day and got really stickler with those rules. If you can't practice, you can't play. Well, she simply can't practice every day and be ready to play. So we made the decision we'd rather have her on the court for games than practice. So she practices one day less and does a cardio workout in the pool, but she can do that because she's so cerebral. And now we've got her minutes per game up the last five or six games she's playing 37, 38 minutes a night.

Q. I'm sure you've got such a good inside scouting report on Kentucky. Other than Makayla Epps, can you talk about your general impressions of Kentucky?

COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, I think Matthew's done a really good job changing the depth, taking the pressure off full court all the time and becoming a really good half-court team when he needs to be, and I think that's made them a lot harder to play against.

Used to be you knew what you were going to get and he wasn't going to change. Again, it's like a pitcher just having a fastball. They used to have a fastball, and now he's got a changeup, a curve, a slider. It's not just Makayla Epps. Maci Morris can go 4 for 5 on you, if you spend too much attention on her, and if you get a body on those bigs, they're going to both get double- doubles. And Janee Thompson, I've seen her play probably more than anybody in the SEC. We recruited a few of her teammates when I was coaching at Xavier. Just her steady and ability to be big when they needed her to be big.

I think their role development with this team is probably as identifiable as any team of theirs I've seen in the last eight or nine years. I think they really, really have done a good job with the group they've got. I tell you, these guys (the Ratliff twins) don't give me anything. They're still Big Blue Nation unless we're playing. I mean, they didn't give me any tips. But I watch them a lot on film. I've got a lot of friends that coach in the league still.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the Washington women's basketball team press conference. We're joined by Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton and Chantel Osahor. Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kelsey, just winning at Maryland on their home floor, how much confidence does that give you going into what you're facing Friday, and just what's made you a good road team this year? I know your road record is pretty good?

KELSEY PLUM: It was a great team win against Maryland. I think that we just stayed together and we had a great game plan going in. Our coaches did a phenomenal job of getting us prepared. So I think going into tomorrow night we had the same game plan. Obviously, a different team, but we're going to stay together, we're going to fight tremendously hard.

I think defense is going to be the key in this game. And like you said, we've been playing a lot of close games all year on the road. The Pac-12 Conference has really helped us. There have been some really tough teams that we've had to face on the road this year, so I think that's prepared us for this game tomorrow night.

Q. Talia, how do you feel about playing Kentucky in Rupp Arena?

TALIA WALTON: I'm excited. Obviously this is a phenomenal facility and a great city that just loves their basketball here, so it's nice to come in and play in a place like this. As a team we're excited as well, and know it's another challenge that we're going to have to face. I'm excited to see how we overcome.

Q. Kelsey, how do you guys play with five or six players? Has it made you a better, more cohesive team because you have fewer players?

KELSEY PLUM: It's kind of funny, we've been getting this question a lot lately. We've actually played five or six players all year. It's just the five of us and then people that come in. We play really well together and we have a great chemistry. It's not nothing new for us. We're 20-plus years old. There are a lot of media timeouts. You know, we're playing on adrenaline. We have a lot of fun with it. I figured honestly it keeps the game flowing and it allows for things to kind of work together in the game. There is a lot of cohesiveness.

It's really nothing new for us. Obviously Kentucky's a very good team. They have a lot of players that can really go, so it's just going to be another fun challenge for us.

Q. Chantel, I was wondering how much jet lag, if any, you guys have experienced going East Coast back to West Coast and back to East Coast? Coach said you guys sort of voted to go back home. Do you still feel good about that decision? 

CHANTEL OSAHOR:
 Yeah, I feel great. I think we all feel great. No jet lag anywhere. We're good.

Q. Kelsey, I know you were a pretty highly recruited player. What made you decide on Washington when you did, and what made you decide to stick to Washington when the coaching change happened?

KELSEY PLUM:
 I chose the University of Washington for a number of reasons. I loved the school. I love the area of Seattle. Seattle's a basketball town and they really support their women's basketball. In addition to that I wanted to help build a program. Talia and Jazmine Davis and Aminah Williams, they set the foundation, and I wanted to come try something new. No disrespect to top recruits, but they come in and join Baylor or Tennessee or whatever the case may be. Not that that's a bad thing. But I wanted to take a leap of faith and try something different. I stuck with my commitment because that's the school I fell in love with. Those are the teammates I fell in love with and the coaches. And Neighbors is a great basketball mind and he's going to do a good job, so I felt like that was still the right place for me.

Q. Talia, is it odd that your coach is dating a Kentucky fan? Has that become sort of an inside joke?

TALIA WALTON:
 Well, she doesn't look like a Kentucky fan right now. But it's a lot of fun. It felt like it wasn't even a road trip when we got to the hotel because we had little goodie bags in there and cards saying "Go Dawgs" on them. So it was a lot of fun. Obviously we know they've still got a little blue inside their heart, but it's nice to see them supporting us this weekend. No, they're really big fans of ours and they support us throughout the entire year. This is nothing new.

CHANTEL OSAHOR: They bleed purple.

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