March 7, 2014
COACH MERCHANT: Well, it wasn't the ideal first half for us. I thought you give Michigan credit, they were really taking it to us out of the gates. I thought off the bounce in transition we were a little bit out of sync and just couldn't get into a flow. And that last like eight minutes of the half to really kind of push our way into single digits and be as close as we were given how poorly we were playing and shooting it, I was proud of our kids. I felt like if we could just keep attacking in the second half off the dribble or inside, we would have a chance.
And you know, we made some really key plays down the stretch. I've really got to give these two credit, as well as I thought Branndais Agee off the bench and Jasmine Hines were really big for us.
Q. To me, it looked like sheer will to win out there. Annalise, can you talk about what you guys were thinking? You got -- you get within a couple of points and they'd score three or four and get within one point, they'd score a couple. You kept beating your head against the wall. And then the last, what, a minute and 18, I think you finally got ahead. Talk about the sheer will to win.
ANNALISE PICKREL: I think when it comes to Big Ten play, it's games like that -- it's just back and forth, you know, the lead changes all the time. And I think that especially against Michigan, for us, the will to win is probably the most important part of the game, you know, along with your focus and your energy. And so I have to give credit to them, though. They really stuck it to us in the first half. But we were able to overcome, you know, the things that we weren't doing in the first half, we were able to, you know, get it together in the second half. And it made a big difference for us that we were able to come together communication-wise and also start attacking them like they did to us.
Q. Tori, did you notice any fatigue on their part? This is their second game and they're only playing six people. Did you notice any fatigue at all out there on their part or what do you think happened at the end of the first half to them and the end of the second half?
Yeah. I would -- in the beginning they were really giving it out and pushing it on us and we struggled to get back in transition. But towards the end of the first half and the end of the second half, well, half of it was because we were getting stops and they weren't making every shot they were taking so we were able to get the ball out and go in transition, which usually helps us. I think that was one of the main reasons why we ended up taking the lead and bringing the lead down in the end of the first half.
Q. Tori, what has the process been for you kind of finding the right mindset for the role you're playing and the minutes you're playing now for this team?
TORI JANKOSKA: Well, Kiana [Johnson] was out in the beginning of the season for some medical reasons. And that gave me a little bit of a chance to see how it was to play point guard whenever Klarissa [Bell] was out in the middle of the Big Ten, it helped me out a lot just learning and adapting to the way you have to score at the point guard position, and just having the ball in your hands most of the time and getting everybody in the right spots and having the right mindset to be the point guard instead of a shooting guard.
Q. Annalise, could you talk about what you did in the first half to keep you guys in the game?
ANNALISE PICKREL: I just tried to keep everybody composed and keep everyone kind of focused and energized and really wanting to win. But I would definitely have to say that my teammates have put me in positions that I was able to score, and Coach, as well. So the credit goes to them. But I just tried to keep us glued together in the first half.
Q. Tori, I don't know if you covered this or not, but on your last possession when you drove for the basket, did you see Annalise open and what was your thought process there?
TORI JANKOSKA: I didn't see her open but I thought -- I don't know how many seconds were left, but there wasn't very many. So I figured we should slow it down instead of getting a quick three. I mean, she could have made it and she probably would have. I just thought time, score, possession, like Coach always says, we need to slow it down and make sure we got a good shot. And really having the offensive rebounding position like Branndais had and got an offensive board and put the basket back in.
Q. Suzy, did you ever think you would win with Aerial [Powers] shooting one for nine?
COACH MERCHANT: No. I think Aerial got in her own way to today, that's for sure. You know, she was overthinking and not just playing. But it was nice to see other people step up and really to add to that, Klarissa [Bell] was not very good today. You know, she was kind of -- I mean, just in a place that I hadn't seen her in a long time. So you know, it was good. She got some rest, I guess, is the best way to put it. Her and Aerial didn't play extended minutes. But it did allow I thought Jasmine Hines and Branndais Agee had some huge plays. I mean, that steal down the stretch, the rebound, a couple of defensive possessions at the very, very end. That's been something we've really been harping with her on. She's got great length and athleticism, but sometimes she can do some things like in the first half where she just went after No. 2 for no reason and just got her second foul. So we've really tried to get her to be a little more disciplined defensively, and I thought she's as good as she's has been in the second half and really sparked us in some key plays.
Q. Touch on Branndais [Agee]. Just kind of talk about the way that she's kind of stayed ready for you guys and kind of prepared for a moment like this.
COACH MERCHANT: Obviously she's been getting a lot more minutes as of late, the last eight, nine games. I think it's hard as a freshman; everybody's journey is different, especially in her situation when there's three freshmen and two of the freshmen are starting and playing and people are talking about them. They've had good seasons. It's not that maybe Branndais is doing something wrong; sometimes it's that there's a veteran senior in her position, and that's kind of the case where you have Klarissa [Bell], who's really a natural swing guy and started the season that way, as well as Annalise [Pickrel].
I think the credit goes to Branndais because she didn't allow that to get her so frustrated that she wasn't focused in practice. There's things she has to do better. She's really worked at them. And that being the defensive side of the ball for us. There's natural things she does, driving the ball and rebounding, that kind of thing. Little things. She made her free throws today. She really defended well in the quarter court when we needed someone out there, because Klarissa has been our defender. I really give Branndais a lot of credit. It's not an easy pill to swallow when you watch two of the three freshmen start and play a lot of minutes and you're just trying to fight for yours. But since there's been a transition there with Kiana [Johnson], she's really taken advantage of us and sparked us in many games.
Q. On their last possession, it seemed like Becca [Mills] was out guarding?
COACH MERCHANT: We were switching every screen. Yeah. I don't want to hedge them. I thought about taking Becca out, but actually Becca does a pretty good job in late-clock situations when you know they're going for a three, maybe not so much when you know they're going to drive it and turn the corner, but I felt like they were going to stay behind ball screens and rescreen and flare screen, and she's usually pretty solid at that with her length.
I thought if she could switch out on the No. 2 or [Madison] Ristovski, she would at least maybe bother the shot some. So I did keep her in there and we did go with the switch everything situation, which was, I thought, the right thing to do. But certainly I can understand the angst that maybe some people saw when Becca was going against Siera Thompson.
Q. Going back to the will-to-win thing, again, your team had gotten out, you know, you kept batting your head against the door, so to speak, and finally broke through. What do you think was the key to that? Was it just leadership? What was it that put you guys over the top?
COACH MERCHANT: I think there was a few things. You have to look at our vets a little bit. I do think Annalise's [Pickrel] will to win, as you mentioned, you know, was there from start the finish. And sometimes when things aren't going our way we can kind of become an individualized team. Everybody wants to put the team on their back, but because of that, it's like one-pass shot, we're one and done and that kind of thing. She didn't allow that to happen. And then I thought when Becca [Mills] and Jas [Jasmine Hines] played together in there, their experience, their ability to play together, feed each other, rebound, defend [Cyesha] Goree and Val Driscoll at the same time, I thought those three in particular were really instrumental the whole game. I thought Branndais' will to win there down the stretch really plummeted us in into an opportunity where she basically won the game for us with the steal and the rebound put-back and the defensive tie-up.
Q. A what role or roles did you envision Tori [Jankoska] playing when you guys started preseason?
COACH MERCHANT: The kid is, she talks about point guard position. You know, I didn't recruit her to be a point guard. I thought she would play some every now and then as a scoring point guard. I think that's something she does bring. She can hit that three behind the high-ball screen. We call it a Texas screen. You know, she has the ability to pull the trigger from there. It gives us a different look. We can go into a big lineup.
I mean, I anticipated her playing some, certainly not this much. To her credit, to hear her talk about time, score, possession, I almost had a heart attack. I thought I was going into arrhythmia. It's just gratifying a little bit to hear that. It's not her natural position. It's not something that she came here to do, but given the circumstances, it is what it is. And we've had many players that have been in that situation and have triumphed and been resilient, and she's one of them. She's a high-character kid. And I think high-character kids will do whatever it takes for the team. That's what I've seen out of her. If it's point guard, it's point guard. If it's two guard, it's two guard. She'll do whatever we need her to do.
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