March 24, 2014
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The Michigan State women's basketball team returned to Carmichael Arena on Monday to take part in the NCAA Tournament Second Round practice day. The Spartans, who play host No. 4 North Carolina on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. on ESPN2, held a press conference and practice this afternoon.
MICHIGAN STATE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Merchant: We're looking forward to the game ahead. And looking forward to North Carolina, what a talented team, really athletic and fast and they do a lot of things extremely well. Certainly on their home floor will be a challenge, too, but we look forward to it.
What did you see from UNC in the first round game against UT Martin...
Merchant: There's a lot we can take from that game certainly. I thought their [UNC's] defense really came alive down the stretch and forced some composure issues and put UT Martin in a position where they couldn't score the ball. And they got their transition game going and also the rebound-putback situation, both of those things really came to light down that stretch.
How much do you want to add a Sweet 16 to two Big Ten titles? What will be the key for you to reach the Sweet 16?
Pickrel: I think that would be pretty awesome to cap the year off. To get there, we're going to have to have some really tight defense tomorrow night and work together like we did in the last game and focus on what they do well. They're a really good team, they can get it rolling, so we're really going to have to work together.
Bell: From watching the game last night, one of the things that stuck in my head is how great they are at offensive rebounding. I don't know how many points they had off of offensive rebounds - one girl made it from the floor, she was sitting down and made a shot from the floor. We're really going to have to box out. And because I'm a guard, guard-play wise, they have some great guards that can get in there and get some offensive rebounds, and their bigs rebound every single time. So I think that's something we're really going to have to focus on.
You match up better size-wise with North Carolina than UT Martin did. Do you think play underneath is going to be a dominant part of the game? Or are you going to be able to run with them? What do you think are going to be the keys?
Merchant: We do have a little bit more size and strength in our post game than UT Martin. At the same time, it's not a great predictor of success. Those guys have played an ACC schedule with a lot of post guys who can match up with them. It's really about making sure we do certain things well. I feel better than we're not a tiny team going in there. In looking at them, you look at their size, but to me it's the power and strength that they have. They're not 6-5, 6-6 kids - and we've faced that in our league - it's how strong they are at moving you around so they can go get the rebound. That's really impressive. We have some bigger kids we hope can combat some of that, and that's our goal. That will be a big goal for us.
I don't know if anybody can run with them. They're as good as anybody I've seen, 1 through 5 in transition. When they have their transition game going, that's impressive. I don't know if it's really about running with them as much as it's trying to stop their run game.
On UNC freshman Diamond DeShields...
Merchant: She's the National Freshman of the Year, she's impressive. She can score the ball so many different ways and is unbelievably athletic. The thing I like about the kid is her ability to defend. She's always on the best player on the other team, so it's not like she just cares about one side of the ball.
[Xylina] McDaniel is a heck of a talent ,too. I think she was born into that, but she plays so hard and works so hard. I think North Carolina plays extremely hard and it probably starts with those two.
About the freshmen on the two teams...
Merchant: We both have had significant impacts with our freshman classes. I know we wouldn't be where we are without their (the freshman players') success, and our teams' success is included in that. I'm sure North Carolina is exactly the same way - their two leading scorers are their freshmen. They wouldn't be where they are without their freshmen as well.
How do you combat the depth of the UNC bench?
Pickrel: It makes the scouting report so much longer. Each of their players is so different so you have to be able to defend every type of player. It makes it a lot tougher and that's a good thing for them.
Bell: You definitely can't take a breath when one of their players come in off the bench. If DeShields goes out and one of their other player comes in, it's not like you can take a break. She's probably just as good, can get to the rim, can shoot a three, shoot a pull-up jumper. Like Anna said, you've really got to know the scouting report and know their strengths and weaknesses.
Momentum carryover from Sunday's games?
Merchant: We were anxious to get back on the court. For us, we just wanted to execute well and focus as much as we can on what Hampton did, we didn't look ahead at all and really focused on what we needed to do to be the best team we could be on that night. The outcome was what it was and I give our kids a lot of credit - I thought they did a great job with the scouting report and really focused. On to the next one.
What do you know about UNC's personnel?
Bell: Last night we watched the game against UT Martin, so we were able to se what their players could do out there on the court. I don't necessarily know if that was their best game they've ever played, so we also have a whole bunch of film and we watched the scouting report last night after we got home. I would say that we know a little bit about them but definitely coach is going to make sure we know them inside and out before we play them on Tuesday.
On preparing to play on UNC's home floor after playing in front of a large Hampton crowd on Sunday...
Merchant: Thankfully, we play in the Big Ten, which has tremendous fan support in most venues, so we've gone into hostile territory a lot . It wasn't unusual. I thought Hampton would have a crowd, but I was surprised at how big it was myself. I think our kids handled that well. We play in a league that really does well attendance wise and when you walk into a venue everybody hates you, so we're kind of used to it.
Do you have a good idea going into NCAA games of how your freshmen will react?
Merchant: I wasn't sure. Our Big Ten Tournament in terms of freshman play wasn't spectacular, it was OK. It wasn't what they were capable of doing on a consistent basis. But I don't get caught up in a lot of that stuff - I think our job is to put the best gameplan we can together, based on what we know about our team and their skill set, this is what we're going to look at offensively, this is what we're going to try to do defensively and at the end of the day you can't get caught up in worrying about who is going to show up or not. We're a better team when everybody is playing together and is sharp and focused. We've had a long season ... to me, those kids, just like North Carolina's freshmen, they're not freshmen anymore. The minutes they've logged, the time they've played ... you look at that, both those freshman classes are probably at the start of their junior year when you look at minutes played and experiences.
On the strength of the ACC...
Merchant: I think they're a really good conference, obviously. There are some perennial powers in there, we've played many of them. The depth of the conference, the athleticism, there are really good coaches in this league - it's impressive to watch on television and on film. All coaches in this league do a great job of recruiting and do a great job with x's and o's.
On the difference in style between ACC and Big Ten...
Merchant: A lot of people talk about that, but I don't think so anymore. I think in the past there probably has been - they said the Big Ten was kind of a slow-it-down conference, bigger and more power game, and these guys (ACC) were more up-and-down. I don't know if that's 100 percent true anymore. There's probably some threads of that but I don't think it's as big of a margin as it used to be in terms of the way the teams performed and played.
Most important things you have to do tomorrow to win?
Bell: Played defense, definitely that's going to be huge for us. If we can play defense and rebound then we can put the ball in transition like we like to do. I don't know if that's the game plan or not but if we play defense and rebound, that's going to be monumental for us.
Pickrel: And also taking out their transition offense, that's a big part of their game. So that's another part of defense, I guess.
Bell: As well as putting the ball in the basket. Can't win games without scoring. Defense and then we have to make the extra pass and make sure that we're making our shots.
NORTH CAROLINA PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Andrew Calder, North Carolina Associate Head Coach
Diamond DeShields, Freshman Guard
Xylina McDaniel, Sophomore Forward
Calder: We're very happy we're one of 32 teams left. I feel like we got the rust off our game last night. We had great, great intensity the last 10 minutes - it was a great comeback, congratulations to the players. We tried to pair up Diamond and Xylina as much as possible in our offense. Diamond wanted the ball in certain spots on the floor and we played from there, and then we moved her to point guard after a little while and things worked out for us. We're very excited about the win last night to advance to the final 32.
As far as Michigan State, they're a very talented team, well-coached, they start five players that can shoot the 3, which spreads the floor. They have a very good driving game because the floor is spread, and they have a very good power game inside, and they play very good position defense. We're looking forward to the challenge.
Looking back, do you think you took UT Martin lightly?
McDaniel: I'm not going to say that we took them lightly. They played one of the best games they could play. Coming into this next game, we're going to focus on doing what we need to do, doing what we do best, which is playing defense. It's not really about taking a team lightly or not, it's about doing what we do best.
What do you think stood out to you most as a freshman about playing in the NCAA Tournament?
DeShields: I think what stood out the most was just getting it out of the way. It kind of reminded me of my first ever state game in high school, when the same thing happened to me - I ended up fouling out. I had bad nerves and for me it was about getting it out of the way. I understand now that teams are going to be a lot different in this tournament than they were in the season, only because this is the NCAA Tournament and there's a lot at stake. So you're going to get their best game and they're probably going to shock themselves sometimes - other teams are going to just play incredibly. So you have to expect that in every game, and you have to come out ready to play your best game too.
Were you nervous in the first half of the game yesterday?
DeShields: Yes sir, there were definitely nerves, but I understand how to calm myself down and it didn't take long for me to do that. I understood that I didn't want my season to end in the next 20 minutes. So really I just had to get a grip on myself and understand there are certain things that I needed to do as an individual to contribute to the team's success. I didn't do that in the first half. Individually, I had to take it upon myself to do what I've been doing all season or at least half of that in hopes that we could come out and get the win.
MSU has more size than UT Martin. How do you think you'll match up?
McDaniel: I think we'll be fine. Our post players are pretty athletic, pretty solid. It's just going to be how we execute. I don't think we'll have a problem matching up.
Is there a carryover in momentum from the first round game?
Calder: No. It's a new game, a new 40 minutes.
Is there a question of how young players are going to respond in high pressure games like this?
Calder: I've said this before: they're high IQ basketball players, they come ready to play. We'll be looking forward to the challenge tomorrow night. We'll be ready - we will definitely be ready.
How do you get off to a faster start than you have been this season and did on Sunday?
DeShields: We haven't figured it out yet. It's still happening. Like Coach says, every game is a new 40 minutes and now is the time for us to pick it up, now is the time for us to figure it out. So you can expect a better start tomorrow.
On Michigan State's Aerial Powers...
Calder: She's a tremendous athlete and basketball player. 26 [points] and 18 [rebounds] is impressive, it doesn't matter who you're playing, but they were playing a very good Hampton team that had not lost since December. That was very impressive. She does a great job either shooting the basketball or driving to the basket, very talented.
On playing at home at Carmichael and the boost that provides in tough games...
Calder: I thought the fans really helped us on the comeback last night. Our bench was outstanding, too, but I thought the fans were really into the game and I thought it helped us tremendously. So we see it as an advantage, yes, and we hope everybody can attend tomorrow night and pack the place.
Does Michigan State remind you of anybody in the ACC?
Calder: Maryland. I think they play power basketball and Maryland plays a lot of power basketball. They can shot the three, which Maryland can do, and they have a very good post game, which Maryland does also. They remind me a lot of Maryland.