BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team, fresh off its 14th Big West Tournament title, is ready to face top-ranked Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The team practiced on Sunday at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University in preparation for the Lady Bears who enter the game 34-0.
The Gauchos, 17-15, are the No. 16 seed in the Des Moines region of the bracket. UCSB has won nine of its last 11 games.
Santa Barbara had its pre-practice press conference in which it answered myriad questions about 6-foot-8 junior Brittney Griner and the possibility of pulling the upset over the Lady Bears. The game will tip-off about 11:30 a.m. in California and will air on ESPN2 and on AM 1290. The audio stream of the game is available by clicking here and the game will also be shown online through ESPN3.
The following is the team's transcript from the press conference on Saturday afternoon.
Emilie, I was just doing some homework on you guys and I noticed one of your favorite movies is Miracle. Is it time to watch it?
Johnson: I just watched it the other day. My friend Kelsey is on the team and she was making fun of me for watching it, again, because it is my favorite movie. It's inspiration for us being a sixteen-seed.
AAU makes women's basketball kind of a small world. Have either of you played Odyssey Sims or Brittney Griner, or will this be the first opportunity to be on the court with either one of them?
Tilleman: I haven't.
Johnson: I have not, either.
Well can I ask then, what are your impressions of the two of them?
Tilleman: Well they are obviously both really great players and we are just enjoying the opportunity to get to play against a good team and also to show them what we have.
Johnson: We are just excited because this opportunity is really a challenge. Both Tilleman and I are competitors and we are excited to go out there and compete and hold our own.
How in the world do you attempt to guard Brittney Griner?
Tilleman: Well, I mean, every player has their weaknesses and their strengths. And I think that just going out with a lot of confidence and doing what I do best, which is maybe a little more physical. I've never been the tallest player on the court even in high school, so I try to use my body well and anticipate what the other player is doing. And, I think it will just be a lot of fun and us playing defense as a team as well will help a lot.
I understand coach brought in someone from the men's team who was like 7'2''? Is that correct?
Tilleman: I think our men's team was out of town when we found that out. But, we were definitely thinking that size.
Who is the tallest player you have gone up against?
Tilleman: I am not sure. Probably, maybe Jayne Appel, possibly, of Stanford. On this team, I don't know, probably 6'4''?
For both of the players, I noticed you guys were 8-13 at one time this season and it couldn't have been a lot of fun with four straight losses. What turned it around? Was it a mental thing? A strategic thing? Where?
Johnson: I think it was we didn't stop believing and most importantly, we didn't stop working hard. Coach challenged us every day in practice regardless of our record. She pushed us because she believes in us also and that is what brought us here today. We peaked at the right time and the most important thing is, we believed. What we believe today has not changed from day one. We pay attention to the details; we play hard on defense and working together as a team. It's just, I think, now, at this point of the season, everything is falling together at the same time. Before, little pieces would work, but now we are where we want to be.
Emilie, the Baylor people were talking about how far they had to come to get to Bowling Green, Ohio, you guys came, pretty much farther to get to Bowling Green, Ohio. Does being an underdog, you think, in an arena that is supposed to be filled tomorrow, do you think you have a chance to have some people start getting behind you?
Johnson: Of course, we love the challenge. I think this year has prepared us for this moment because we have been the underdog all season in the Big West, which is not the position the Gauchos are used to. So, just being an underdog and being the hunters and not the hunted has prepared us all through this year to just keep fighting and to have a mentality of never giving up. It has given a mental toughness to us, an edge, a fight. And we are going to bring that to the court tomorrow.
Will you talk a little about the actual physical travel, how you got here and then just talked a little about being in this circumstance right now?
Tilleman: Being in Santa Barbara, we bussed down to a bigger airport in LA and all got on a plane for a four-hour ride into Toledo. It was long and then with the time change, we left about 8:30 in the morning Santa Barbara time and we didn't get to our hotel until, I don't know, about 9 or so. But we are ready. Every team travels.
On the time change?
Tilleman: I think it's incredibly exciting.
Johnson: I feel excited and ready. I think just the adrenaline of March Madness is what is firing us right now.
Have you thought about the fact that if you hang around long enough in this game, you might get the crowd behind you a little bit? I mean people love upsets and there were some big ones yesterday. Have you thought about that?
Johnson: Definitely. We want to show what this Gaucho team is made of and we have a lot of heart in us. There is something called Gaucho-heart and Gaucho-back and we want to show that tomorrow.
There were two big upsets yesterday in the tournament. The fact that it happened, when you see that does that get you a little more 'Hey, it is March Madness' anything can happen.'
Johnson: That does give us a lot of hope. It is so exciting this time of month even the hotel just passing by and seeing basketball everywhere. We are athletes, we love basketball and this is a great time of year and we are just excited to be one of 64.
Is your favorite scene in 'Miracle' the speech right before they go out to play the Russians?
Johnson: Yes, definitely. 'Great moments are born from great opportunities.'
Is it hard not to get overwhelmed by going up against No.1 in the country, 34-0 and all that?
Johnson: I don't think it's overwhelming, I think it's just exciting and just adds more adrenaline to be a part of this March Madness. Because we are one of 64, whether we are No.1, No.30 or No. 64, we are still in this tournament and we are coming to compete.
UCSB COACH CARLENE MITCHELL QUOTES – 3/17/2012
Coach, they must be afraid we're going to come after you or something.
Mitchell: No, I just think the fact that I have had their back all year long, and you know, they want to make sure that I'm taken care of, and I appreciate that.
How have you tried to replicate Griner in practice is there a way to do that?
Mitchell: There's no way. There is absolutely no way to replicate her, and I did mention that Greg Somogyi is the closest on our campus to Brittney Griner. We have gone about our week the same way you always do, I don't know if you can make a lot of changes in two or three days to get ready for what she actually brings to the court.
Coach, do you go into the game telling the kids that this is a no lose situation, maybe, and take your swings and see what happens.
Mitchell: You know, I want our kids to be so confident that they actually believe they have a chance to win and that is just my personality and I want them to have the same, and at the end of the day they are going to give the effort. We might play our best game and still not win, but I want these kids to believe and enjoy the opportunity. But, like somebody mentioned, if you can keep it close, anything can happen.
Coach, besides Griner, what else do you see when scouting Baylor?
Mitchell: One thing that they…its their role players that always come up big for them. Destiny Williams always comes up big because Brittney Griner always demands a double or triple team, and then if Odyssey Sims is on, it's over with. And then, from watching film, its what teams take a chance on, them missing outside shots. And knowing that Griner is going to get 25 or 30 a night, you have to do a good job of transition defense and blocking out or Williams will be there to hurt you as well.
Coach, John Wagner from the Toledo Blade, I asked the ladies a little bit about the physical trip here; could you talk about the route the team took and basically having to win the tournament to get here.
Mitchell: Well again, my first year I wanted to build a program and not just a team, and we have a special group of young women that have bought into that, and I knew early it could be ugly as you're putting in a whole new system and a whole new mindset. But, what I kept promising them, if they would just buy into the system and how I wanted things done that we could peak at the right time. And they get that, you have to give all the credit to the kids for buying into what we wanted them to do.
Coach, Jack Carle from here in town: You're the fourth team to come in here today, and I think we have seen the most smiles from your girls than from maybe any other of the three teams. Is that the type of attitude you are playing with now, you are playing with, this your first year, house money? You've gotten to the NCAA tournament, is that the attitude you have taken now?
Mitchell: No, they weren't going to be satisfied that they were just here; that's not my personality, and when I took this job that was not my expectations from my administration; it was to take it to another level and not just be happy that you were in the NCAA tournament. So I don't want that to come across at all to you guys or the kids, but the fact that we had a tough trip to get there, with just 15 losses. Not that it isn't a great season, but I think we have the most losses, or maybe the second most losses out of anybody in the tournament. But, when we walk on the court it's ok to be a little split personality we will probably have a few smiles until maybe after the game or maybe not.
Coach, going back to the that point in the season where you were sitting at 8-13, what helped to get it turned around—were there any sit down talks or maybe a powwow or anything like that?
Mitchell: I was an assistant for 16 years and there were a lot of those powwows, some team meetings; lets get together and figure it out. There were no team meetings this year, and again that's a credit to the type of kids that I inherited and also to my staff we won together. But no, we never strayed from what we wanted to do. And again, the kids knowing my background and pedigree they respect that I could help get them to this position of playing in the NCAA.
Coach your background Kansas State, correct?
Mitchell: Yes, I did play there a long time ago.
What did you get out of that, it was the Big 8 back then, and now being the Big 12, does that give you anything or was it too long ago?
Mitchell: No, I had a great coach there in Brian Agler, who is head coach of the Seattle Storm, so I took a little bit of his personality you know, along with Vivian Stringer's mindset, and then the late Kurt Budke. So, you know, that's my background and they're all great coaches in their own right, but I think a lot of it is just mental toughness side of things, and it has carried over to the personality of this team. I played for Kurt Budke at Trinity Valley and we won the first national championship there.