March 9, 2005
An Interview With: AIR FORCE ACADEMY FALCONS
JIM MILLER: From the Air Force Academy, head coach Ardie McInelly; No. 25, Lauren Henderson; and No. 44, Jacki Novak.
Coach, we'll begin with you if you want to make opening comments and then we'll open it up for questions for the student athletes.
COACH MCINELLY: Well, we asked one thing of our players tonight, and that was to come out and play their hardest, give it 110 percent effort, and I think our players did that. We struggled in the first half offensively. We didn't shoot very well, but our players hung in there, and they just continued to work on defense.
The second half, I think that we came out, and if we look at the amount of points scored in the second half, they still outscored us 24-30, but we did much better offensively, and defensively we held them to shooting 39 percent and I take a lot of pride in that because I think University of Utah is an extremely good player. When you have co-players on your team as Shona Thorburn and Kim Smith, they've got a lot of things to work with, and Elaine Elliott has certainly done a nice job.
I will say this, that I admire Elaine Elliott. She and I graduated from the same institution, that was Boise State. She was leaving Boise State as I was entering so I never did get to play with her, but she was always someone that I looked up to, and I think she's certainly done a wonderful job. She's helped me become a better coach. I just know that our players played against a pretty good team today, and when we competed. I'm extremely proud of them. I wish it wouldn't end right now, but we've got a lot of youth on our team. We only lose one junior, and most of the people that played on our team were all freshmen and sophomores, as I have sitting here. Lauren Henderson is a freshman and Jacki Novak is a sophomore. There's some good things to come from the Air Force Academy and I'm looking forward to next year already.
Question: For the players, talk about defending the three-point shot. Utah made a lot of threes tonight. Why was that such a problem area for you guys?
LAUREN HENDERSON: Well, when we were transitioning back on defense, sometimes we got confused where all the players were, and they ended up having a lot of uncontested threes. That's something we've been trying to work on this season, and we're definitely going to get better for next season.
Question: Jacki, do you want to answer the same question?
JACKI NOVAK: Same, I agree. I guess we were getting back on defense and we were picking out people. It seemed like a lot of times we were missing a couple -- offensive rebound on us and we'd kick it out with an uncontested shot. It seemed like all their shots they made were actually uncontested.
Question: Certainly this game seemed to be a little more competitive than the last two times you played Utah. What was difficult for you about the match-up this year with Utah and what was different about tonight's game than the two previous?
JACKI NOVAK: I think the difference between tonight's game and the difference, we worked so hard . I haven't seen our team come out that hard all season long. We played hard, but everyone was giving it their all, and that made a huge difference, and watch out next time. It's going to be even a better game.
Question: When you're trying to beat a team like that, I'm sure maybe you're not noticing, but do you sort of see Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn and say we can play at that level at some point, we're a growing program?
LAUREN HENDERSON: Oh, definitely. You know, we're really young, and we have a lot of dedicated people who are going to get out in the post-season and off-season and just lift weights, get stronger to where we can push at those big teams like that. We're all going to work really hard so where we can compete with those girls.
JIM MILLER: Ladies, you're excused. We'll open it up now for questions for Coach.
Question: Your top two scorers tonight went 1 for 16 combined from the field. You probably needed a few more shots from them in the first half. Is that a fair assessment?
COACH MCINELLY: Well, I think that a couple of the players from the University of Utah, both Deanne Hanchett and Jessica Perry, every time Alecia Steele got the ball, they troubled on her. She just didn't get the shots and the open looks that she normally gets. I credit that to Elaine Elliott and her scouting and stopping one of our high point scorers. I think that's something that we have to continue to work on. We need to expand Alecia's repertoire as far as her post moves and being able to extend her shot selection, as well.
It was due to their defense as well as us not being able to -- with Alecia. I think with Letricia Castillo, I think she pressed a little bit. She took some shots where she really wasn't open, tried to force the issue. Those two went out and played their hearts out, and I can't fault them. We just need to work on a lot of things during the off-season, especially our shooting. We'd like to be able to shoot as well as Utah and New Mexico.
Question: Can you just reflect a little bit on this season and any steps that you feel like your program might have made? I mean, Elaine was in here earlier, and to quote her accurately, she said that she feels like Air Force is going to make a difference in this league in the next couple years. Do you feel like you're close to that?
COACH MCINELLY: Well, I do. I think my staff has done an exceptional job in recruiting, and you can tell by the youth on our team that we're getting more athletic, and now we just have to improve on our skills. I think it's all due to our recruiting and the people who have been here and the support of our administration to allow us to go out and go all over at least the Midwest and the West to try to find players.
I think that we've seen a lot of improvement this year. I wish we could have won a little bit more games. We lost two overtime games earlier. We had some close games here during our season, the conference season, but we're heading in the right direction. As a coaching staff and as players and as administration, we know that we're just going to -- we have to stay positive. We have to look forward to the future and we have to continue to try to just continue bringing in young athletes and young ladies that can help with our program, and that's what we're doing.
Question: Do you think Kim and Shona will go down as two of the outstanding players in this conference?
COACH MCINELLY: Oh, I do. I mean, they've already made a name for themselves. They're only juniors, and they're Co-Players of the Year. They've had a lot of experience, not only at University of Utah but playing for the Canadian National Team, and that bodes well for the University of Utah, bodes well for them as when they graduate they will go on and play in the WNBA. It's nice to have players like that in our conference, and I know that other teams, we look at who made the All-Conference Team. I'm sure it was close in many areas. I mean, Ashley Elliott, she's a great player for University of Wyoming. I think that Lindsey Arndt, Mandi Moore, Dionne Marsh, there are good players on all of the teams, and Elaine happens to have two of the best, and I do think that should they go to the NCAA, think that -- you say, well, should, I hope that two of our teams get to go to the NCAA and I hope it would be University of Utah and New Mexico. I hope they both get bids to go because they're certainly both deserving.
JIM MILLER: Thanks, Coach.
An Interview With: UNIVERSITY OF UTAH UTES
JIM MILLER: We're joined by University of Utah head coach Elaine Elliott; student athletes No. 4, Kim Smith; No. 10, Shona Thorburn. We'll start with you, Coach, if you could just open with some opening remarks and then we'll open up some questions for the student athletes.
COACH ELLIOTT: Well, I thought it was a good first game. I think Air Force does some things really well and they're really committed to the hustle plays, and I think that's what makes them so tough.
They did a really good job on the offensive boards the first half. We did a better job of trying to shut that down a little bit in the second half. Just trying to get going, feel comfortable and feel like you can maybe improve your play each day as the tournament goes, and that's what we'll try to get done.
I really think that Air Force has a nice club and I've told her so and I think they've done really well and they're going to make a difference in this league in the next couple of years.
Question: Kim, what was it from your perspective that was allowing Air Force to do so well in that rebounding battle, particularly in the first half?
Kim Smith: They were just going harder than we were, I think. We weren't pushing them back and they weren't chasing the balls as hard as they were, and that was what we tried to change in the second half, and I think we did a better job at times.
Question: Either one of you, can you talk about how difficult it is to play a team you've beaten twice already this year and trying to get up for the game?
Shona Thorburn: It's easy to get up for a game in a conference tournament. Any team we play, come across, it's very easy to get up for any game here, so that's not something we need to worry about I don't think.
Question: For either of you, the three-point shooting was so strong and high percentage. I'm just wondering, maybe Kim in particular, how many threes you'll put up in a practice or after practice or in a pre-game?
Kim Smith: The number? I couldn't tell you. I mean, I work out after practices with the coach and just a rebounder or manager and just put up some extra shots every day. Your extra time in the gym is always going to pay off. That's always how I've played and how I've thought. It's starting to, and our whole team, we all put up extra time in the gym and we try and get up more shots.
JIM MILLER: Ladies, you can be excused. At this point we'll open it up to questions for Coach Elliott.
Question: How much if at all are you really gearing toward hoping to meet New Mexico again in that championship game? Do you think that far?
COACH ELLIOTT: No.
Question: What do you need to improve on for the next game over what you did tonight because you'll have a much better opponent, whoever it is?
COACH ELLIOTT: I really feel like we sort of kicked in and our play has improved each game. I think in any kind of conference tournament, a three-game set like this, you're going to have a game, if not two, you hope not two certainly, but there's going to be a game in there that you're going to have to gut out, and if you're going to win it all, you're going to play well, but you're probably not going to sit and think after three games that every one was your best game.
You have to be okay with that and step on the floor and gut out the next play, do what it takes to gut through those times, whenever they hit, and hope by the end you're playing your best.
JIM MILLER: Thanks, Coach.