Coach Stone, just your thoughts about opening the Big Ten Conference season and just where you guys are at this point and if you feel that you are ready to do that?
“Our non-conference schedule was a tough one and if you look at the teams we played. I went back and tallied these stats; DePaul has one loss, Marquette has one loss, Notre Dame has one loss, Kansas is 10-0. Western Illinois has two losses. So you look at a combined five teams that we played have a total of five losses. Hopefully, and in my mind, and we start a new brand new season. My optimism, my belief in this basketball team, this young basketball team, is still there. Very positive and the timing of Christmas couldn’t have come at a better time to come back. We are practicing today, and we will get ready for Purdue.
“The Big Ten Conference itself, in my mind, it’s as strong as it’s been. It has a different look this year than last. There’s great young teams mainly at Purdue. Coming in Purdue with Erin Lawless and Katie Gearlds have been around a long time. They have been the dynamic duo for Purdue for quite some time. And a freshman, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton (now a sophomore) that is a fantastic player that Janese Banks was able to play with her this past summer (with the Big Ten foreign tour team).
“And you can go right down the list of their players, from (Natasha) Bogdanova to (Aya) Traore, they have great depth. Another ranked team.
“If you look at the Big Ten with Michigan State going to the national championship game last year; Ohio State certainly is a perennial power this year; Minnesota is off to a great start. Our league is one of the best in the business so our non-conference schedule going in was a measuring stick and obviously we would have liked to have more success. However, I do believe that some of the lessons that we learned, particularly with our young players, hopefully will bode will as we enter the Big Ten season.”
“…. You don’t want to flinch. You don’t want to change course. There is really nothing that we are doing wrong outside of the fact that we need to continue to grow and get better. I would like to use as an example of young players. Chris Spencer is a great example. Chris Spencer played (14) minutes the other night and has played a reserve role and in some games, even in Hawaii didn’t even get off the bench. But as we see her and watch her grow and watch Danielle Ward grow and Caitlin Gibson, some of these young players, certainly you take the good from that and build confidence. Because Caitlin Gibson never had to go against somebody at the same level as a post player from Notre Dame. The 6-7 kid the other night from Western Illinois…they don’t make them like that in Jefferson, Wis.
“My whole thing is we take the good and move on. We put behind us and hopefully we take the good from it. A great message to me was that every single player called me yesterday. That doesn’t always happen and it might sound like a girl thing, but it was flattering to know that they were thinking about each other and sharing the holiday spirit with their teammates and their coaches and ready to come back to work hard. We’ll just take that and continue to grow and bond together and hopefully knock somebody off. That’s our goal right now. We need to start the Big Ten season fresh, infuse ourself with energy, and we have all that. And now we want to find the result we are still searching for.”
Lisa, in your experience, do players come back from a Christmas break rusty or relaxed?
“Both. I have a standing joke with my staff and a member of my staff is Stephanie Schmitz, a point guard, that I gave them four days off one time. She was a player for me. We had just knocked off a ranked team, Tulane, and I gave them a four-day break, brought them back with three days to prepare for a game… I didn’t even know who they were. (Tonight) we have the traditional Lisa Stone Holiday Run that will take place this evening. I like to run and no one on my team does. It’s always interesting. And so we get the rust and the relaxation out early. They are all driving back right now thinking about what’s going to happen. I kind of like that a little bit. And once that’s over, we will go back to business.
“I think it’s very easy. We all sat there yesterday watching basketball and football and the Packers, and eating one more cookie or whatever it might be and when you get back, I think, actually it feels good to run around and get back into a regular routine. I’m looking forward to this time as well, where the stress of academics will not be on our players through this next couple of weeks as we head into Big Ten season. Our toughest travel is now and we’re out of classes. We come back in the month of January and if I’m not mistaken we are at home quite often with Big Ten games as we start the semester. As I look at the rust and the holiday hangover, they have only had a two-day break but we will get them back in shape quickly tonight.”
Purdue didn’t have the record its used to last year. In what ways have you seen them improve?
“I think they are more mature. Kristy (Curry) does a great job with them and when you look at the success of particularly Lawless and Gearlds. As freshman, they had a tremendous first two years at Purdue and now they are the leaders on that team. And I think the combination of, and even Sharika Webb is doing some nice things distributing the basketball for them. They are very big. Katie Gearlds is all of 6-2, 6-3 maybe. They are big girls. They’ve learned to play together, they learned their style. They will play multiple defenses on us. They have been pressing a little bit more this year. So I just think it’s the growth of the program and their commitment to going to where they hope to go this year.”
There was obviously a lot of optimism going into this season about this team but here you are with a similar record based on the last two years. But does it feel different to you or does it feel the same as the last two years?
“It feels different because we so expect it. I think you go into your first season, you do what you can. And the next year you have a little higher expectations, you put a lot of pressure on freshmen. This is the year we have said all along we want to be a breakout year.
“Even after our game on Friday night we talked in the locker room a lot about our schedule and why do we schedule these games? And the players said ‘to get us ready for the Big Ten. And you expect us to be successful’… It’s in their head; we need to put it into action now. As we look at this and the optimism is there; the players are growing. They are getting better. If you watch the style of play from year one to now, it is a different brand of basketball. The young players and, likewise, our upper classmen have improved. Look at Annie Nelson and how she’s improved. Kjersten Bakke when she’s not injured. You look at the leadership that is being provided, as well as the expectations. This is the year that our seniors want to taste post-season success but we’ve got some work to do.”
You mentioned Danielle earlier, when you think of the people who have improved on the team. Where does she fit in?
“I think she has slowed the game down in her mind a bit. There’s been flashes of that. “We still have a long way to go yet. The athleticism that she has and when you can combine her with Caitlin (Gibson), they are two different type of players. I think it can throw an offense off if you rotate somebody that can bang a little bit and another person that can get out in the open floor. It gives us a different dimension. But Danielle has allowed the game to slow down for her. She still has to continue to learn the game. We are seeing certainly some steady improvement.”
You have talked about that defense is the key to a lot of things this year. You weren’t happy with it the other night. Is it communication? Is it intensity? Is it people aren’t in the right spot?
“… It’s hard to pinpoint it. It was frustrating to give up 57 percent from the field, take 20 more shots than our opponent and to have just nine turnovers. It’s certainly not our offense. Our defense is allowing drives to the basket and so forth. The concept we are trying to portray this year is a bit different. We are trying to deny the high post so people can’t get high-low on us. We are trying to contain the ball and not give up dribble penetration. And the discipline of it is something that we have to stick to and watch film. It’s been hit and miss. One game it’s right where we want it, and the next game where it is I’m not sure. It’s not anything different in practice. It’s adjustments we have to make and be more consistent on the defensive end is what we’re looking for in the Big Ten.
With the defense you are hoping to get steals and buckets in transition. When that doesn’t happen, you are left with in your half-court offense. When that occurs, how do you feel the offense has been running in the half court?
“That’s showing up on the free throw line, too. We’ll spend a lot of time. After we run tonight, we are shooting. We will probably shoot 500 shots and make 500 shots. That could take a long time. The bottom line is we have to shoot the ball better; get more people involved play a little bit better together on the offensive end.
“Defensively, again, the consistency we have. If you noticed in the game against Western Illinois we had five shot clocks running under five seconds and they scored on each one of them with a layup. Just that extra effort, that digging down, and the continued box out. We got out-rebounded (by Western Illinois) and that is uncharacteristic for our team. Just details, we have to pay a lot more attention to detail when it comes to stops and closing people down. We talk about one and done and getting it together on offense.”