Question: Confidence booster, winning at Alabama, going into this one?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I think just coming off two losses and hitting the road in conference is tough, and I like how we responded. I thought we played tough. I thought mentally and physically we executed our game plan. We were strong with it, and really, it was a game of runs, and we held them off to where we needed to finish the game, and we did. So I know I said before they were a good Alabama team, I don’t think anybody believes how good—they’re a good team, and very good defensively, and I think they actually helped to prepare us for this game.
Question: Heather Bowe, can you talk about her play?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, Heather’s been just slowly developing, and to be honest with you, she hasn’t played as many minutes as I had wanted her to because Tiffany Clarke and Elan Brown had been so steady and consistent for us, and I’ve trusted them and I wanted them on the floor.
So one of the adjustments I made was to play a bigger lineup and get Elan off the post a little bit to keep her fresher and get her on the perimeter and to get Heather more minutes.
So there were two things I was looking for, Elan to knock down shots from the perimeter, not being tired, she’s getting open looks and she knocked down two at the end of the Alabama game, so my theory worked there, to keep her fresher. There’s a lot of things she can do, not just defending the post but she can defend the drive as well and I think we’ve been struggling doing that.
So she’s helped us at the guard, so I keep Elan on the floor more, but then that gave more minutes for Heather. The more minutes Heather plays, the more productive she is. And she’s also very tough. She’s one of our toughest players and one of our hardest workers. So the theory was successful, and we’re going to continue to carry that out, just tweak things a little bit.
Question: You said she was developing slowly, was that just kind of a typical freshman or . .
Coach Balcomb: No, I think if anything I held her back by not getting her enough minutes. She’s gotta play. . . . You see some players as freshmen I’ve seen in the past -- I play freshmen right away and I want to play them, it’s my philosophy -- they do well against teams that are not BCS, not SEC, and I’ve noticed that Heather is the opposite. The tougher the teams, the more physical, the more athletic, the better she is. She doesn’t prey on the little kids; she actually is big in the bigger games.
So I felt that once SEC came, I needed to find more minutes for her, and that’s why we adjusted Elan a little bit, and that helped her get more minutes so you saw more productivity, so I actually felt like I was holding her back a little bit with that trust, trying to keep Tiffany and Elan on the court.
This way I can keep them on the court so much. And then I’ve got to trust Rayte’a [Long] and Kendall [Shaw]. We have three post players injured so now you got two other post players coming off the bench. That makes us thin at the post, but I think Rayte’a and Kendall are both coming along as well as freshmen, and you’re going to see them get more minutes.
Question: With the success you saw with the bigger lineup against Alabama, will you look at starting Heather at some point to get those three six-foot players on the court at once?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, absolutely. We’re definitely considering that.
Question: The last game was Jasmine Lister, who has been really steady all year, had 11 turnovers. What do you make of that?
Coach Balcomb: I think she was tired. That’s what I mean when I say Alabama prepared us for Texas A&M and probably for Kentucky. They played very similar to that, just didn’t have the experience and couldn’t finish the plays on offense. But defensively, they ran at Jas all night, pressured her all night, forced her to work to get the ball, to bring it up.
What we’re going to have to do is, we’re going to need some help, just like I took Elan and moved her to the three because she was playing exhausted and maybe not getting the productivity on offense that I think we can get from Elan, same with Jas. I think if we can get Jas off the point a little bit, we would cut down on her turnovers and I think her shooting percentage would go up.
So that’s been the other focus, is having other guards bring up the floor as well as developing another point guard behind her and trying to get her off the point. Whether she comes off the floor, like Elan – I didn’t really take her off the floor a lot, she did get into foul trouble, which rested her as well and she was rested to hit those shots down the stretch – but with Jas, she was exhausted, and I think we all learned that. I think her teammates learned that somebody else is going to have to step up and bring the ball up, even if she’s just at the two-guard sometimes, not necessarily sitting out so much. I think we have enough breaks in the game where she sits out, especially with TV, but we’ve got to put her at the two, like we were doing early on and giving her just a breather now and then, and I think we can do that. I think we have the guards to do that, and we’ve been working on that in practice as well.
Question: What sort of challenges does Texas A&M present for you guys?
Coach Balcomb: Obviously, the environment, the crowd they get, and we’ve never been there, and the second would be Bone. Right now, she’s the most dominating player in the conference, not just in the post, but period. She averages a double-double, and her size. And then you’ve got their defensive pressure. You have a team that’s going to be able to work to take us out of what we do, and we’re going to have to make plays. I think we can still execute against them, but we’re going to have to work on getting open, being strong with the ball and being able to execute against the defensive pressure team that we haven’t seen yet. Alabama is getting there; Texas A&M has already been there defensively. That’s going to pose some problems for us.