JACKSON, Tenn. -- The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) hosted a press conference Sunday afternoon featuring the 2011 Division I Women's Basketball National Championship semifinal teams in the Oman Arena interview room. Azusa Pacific was the fourth team to participate in the hour-long press conference, and a full transcript of the Cougars' portion of the event is provided below. In addition to head coach T.J. Hardeman, Azusa Pacific provided senior center Kristie Hala'ufia, senior forward Alex Moore-Porter, and junior guard Eboni Sadler for questions from the media.
Welcome & Introduction
Head coach T.J. Hardeman: “I was playing Frisbee golf with our sponsor over at Muse Park, and he asked me what my home park was, and I said ‘this is it.’ I’ve played Frisbee golf maybe 6 times, and all of them have been at Muse Park. It just kind of hit home to me, we love being here – for Kristie this is her fourth time being here, Alex her third, and this is the first tournament for Eboni, but it’s something that we’ve looked forward to all year long, to be here and to play our best basketball when we get here. It’s a long season, when you start practicing in September and you know you’re still going to be playing in March, you have to pace yourself. I’m very pleased with where we are and with the progress we’ve made through the year, and we’re excited to still be playing.”
Q: Coming so close to winning it all last year, how much motivation did that provide for you this year?
Kristie Halaufia: “That’s 95% of why we’re here right now. We tasted a little bit of the national championship last year, and we wanted more. In our offseason and preseason, we pushed each other. Last year was the reason we’re here now, and we’re going to keep pushing and take it one game at a time.”
Alex Moore-Porter: “There’s a lot of seniors on this team, so there’s a sense of urgency that this is our last shot at it (the national championship). That was a huge drive for the seniors, and I think that trickled down through the rest of the team. Even though Eboni is a junior, she’s very mature and I think she understands the sense of urgency, as well.”
Q: With so many returnees with an addition like Eboni, how have roles changed within the team?
Hardeman: “I think anyone who’s been around sports for very long understands that every season is its own season. You’ve got to maximize what you’re given right then, as far as who’s doing what and the different roles people play. It’s given us more combinations to go to if we feel like we need them. If we need more size or more speed, we feel like it’s helped us in that way. There have obviously been some adjustments and roles that have changed a little bit, but I think the team has stepped up and been willing to take whatever role they needed to take to be successful. They also realize that with our team, it’s not necessarily going to be the same thing every night. One night, it might be your turn to shine, and another night it might be someone else’s turn to shine, and they’re consistently ready to do that.”
Q: Every game this week has had several double-figure scorers, so how quickly in a game do you figure out who has the hot hand?
Hardeman: “A lot of times it’s just figuring out what the other team is doing. If they’re going to try to stop Kristie, then someone else will get it, or if they’re going to spend all their energy to stop Alex, okay, then someone will get hot and they try to stop that person. It’s a recognition of what the other team is giving us and making sure we take that. The girls have gotten better at figuring that out throughout the year.”
Q: The first 3 games of this tournament have been “grind-it-out” ballgames. Does that have this team more focused going into the semifinal round?
Hardeman: “I feel good about our focus. The girls definitely feel like they’re here to do their best every game. We’ve talked all year about taking each possession, each game, doing what you can do without talking too much about winning and losing. We just want to play to our maximum capabilities, and when we don’t do that we’ll figure out what we need to do to reach that level, and when we do, we just want to keep doing that.”
Q: (to Eboni Sadler) What was it like finding your role on a team with so many players back from the year before?
Eboni Sadler: “In the beginning, it was not as much a basketball thing as it was mixing our personalities together. I wanted to get the opportunity to jell and mix with the girls off the court and establish the relationship there first, and initially on the court I was a little hesitant about what my role was going to be and how the other girls would perceive me. The first few games were a little shaky, because I didn’t know if I was allowed to shoot as much, or if the girls thought I was being selfish, so it was kind of a transition for me to get used to playing with this group on the court and find myself on the court individually. I can’t pinpoint a game where we all became equal, but we just clicked and I think it started feeling much better once we all got on the same page.”
Q: Did you get a chance to connect with other University of Miami transfers that were in this tournament?
Sadler: “I talked to V.V. (Vasciunaite) from California Baptist. We first saw each other at a tournament in Oakland, and I had no idea she was over here or that she was in the NAIA at all. When I saw her, I was surprised and happy to see her, because I was glad we were both somewhere that we were finally happy. At the banquet, I saw Damisha Moore (from Shorter), but to see that we were all happy and we were satisfied with where we were at was just a good feeling. I wished both of them and their teams good luck, and it was good to see them.”
Q: How did you get from Miami, Fla., to Azusa, Calif.?
Sadler: “My family was in Miami for 12 years, and my mom had made up her mind to leave (Miami) before my 2 younger siblings got to high school. I was unhappy at Miami, so I asked if I could go with them. It didn’t work at another school, so my mom got in contact with some schools and found Azusa Pacific. It was the best fit for me, so here I am.”
Q: Have you talked much about the last 2 games with Freed-Hardeman?
Hardeman: “Not a lot yet, but I know they’re playing very well right now. I know at the end of the year your team has a little bit more personality that’s representative of what you’re like, so I don’t think those past games are as critical to us as watching what they’ve been doing the last couple games they’ve been so successful in.”
Q: Last year’s (tournament) game was such a physical game, do you expect another one like that?
Hala’ufia: “Tomorrow is going to be just as physical, when you have Meribeth Boehler and Maria Bagwell down there, and you have the2 guards that are quick as can be. It’s definitely going to be a battle on the boards, and it’s going to be a grind-out game. We’re going to do whatever we can to stay in this tournament, and I know they’ll do the same thing too. As long as we work hard and have each other’s backs, it will be a good game tomorrow.”
Moore-Porter: “Anything is possible come tournament time, so you just have to have maximum effort, and like Kristie said, you have to have your teammates’ back because you never want to leave the court feeling like you could have done something more. There are going to be 2 great teams going at it, so I think it’s going to be intense.”
Q: Playing the late game Monday night, what will your team be doing to prepare for tipoff?
Hardeman: “It doesn’t feel like a late game, because every other year we’ve been here we’ve been playing at 11:30 at night, so this feels like the early game. We didn’t like the sunshine league that much, the 2:30 games, but I think it feels right because you’re playing for something important. I don’t think that will be a problem at all. It’s exciting to be a part of it, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Q: Is it tough to adjust to the different tipoff times throughout the tournament?
Hala’ufia: “During March, I don’t think it matters. You could tip off at 9 a.m. or 9:45 at night, and everybody would be ready to go.”
Q: You didn’t have to play one of the early-morning games, but how would that have affected you?
Hala’ufia: “I’m an early riser, you can ask my teammates. I’m an early riser, so in the morning I wouldn’t mind it.”
Q: How did your experience making a run to the championship game give you something to use to prepare for this tournament?
Hardeman: “I think just being here and playing gives you the added feeling of wanting to be successful while you’re here. There’s a lot of teams that are excited to be here, and I think we felt that maybe the first year or so, but I don’t get that feeling at all anymore. We talk about a ladder, and there’s more steps to take. Let’s be happy with what we’ve done, but let’s count on taking a few more.”
Hala’ufia: “For all the seniors, this is our last chance. We do have last year in the back of our minds, but we’re still looking forward to the next step in the ladder which is our next game. That’s all we can look forward to right now.”
Moore-Porter: “It’s just a blessing to be here. The first game is very nerve-wracking as a senior, but then you get on a roll and it’s really amazing to see what happens with the team in terms of how we just come together and want to move forward. You still don’t want to take these moments for granted, because all the girls here have worked so hard. It’s just a matter of our goal, which is to go as far as we possibly can, and that’s what we think about as seniors.”