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What They Said: UB women on the challenge of facing UConn

Here is a transcript from Saturday's University at Buffalo women's basketball news conference in Storrs, Conn.:

UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack

Opening Statement:

“It is just an honor. We are having fun, we are young, we are trying to grow buffalo, grow a city, grow it all. To come out and play so well against Rutgers, my heart is so full with this team, I am just excited to be here.”

Why didn’t you sign with Geno when he was recruiting you early on?

“I am glad I didn’t sign with him because he was at Virginia and when I decided to go to Syracuse, he decided to leave and go to UConn. When he was recruiting me my high school coach said he wasn’t sure he was going to be an assistant coach for that long, and I really was recruited by him rather than the head coach, even though I love the head coach. Being at home, with the same opportunity, I thought being at Syracuse was a better place for me and it was a good decision because he ended up at this great place called UConn.”

How do you go about getting your team to compete and potentially win against UConn?

“I like to have fun, but don’t misunderstand the fun for disbelief. I coach young people to become phenomenal women. These young ladies have come to me as girls and we have grown them to young ladies and our hope is for them to become phenomenal women. I have coached kids that are doctors now, professional basketball players, and just overall phenomenal women. These young ladies understand that every single day they matter, and that they are good enough to be anything they want to become. That’s the message they know on a daily basis.

Playing against the Lakers or a WNBA team or UConn, when the ball goes up in the air you just have to be better than them for 40 minutes. All it takes is 40 minutes, and that’s our story. We might win, or they might win, but they are going to get our best effort. We are going to always have two things we are going to be dealing with and that’s called courage and fear. Whenever you do something for the first time, whether you are an adult or child, you are going to have fear a lot because you care so much about the success you are trying to get. But then courage comes in and I ask our players every day to handle both of them, but all I ask is when you come out of that locker room let courage win. So we are going to come out of that locker room tomorrow courageously thinking we have an opportunity to be a very good team. It’s going to take a collective unit and some luck. They can shoot the ball, and we play a matchup zone so that’s going to pose a problem. But I think I have one of the best players in the country on my team and I know that she has a lot of fear in her.”

How much does it help the program prepare for a game like UConn having tournament experience and playing in here last night?

“We are not experienced. I can’t justify it to these kids that we did it last year so we have experience for this year. We just have to go through it, it’s not easy. It’s not going to be the story of last year, those kids are gone, this is going to be your story, and how cool do you want your story to be. I think that’s what really cool about playing for us, is that we are not going to compare to last year’s team. Every year has got to be different. I’m not going to compare this team with the team of last year because they are so different, and unique, and fun in their own way and we are going to figure it out together.”

What do you believe Cierra’s legacy will be at the University of Buffalo and what do you hope your underclassmen get from this experience?

“Her legacy is similar to mine. We failed. We failed in our confidence, we failed in our jobs, she failed at UMASS and I failed at my last job. She got a chance to begin again, and she chose Buffalo to have that chance and she became, and she grew, and she prospered. That’s all we want from our kids, is to know that it’s okay to fail and sometimes you are going to fail publicly. It’s okay to stand there, and she stood in it and she told her truth. I told her to just give me a chance and if you don’t like basketball I will make that 1 hour walk with you back home together. She allowed me in and that gave me some energy to give to that young energy and she became one of the best players in the country. I think what they are going to see is that failure turns into growth and it turns into something really special.

There’s no true answer to her legacy because her legacy is still evolving. She is the reason why this thing changed around and years from now we are going to be saying “ahh that’s what she did” and I’m going to say yes she did. What the freshman need to know from this experience is that they have played with the best player probably in their lifetime in Cierra Dillard. When they come into the gym I tell them 2 things, write down what you want your legacy to be and write down the best speech or quote/poem that will ignite you and that’s on their locker.”

What is your relationship with Geno and what do you think about him as a coach?

“Geno is a great coach and we have to acknowledge that from every level from hockey to tennis to basketball. A great coach wins championships and when we play championships he is the last one standing, and he has won 11 times. I just have great respect for somebody that can do their craft so well, and at the end of the day when you played everybody you are the winner and he does that and he does that often. WE have seven or eight in the game right now that are great and Geno is at the top.”

UB players Summer Hemphill and Cierra Dillard

On Geno Auriemma complimenting her:

Cierra Dillard: “He better stop (laughing). It means a lot, as I said I’ve said he’s a legendary coach, I used to watch him when he had Maya Moore. I respect what he has done for the game of basketball. He’s definitely helped to put women’s basketball on the forefront. The women’s movement is definitely on the rise and he has helped that with women’s basketball. I respect him and the great comments that he made. It’s crazy to watch these people when you were younger like Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson and hear them saying that stuff about you is definitely eye opening.

Two years ago, I was not at this point in my life, I think everybody goes through that in their lives. Where they hit a brick wall and wonder is this for me, am I doing this right. I think everyone in the world has hit that forefront. I’m glad I stuck with it (basketball) and I’m glad that God has put me in this position to express my way of life, to express my feeling and express my character. I definitely thank him and the only way to respect that is to go out tomorrow and playing me, playing CD and having fun with my teammates.”

On how much of a challenge UConn presents for them:

Summer Hemphill: “We all know it will be a challenge. Every game is a challenge because every team wants to win, nobody wants to lose. Of course it’s UConn but we don’t look at it as anything different from any other game. It’s another 40 minutes just like the last game. It’s another 40 minutes that we have to prove what Buffalo basketball is capable of and to showcase ourselves and our story, and how hard we have been working since the summertime. Hopefully it pays off when we go out there and use all of our energy for those 40 minutes.”

Cierra Dillard: “We’ve been the underdogs every time we’ve gotten in the tournament. Everyone thought we were going to lose by 20 to USF last year, same thing with Florida State and same thing with Rutgers yesterday. We’re just going out there playing Buffalo basketball, showing that we can hang with the best in the country. It’s a blessing to be one the 32 teams left playing in this tournament, that’s anybody’s dream. We respect UConn without a doubt, they have a legendary coach, legendary players, and they’ve had that resume. Throughout the years what they’ve done for women’s basketball is very respectable but we fear no one. We’re very confident in what we do and we’re focused on Buffalo and we’re excited for the game tomorrow. It’s just a game of basketball, they have to put the ball in the hole and we have to put the ball in the hole. We just have to see who does it more

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