After two hectic weeks, we are now down to the Final Four in the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
On Easter Sunday, the National Semifinals are on ESPN. At 6:30 p.m. ET, Notre Dame will play South Carolina. After, UConn will play Maryland. The winners of the games will meet again on Tuesday.
Swish Appeal had a chance to chat with WNBA legend and current Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame finalist Lisa Leslie this past Thursday. During that time, we had a chance to ask Leslie about her thoughts on the Final Four games, the Los Angeles Sparks, and the Capital One Cup, where she is an advisory board member.
So without further ado, here is our Q&A with Leslie.
Swish Appeal: South Carolina will play Notre Dame in the first semifinal match this Sunday in Tampa. What do you think will be the keys for each team to win this game?
More on the SC vs. Notre Dame game
More on the SC vs. Notre Dame game
Lisa Leslie: I’ve been speaking a lot about South Carolina, and they have a lot of size. Tiffany Mitchell was outstanding in their last game [against Florida State]. With their posts like A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, I think the most important thing for them are to do the little things in terms of rebounding and boxing out and really committing to give Notre Dame some one-and-done shots.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, they’re so tough. Their players are strong, and their defense is good. It’ll be interesting to see how Jewell Loyd bounces back because she didn’t have the greatest almost three-quarters of the game she didn’t play as she was expected to. I look for her to bounce back and have a good, strong offensive game.
I think overall, Muffet McGraw, she did a great job. The best coaches are the coaches that not only come with a game plan, but it’s the coaches that can adjust during the game, and she’s one of those coaches that she will put her team in a position to win and try and take away South Carolina’s strengths. I will look for Notre Dame to probably do a more of a sagging man-to-man and try to pack it in on the inside. They’re big. They’re tough. They have great footwork.
I think it’s going to be a tight game. I don’t see it being a blowout by any means but if I had to make my pick, I would think that South Carolina should win that game just because of their size and depth.
SA: South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley was one of your teammates with USA Basketball for three different Olympic Games. Were they any traits that you saw in her as a player and teammate that has translated into her success as a coach now at one of the top college programs in the country?
LL: Absolutely. Dawn Staley has always been a leader. She’s already had a passion and tenacity that was infectious, and she’s made players around her that are her whole career. I happen to be one of them. We were roommates for probably over a decade and while she’s such a living, passionate person, has always been a leader and a coach to me on the court. Whatever instructions that she’s given me, I’ve always followed them and trusted and believed in because she’s always had my best interest as well as the team’s best interest.
Sometimes it’s hard to find a player that’s not all about self. She’s struggled at times, had come off the bench but still never complained and made the best of it. I think that as a coach she will be able to relate to any player in any position whether they’re starters or they’re coming off the bench. The main thing is what you bring to the team and what you do every day. I’m sure she’s able to translate that important message to her players.
SA: UConn and Maryland are in the other semifinal match. Both teams are riding on very long winning streaks heading into this game and are running on all cylinders. What do you think will be the keys for both the Huskies and the Terps as they try to get to the championship game?
More on the UConn vs. Maryland Game
More on the UConn vs. Maryland Game
LL: UConn is just such a powerhouse. It’s almost one of those things that if you hand them the trophy, who could snatch it out of their hands kind of thing.
Breanna Stewart is a player who is just going to excel at the next level. [It's remarkable that she's just] a junior and one of the top players in the world at her age. If [you're Maryland,] you just have to hope she plays badly because of her ability to score on the inside and outside. She’s pretty much unstoppable unless you just have to come with some jump defenses.
I think that would have to be Maryland’s plan to figure out if you could do a triangle and two. Maybe try to guard Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and try to have [Kia Nurse, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck step up] and win the game. If you could slow them down, that would be something that I would try and do but it’s going to be difficult. I think Maryland is going to have to use their defense and truly be committed to denying how far and pressuring as much as they can. All five players are going to have to come back in and rebound.
It may not be so much X’s and O’s as it is going to be a commitment to work hard and get after it and then to do the little things. It’s always the little things that get you. You did 20 seconds of great defense, and then you give up an offensive board and what was all that effort for?
SA: This is in regards to the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks where you played from 1997-2009. They have made a lot of changes during this offseason, from the head coach down to the players. What are your thoughts on the Sparks’ move so far and do you think they could win the Western Conference this summer?
LL: I’m always thinking the same thing when it comes to personally wanted. I don’t know what number head coach Brian Agler will be but perhaps 10 or more now.*
The addition of new players to me is just always difficult to have a new coach, new players, and win a championship in the same year. I would have to say for the first time I don’t think they will win the championship but hopefully they are great teachers and building blocks to get them over the hump.
*The Sparks have had 11 different head coaches, two of whom (Michael Cooper and Joe Bryant) had two stints in that role.
SA: The Capital One Cup is a contest where all Division I schools' men's or women's sports teams combine forces to win a major award at the end of the academic year. In women's sports, basketball is the most well-known sport and there are certainly many great storylines. However, are there also other women’s sports teams besides basketball that had great storylines of their own?
LL: Yeah, there have been. The Capital One Cup really highlights several sports across the board: gymnastics, water polo, volleyball aside from the major sports like basketball and football.
One of the more notable women's sports teams has been UConn women’s field hockey team. The Huskies won the championship this season. If the women’s basketball team also wins their national championship [on Tuesday], that will move them to the top three.
Obviously, if UConn walks away with the Capital One Cup this season, the field hockey team will feel just as responsible for winning this Capital One Cup as the women’s basketball team. I think that’s the beauty of it.
Another team with a strong field hockey program is Maryland, which is ranked in the top 10. If the Terps' women's basketball team wins the championship, they will get 60 points in the standings. Of course, their women’s field hockey team would also feel just as responsible for being part of the Cup as the basketball team. I think that’s the beauty of this whole competition between men and women Division I teams is that it really helps highlight some of the smaller sports that may not get the opportunity or the media coverage.
The other thing that the Capital One Cup also awards a combined $400,000 in [scholarships to student athletes] to the programs that win the scholarships, that win, that win the championships, that win the Cup. I think it really has a great storyline in terms of Title IX. I’m a Title IX baby born in 1972 and I like the fact that they highlight the programs equally. I’m so happy to be a part of it.
Thanks again to Lisa Leslie for checking in with us. You can follow her on Twitter @LisaLeslie and on Instagram @LisaLeslie. To learn more about the Capital One Cup, click here to get to their site. You can also follow Capital One on Twitter @CapitalOne and Instagram @capitalone.