The UConn Blog had the opportunity to speak with former WNBA great Lisa Leslie on Monday afternoon. Leslie is a USC graduate and four-time Olympic gold medalist. Leslie, a 6-4 forward, starred with the Los Angeles Sparks from 1997-2009, was a three-time MVP, and the first woman to dunk in the WNBA. Leslie is currently a member of the Capital One Cup Advisory Board.
The UConn Blog: Let's breakdown the National Semifinals - Notre Dame defeated Maryland 87-61 in the first semifinal on Sunday night. What made Irish successful in that game?
Lisa Leslie: Notre Dame was successful because they were able to dictate tempo and execute their offense. Kayla McBride brought her game to the next level. (McBride had a game-high 28 points.) McBride would not let her team lose.
TUCB: What about UConn's 75-56 victory over Stanford?
LL: The second game was a lot closer in the first half. UConn was able to find different ways in the second half to slow down the Stanford offense. The Cardinal looked stagnant when playing against UConn's match-up zone. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was able to hit shots in the second half (15 points in the second half).
TUCB: Let's preview tonight's championship game between UConn and Notre Dame.
LL: Notre Dame needs to jump on UConn early and build confidence. In the post, UConn should take advantage of the match-up with Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart. UConn also needs to focus on rebounding.
TUCB: Who wins the championship game?
LL: It will be a close game. It's a difficult pick.
TUCB: You graduated from USC in 1994; how has the college game changed over the past 20 years?
LL: You just made me feel old.
TUCB: I am sorry.
LL: I am only joking around.
TUCB: OK, I am happy that I did not offend you. So what are your thoughts about today's college game?
LL: Twenty years ago it was more physical than today. Today's game is more a finesse game. Players are more talented. They jump higher, shoot further away, and are more versatile. In my day, players played a specific position, now they play two or three different positions.
TUCB: The national media picked up the story about the struggles with UConn men's guard Shabazz Napier not having enough money to eat. What are your thoughts on the unions and/or paying student-athletes?
LL: I was a struggling student when I was in college. I remember buying a $5 burrito and cutting it in half and eating half for lunch and saving the other half for dinner. I understand the money comes from football and basketball. I think players should get some compensation so they can eat or do some sort of shopping. The universities can use their likeness to promote their school or an outside corporation and the revenue is not shared with the current or former student-athletes. However, I don't know how you can do this - it has to be an even playing field - a football player will have to get the same as a woman's soccer player. There has to be equity among all sports, genders, and student-athletes.
TUCB: Moving onto the professional game, what type of professional career in the WNBA will Stefanie Dolson have?
LL: Dolson can have a good career or not. It all depends on what team she plays with. Teams that can use her size are Connecticut, San Antonio, and Washington because they play half-court sets. It really depends on where she plays.
TUCB: If Breanna Stewart was allowed to leave college for the WNBA after her sophomore year, what impact would she have on the league and what would she expect?
LL: Stewart is very similar Ella Della Donne. She can do enough in the post; go to her right and left. But she would have to get into the weight room since the WNBA is a much more physical league. She can be the next Candace Parker or Lisa Leslie. She is a really nice player to watch.
TUCB: You have won four Olympic Gold Medals with USA Basketball. Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the women's Olympic Team - what does he bring to USA basketball?
LL: My grandma can coach that team to gold because they have the best players in the world and there is a great fear of being the first team not to win gold (Laughing). I only played for him for one year but he has the ability to motivate and challenge the best players in the world to rise to a higher level. He has the ability to motivate players and has outstanding leadership qualities.
TUCB: Can you discuss your role with the Capital One Cup?
LL: The Capital One Cup is about bragging rights. Every time a team wins a championship, they earn points. There are 20 women's sports and 19 men's sports. The winning school at the end of the year earns $200,000 in scholarships. With last night's men's national championship victory, the UConn men entered the top five on the men's side. Florida State and Notre Dame are the top two schools in the current men's standings, while a UConn women's victory tonight will jump them to first place in the women's standings. Currently Penn State and UCLA are the top two teams in the women's standings. However, these standings can change as we still have the spring sports coming up.
TUCB: Lisa, it was a pleasure talking with you this afternoon and thank you for your time. Good luck with your future endeavors and enjoy the national championship game!
LL: Thank you very much. Also, please tell your followers to "Like" the Capital One Cup on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @LisaLeslie.