We had the opportunity to speak with Lisa Leslie, who was recently named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2015. It was announced on Monday that Leslie will be inducted this summer into the Hall of Fame.
Leslie previewed Tuesday night's championship match and discusses the current state of the game as well as the implications to the Capital One Cup standings.
TUCB: Lisa, what was your reaction to finding out you were being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame? Were you nervous?
LL: No, I was not nervous. I only get nervous speaking to high school students. The Hall of Fame was not a goal of mine, but it is an honor. I am thankful for joining. I have a lot thanks to all the amazing coaches I played for and the players I played with. I am happy, honored and humbled by this. However, I am not going to have people refer to me at "Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie" on tv broadcasts.
TUCB: You were in Tampa for the national semifinals, what were your thoughts from those games?
LL: They were really good games. Notre Dame's experience with Lindsey Allen and Jewell Loyd helped the Irish prevail. South Carolina missed too many free throws.
Maryland did not realize how long UConn was and how much the Huskies pressure the ball. They had no answer for Breanna Stewart. She had a quiet 25 points. Morgan Tuck looked poised. I did not realize how well she could shoot the three and she was able to drive to the basket. Geno Auriemma looked relaxed, he was not sweating. He knew he had this.
TUCB: Thoughts on Tuesday's championship game between UConn-Notre Dame.
LL: I feel bad for Notre Dame, they get there so many times but they are facing UConn. UConn has so many weapons, they should really be playing Team USA. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is so strong. Freshman Brianna Turner is long and can block shots for the Irish, but she may have to guard Stewart and Turner will not be comfortable guarding her outside of the post. Who is going to guard Stewart?
Muffet McGraw is a great coach and will make defensive adjustments and will have to play some sort of junk defense, box and one, triangle and two, constantly changing it up. Notre Dame needs to focus on holding UConn to one possession and keeping them off the offensive glass. UConn does the little things and it is really hard for the younger players to buy into doing those things.
TUCB: Maryland coach Brenda Frese said UConn's dominance was bad for women's basketball. Is she correct?
LL: I would never say a team is too dominant. Other coaches need to figure out ways to beat them. Stanford did it. Teams need to recruit better, but UConn is still getting the top high school player in the country next year. However, the game is getting better. But for the average fan filling out brackets, yes there can be some negative backlash knowing UConn will win it.
TUCB: During the ESPN broadcast, Doris Burke spoke about a few rules Auriemma wanted to see changed in the women's game - lowering the rim, widening the lane, bigger ball, four quarters. What are your thoughts?
LL: Lowering the rim to 9 feet is a bad idea. I have no idea why you would widen the lane unless there are defensive 3-second rules like there is in the pros. As for ball size, I don't think it would make a difference since women are better shooters. I don't understand why there are two halves. High school and the pros have four quarters, why is it different?
I would like to see continuation be allowed. That can increase scoring. I also think in the final 2 minutes, teams should be allowed to advance the ball after a timeout. A lot of the college rules should follow the pro game.
TUCB: What is your prediction for tonight?
LL: Geno Auriemma and UConn will win their 10th national championship. Geno will tie John Wooden with 10 championships. Stewart will be the MVP. Stewart makes things so effortless to score and rebound.
TUCB: So you're in Tampa for the Capital One Cup, can you tell us more about it?
LL: The Capital One Cup is about bragging rights and it brings fans to support and root for all sports. A school gets points for winning championships or finishing in the top 10 in the polls. If UConn wins they will earn 60 points and move into third place. Penn State is currently in first place. UConn is looking good as the Field Hockey won the national championship in the fall.
I know UCLA men won a few years back, which was great for Los Angeles but as a USC grad was not fun.
The Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men's and women's Division I college athletics programs in the country, with Capital One giving a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships and the Capital One Cup trophy to the winning schools in July at the ESPYs.
Fans can find out more at www.capitalonecup.com. If UConn wins the basketball title on Tuesday, the entire women's athletic program will move up to No. 3 in the Capital One Cup standings.
Last week I also had the opportunity to speak with Tamika Catchings. Catchings is a former Tennessee great and currently plays for the WNBA Indiana Fever. We talked about her charity work, the UConn-Tennessee rivalry, Geno Auriemma, and WNBA.
Catchings was at the Final Four in Tampa this weekend with the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team.
Catchings has had her own charity, Catch the Stars Foundation, for the past decade. The mission is "to empower youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring." She finds joy impacting young people and making a difference. These rewarding experiences have brought back memories as a student-athlete and this why she was thrilled to be apart of the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team.
Catchings was a bit disappointed that Tennessee did not advance to the Final Four. She, like many, wanted to see the Lady Vols play UConn. She admitted that she had two NCAA brackets filled out, one with Tennessee winning and the other with the Huskies winning.
"It has been years since they played," Catchings said. "As a player, you wanted to play with and against the best. The media attention and the fans made those games exciting. It was fun, a lot of good memories."
"But for what it met for women's basketball, everyone tuned in. You knew it was going to be a good game."
For the past couple of years, Catchings has gotten the opportunity to play for Team USA and Geno Auriemma. She saw some similarities playing for Auriemma and the legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in college.
"They both want to win and get the best out of their players," she said. "Pat looked scary on the court with her look, but she was your best friend off the court."
"Geno is a wise guy, you need to get use to him," Catchings said. "At first you do not know if he being serious or funny."
"But it was Chris Dailey would joke around me still asking why I picked Tennessee over UConn."
Asked if she thought the series would resume, she had her doubts.
Catchings is entering her final two years before she retires from basketball. She admits that playing professional basketball is not a job, "I get to play basketball everyday. This was a goal I had in seventh grade. It was a dream come true"
She talked about the current state of the WNBA, or the W has she referred to it. She understands why Diana Taurasi is taking the WNBA season off, recalling that Taurasi talked about it during the 2012 Olympics. She just hopes that Taurasi keeps her promise to play the following season.
Regarding Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' WNBA prospects, "She just needs to find the system that could fit into," Catchings said. "Kaleena will have to get use to playing for different coaches and their styles of play."
However, Catchings did say she wanted to play with Breanna Stewart but obviously her team would not tank the season to try to get next year's top pick.