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March 23, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on a great season, and your thoughts about the tournament.
VIC SCHAEFER: Thank you very much. I'm awfully proud of my team and excited about the opportunity to be here in Oklahoma City at the Sweet 16, and certainly we have a big test in front of us, but this time of year, everybody's really good.
You know, I'm excited about my group. I think we're playing well. We had a great weekend in Starkville, tremendous atmosphere for our two ballgames. Played two really good opponents, and so we know that coming in, we've really got to deal with a well-coached Washington team. I've known Mike a long time. We go way back to our Arkansas days when we coached back there in '97 to 2003. He does a tremendous job. He's one of the great coaches in our country. I have to throw in, he's one of the great young coaches, as well, because he's ten years younger than me.
But doing a great job and obviously they have got Kelsey Plum who is the all-time leading scorer in the history of our great game. She's got pieces around her that I think really makes them unique and special. He does a lot of things with them. I compare it to playing like against James Harden in the NBA. They run a lot of stuff that the Rockets run. They spread the floor. They play off of her. She's smart enough to find who is open, and those kids can make shots.
And so you watch the other night against a really good Oklahoma team, another well-coached team, and I mean, they just really played well, scored over a hundred points and everything ran off of Kelsey. But it was a lot like watching the Houston Rockets play, in my mind. And I'm a Rocket fan, so it's easy for me to compare, being a Houston boy.
So it's easier for me to compare them, and that's a tall task, as everybody in the big league has found out. But really just excited again about the opportunity. So proud of our program, where we are today and where we were five years ago. Proud of my fan base. I expect a big crowd from Mississippi State coming here to watch us play.
And again, I've got great kids, hard-working, determined, and obviously our league has prepared us for this moment. So I know I'm on a ramble. But you know, when you come from my league and you play the rival; we play 16 rival games every month, for two months straight, and when you do that, it prepares you for this moment.
Q. Your guards, NCAA Tournaments you need great guard play, and it seems like they really have come together especially of late. So what's been your impression of them? And secondly, I know you hired Dionnah a couple years ago to coach that position. How has she impacted what they do?
VIC SCHAEFER: First of all, our guards have been really special all year. I think in our level, our league, you win with great guard play and certainly we are blessed with a couple of aircraft carriers down low that don't hurt you. Guard play has always been kind of our bread and butter, our base of everything we do, especially from a pressure, defensive standpoint. And so we've got tremendous depth at guard, too, at every position, and three at one.
So that's probably where it starts for us. And those kids are playing well right now, especially offensively. I think that's what everybody is seeing right now is that we've got some kids making shots, and that's what's been fun from an offensive standpoint with our group.
As far as Dionnah goes, as is my entire staff, I feel like I have the best staff in the country. I mean, Johnnie Harris has been with me since day one when we came to Mississippi State five years ago. And she's been so instrumental. She's got to be one of the top five assistance in the country.
Just going off of what's happened in the past five years, where we were, where we are today, and how important she is to our program and how many things she does for our program. And again she's in charge of our post players and everybody wants to talk about how improved our post game is. Dionnah was a home run, as well.
What she's done with our point guards with Jazz and Morgan, that's her position that she handles, and she's done a tremendous job with those two, bringing them along. I think everybody knew, Morgan's pretty special. I think she's had a break out season and really taken her game to another level, as far as the points she's averaged.
But I think Jazz has come on late, and that's been a project throughout the course of the year. She's just a sophomore, but Dionnah spent some tireless days with her just talking to her about the mental piece as well as the physical piece. That's what a good coach will do. These post players, for instance, you drag people up and down the floor, you do the dirty work, you get the rebounds and you sprint the floor and Europe and the guard doesn't give you the ball. Well, that's mentally hard on some people. Same thing with point guards. They get the blame for everything.
I think she's done a tremendous job with Morgan and Jazz from a coaching standpoint of bringing those kids along. She's a tireless worker. Works hard in recruiting. I mean, she's a great coach. It was a home run, as my entire staff has been.
Q. Your memories of Dionnah in the early days; she was kind of quiet as a player and didn't say a whole lot. Curious how she's matured and progressed as a coach now?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, I'll answer the second one first. She's very real, and I love that about her. She speaks her mind and she has so many good things to say. I've walked out of team meetings with her before, patting her on the back going, "Hey, that was a great comment; our kids needed to hear that."
And so I'm going to guess, from that standpoint, I didn't know her from that side as a player, but you know, maybe that's why she's so good with my point guards because really both my point guards are quiet and that's a bad position to be quiet at.
Maybe she's seen and heard from her own experiences, maybe from Coach Coale for four years, you have to speak up and you have to have a presence about you and run the team and maybe that's an evolution for her where she is today in her coaching career. She's not quiet any more, and that's a good thing.
The first question? She reminds me all the time how she dominated us for three years. And I told her, the first two years didn't count because we weren't very good at A&M and a lot of people dominated us. I think we got her one time her senior year, if I'm not mistaken, and I tend to want to talk about that game more than the other six she probably beat us.
She was a heck of a player, competitor. Big, strong, physical point guard, hard to deal with, hard to handle. Whenever I get my head down a little bit, she reminds me of how miserable she was as a point guard at Oklahoma when we played her with our defense. She remembers those days and again, I think as a competitor, she brings that to the table as a coach. And that's what I like about her. I call it that bulldog mentality which happens to fit well with Mississippi State.
Q. What did you learn from last year's experience?
VIC SCHAEFER: I believe the good Lord helps you go through some things to help prepare you for the next opportunity. Certainly last year at this time, wasn't the best. But at the same time, I think our kids not only learned from that experience for this game, but I think they learned from it the entire season. I think it's obviously prepared us.
Again, you live in my league, you live with live with dealing with the players we deal with, night-in, night-out, the coaches, so many Hall of Fame coaches. But certainly this time last year what we had to deal with, going to Connecticut to play, I don't think anything can help get you ready for this opportunity.
Q. In your experience of coaching, have you ever seen any kind of comparison, the comparison game is overplayed, but comparisons to Kelsey, how she plays --
VIC SCHAEFER: Actually, I had to go against Jackie Stiles three times at Arkansas. So I've got experience dealing with both of the latest two all-time leading scorers. We had a couple bad experiences with her and one good one. I'm hoping tomorrow in my only opportunity with her, we have a good one.
Again, I think I deal with some pretty good ones throughout the course of our season and throughout my career in 32 years. Obviously Jackie Stiles, Kelsey Plum, those are two of the best to ever play the game, and from an offensive standpoint, they are just so multi-dimensional. Their coaches use them in such a good way, smart, and so it's a tall task. There's no question about it. But to answer your question, I have some experience with that, yes, sir.
Q. A lot's been made of the starting lineup, but how much do you feel like the two-week break helped reset the game and get them focused and starting a new season with the tournament?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, I think the two weeks certainly gave us an opportunity. One, I gave the kids two days off, which we desperately needed, and even the third day, all we did was shoot. We didn't do anything else. I think that kind of rejuvenated us a little bit.
Then it also gave me a chance to work on some different things and some different combinations. Again, Robby, a lot's been made of it. But the bottom line is, those kids that made an impact starting have been making an impact coming off the bench all year. They have made big shots all year long. They just did it earlier in the game instead of later in the game, and that's really how we look at it.
Who is out there when we are jumping center, I don't think bothers any of our kids. I think they just want to win. And I give them a lot of credit for being that way, being unselfish, and just wanting what's best for our team. So the two-week period, while I'm not a fan of it, I don't like it; but in this situation, in this circumstance, it probably worked out best for Mississippi State, no doubt about it.
Q. A couple of Washington's players jump off the page with their statistics. How good is the supporting cast?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, the whole team is good. Tremendous -- I think they are a tremendous basketball team obviously. They play in a great league also out in the Pac-12, but their supporting cast, they know their roles and they execute it very well. Mike puts them in a position where they can do what they do best. And that's all we as coaches -- that's our job, to put our kids in the best spot possible and the best place possible where they can be successful.
And I think that's what Mike's done with this team. So those guys can all shoot it. Romeo, they can all shoot it. They have got kids that can do a number of different things and hurt you in different ways, and he puts them in the right spot to do it.
So the challenge for us is in a three-day period, try to figure it out and be prepared to deal with it. You know, again, I think my staff's done a tremendous job of getting us ready.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We appreciate your comments and good luck. See you tomorrow.
VIC SCHAEFER: Praise the Lord and go Dogs.
THE MODERATOR: First question for our student athletes.
Q. I don't know if Dominique, Blair, both or either of you want to answer this, but Dionnah's role in coaching you guards, but what have you seen as the biggest impact on that position and what you guys do?
BLAIR SCHAEFER: She keeps us disciplined, and she expects a lot out of us, and she doesn't accept anything short of perfection. We work on a lot of ball handling and just getting shots off of plays and she's really good about footwork and making sure we rub shoulders with screens and just the smallest things.
So I feel like her coming in and just focusing on little things makes a difference in the long run.
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: I agree with Blair. She doesn't let us cut corners and she expects a lot for us and I don't think she let's us make excuses for anything. She holds us accountable, and I think she's a great leader for our program. She's a lot -- she brings a lot to the table and it's awesome learning from her.
Q. This question is really for all of you. This is your second Sweet 16. What are some things you took away from last year that have prepared you for this time around?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: Last year, you know, we lost in the Sweet 16. We were very excited just to get there because it was like our first time.
But this year, I feel like we expect more. We're coming into the Sweet 16 and I feel like we can go further than the Sweet 16. We are happy that we're here, but we want to go further.
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Just like she said, we're happy to be here but we expect to go further. So it's just another game for us, and we are just ready to play and we are focused in practice and we just want to get better and keep competing.
BLAIR SCHAEFER: This year, I think marks a milestone for our team and what a veteran team is supposed to do and I feel like every year, you're supposed to build on what you've done the previous years.
I just feel like with the players we have on our team, we're getting the job done and focusing on one game at a time and we need to continue to do that to reach our goal which is to get to the Final Four this year.
Q. Dominique, a lot of people are talking about Kelsey Plum and what she's able to do offensively. Obviously much more than just a scorer. What makes her so good, I guess? What makes her so difficult to defend in your eyes?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: She is really versatile. She can spot up two (ph), she can shoot off the dribble, she can get all the way to the rim. And I think one of the things that sets her apart is she loves to get the ball to her teammates.
A lot of times she beats her defender and she gets to pass it to one of her teammates and they knock down a three. So I think that's what really makes her dangerous is she can set up her teammates for shots, and she also rebounds.
Q. For one of your teammates, this is a bit of a homecoming with Ros Johnson starting her career at Oklahoma State. How do you see her progressing as she becomes a senior?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Ro has brought a lot of offense to our team. She's a great player overall: She can shoot, she can get to the rim; she can do everything. As I see her career progressing, I see her becoming an even better defensive player. She's a pretty good defensive player right now, so I think move on to next year, I see her becoming the lock down defender for our team and her role just expanding.
Q. Blair, I know Washington, kind of Plum-centric, I think your dad compared him to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, but you guys, it can be anyone on any given night and depth is what does it for you. How do the teams contrast the differences of style and how does it affect the game when they run into each other?
BLAIR SCHAEFER: I just think that it makes both teams focus more. It's all about your mindset going into the game. I feel like you have to adapt, depending on what each team brings, and Washington brings Plum, who obviously can do everything, and Osahor, who is a great three-point shooter but she is also a post and leading rebounder in the country. So I feel like we have to do our job on trying to stop those two or limiting their touches.
But with them, I feel like it's a difficulty for them because they don't know who is going to go off on our team because we're so deep. They don't know who is going to have the game that's just setting other people up. They don't know -- they just don't know what their role is going to be. They don't know who on our team is going to shoot. They don't know who is going to drive. Because I feel like we have such a versatile team who can do a bunch of things, and it's hard to get teams who are really prepared for us, because I feel like we're just so versatile, I guess.
Q. More so than the lineup changes, do you feel like the two-week break was a big deal for you guys to get a chance to kind of reset and kind of refocus on the tournament?
BLAIR SCHAEFER: I do. I feel like we had a lot of things we need to work on. Sometimes when you play so many games, you lose some of your habits that you've worked on all year, so we had to reestablish those habits, defensively and offensively, but we also had to focus on scoring.
I feel like we kind of got into this period where we weren't scoring as much, or it was just because of the small things not rubbing off on screens, not setting your team up -- teammates up right, or not communicating. Just small things that we had to fix in practice, and it's showing that when you pay attention to the small things, the big picture on offense and defense comes together better.
So I do feel like the two-week period really helped us look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what wasn't going right and what was going right and I feel like we have adapted really well.
Q. How many cowbells can we expect to hear tomorrow night?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: I don't think out here, cowbells, they are not allowed in the arena. If they were allowed, I'm pretty sure we would hear a lot. You'll probably hear a lot of our fans.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck tomorrow night and we'll see you after the game.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports