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March 24, 2018
Kansas City, Missouri
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Coach Vic Schaefer, student-athletes, Blair Schaefer, Morgan William, Roshunda Johnson, Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians. A short opening statement from Coach Schaefer.
VIC SCHAEFER: Wow, well, again, just proud of our team, proud of our kids up here. These four seniors have been very, very special to our program. Obviously last night I thought we played really well to be honest with you. I think I said that last night. A lot of respect for Wes and his program at NC State and those kids. I think I said it last night but I'll say it again, we always talk about Tori and how good she is and we frame that with her offensive game, last night she took a kid that's averaging a double-double in the ACC and held her to 5 points and 3 rebounds. A lot of times Tori doesn't get credit for her defense but she did a great job last night on Nelson and that was a big key for us in the ball game.
Looking ahead to UCLA and what Coach Close has done with her program, we scrimmaged them two years ago in Dallas in late October and I told her in the hallway to see the development she has had with those kids in basically two seasons is really good, really remarkable. Those kids, I'm sitting there watching last night and I have a lot of respect for Texas and I just thought UCLA really dominated most of the game. I thought position-by-position they were just really, really good.
Again, you've gotta give Coach Close and her staff credit and those kids credit. We're going to have our hands full. They are fast, quick, long, athletic, cover a lot of ground, they forced 21 turnovers last night which led to 31 points. We will be ready. We had a good practice last night. We're excited about the opportunity. We run into these great teams a lot and I'm excited to see our kids play again. That being said, that fast enough for you?
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our student-athletes.
Q. Morgan then Victoria, last year you were the team that made the big breakthrough to get to the national final and this year the roles are reversed. Do you see any similarities with UCLA? It seems like they're like you were last year, the young, hungry team that's hungry for that breakthrough. Do you see any similarities?
MORGAN WILLIAM: Yeah, I believe so. I know the NCAA Tournament they're trying to get to the Elite Eight and to the Final Four so I can see them trying to get into the Final Four.
VICTORIA VIVIANS: Yeah, they got the energy. They are coming in and they're hungry for it. But don't come in and knock us down. We have the same energy that we had last year, so it's just who is going to win.
Q. Blair, the length, athleticism, the quickness that Coach referred to, what challenges do those present to you and are they similar to any team that you guys have faced this season off the top of your head?
BLAIR SCHAEFER: They have a lot of athleticism and height. I think it makes me have to be more on my game, I have to be focused on boxing out and going to get them on the perimeter, not letting them come in the paint and box them out in the paint. I feel like we have played a lot of athletic teams this year SEC. The SEC has a lot of length as well so hopefully that experience in the SEC will carry over into tomorrow.
Q. Teaira, last night you mentioned one of the things that might have impacted your play last night was the seniors and playing for them. How much is that driving you in the postseason? You've played well and been sharp it seems. How much is that driving you to send them out winners, and not play your last game with a loss?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Even last year I did it for my seniors and each year I do it for my seniors. Seeing where the program was and where it is now I don't want to let them fall short of what they should get. They should get the best, which is a National Championship.
Q. Morgan, you've played a lot of great point guards through your career and this season, from what you have seen of Jordin, how does she compare and what are they are strengths and what challenges does it present for you tomorrow?
MORGAN WILLIAM: First of all, she is a point guard overall, offensively and defensively. She won Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12. She has a great offensive game, improving each year, probably the best point guard that I will go against this year.
Q. Morgan, Roshunda and Blair, UCLA has mentioned they want to push the pace. They're expecting a track meet. How does that impact the way you play out there knowing that they want to push the pace?
MORGAN WILLIAM: If it's going to be a track meet we need to get behind it. We need to book every time and easy layups. So we can run a track meet but we're going to be pressing, too, in the meet. So see who lasts longer.
ROSHUNDA JOHNSON: I don't think we consider it a track meet, I think it will go in our favor and if we run and execute plays then we will be fine.
BLAIR SCHAEFER: I agree. I feel like if we talk like we have all year, communicate on the floor and use our leadership and just being seniors, that previous knowledge that we have had over this four years, if we use that and communicate throughout the entire game I feel like we will be fine.
Q. Blair, when you were growing up you watched your dad obviously building that program with Texas A&M with Gary Blair and the way the fan base mushroomed in College Station and going to Starkville you've seen the same thing and been a part of it as a player. What has it meant to you to go to a city like that because you can compare it to what you saw happen with the Aggies?
BLAIR SCHAEFER: I've gone from being a fan, from watching A&M to being a player. I get two different vibes, you love being in that atmosphere and cheering on great team and now being part of a great team and having that fan base as well it's such a special experience and to know that I've been able to build a program with these amazing seniors and Teaira is something that I will never be able to replace.
Q. Victoria and Blair, how have you all grown together as a team and how did your one loss help you if it did?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: We've grown a lot. I feel like every player has grown in their own significant way but we have grown as a team. Our chemistry is great and we do a lot of great things with each other and I feel like the overall the team is great and from the loss of South Carolina we know what to expect now. If one of us is not shooting well or the whole team isn't slating well to attack the basket. We know what to do in a situation like that.
BLAIR SCHAEFER: I feel like over the four years we have gotten better individually because we go against each other so hard every day. When you go against great players you don't have another choice but to get better. I feel like that's been a blessing and the loss to South Carolina just really opened our eyes to how stagnant we were. The fact that that was our one game this year that usually -- if one person is not shooting good we have another person that's hot and no one could make a bucket. I think we learned that driving and attacking is an option and we need to focus on that every game and not just a few games.
Q. For Morgan, we're about at a year anniversary of you having an awesome game last year with 40-something points that was special to you on the anniversary of your father's passing. How often do you think back to that game and the high you had from that game and have you thought about it at all on this trip?
MORGAN WILLIAM: Social media reminds me. People tell me about it. But, um, I think about it. But, you know, it's a new year, new game, whatever happens, happens. Whether I go off or I don't. I know whatever the team needs, that's what I will do. If they need me to get ten assists, I will get ten assists, no points. So that works. Yeah.
Q. Teaira, Monique, I'm not sure of the exact match-up, but she has the possibility of going against you. She is athletic, quick. What match-up problems does that present if that's the match-up for tomorrow?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Running the floor when I'm rebounding and she sprints out so knowing that my teammates have to sprint back and help me until I can get there and her counter moves she has. I have to stay down and not go for the first one or the second one or the third one, maybe the fourth one but I have to stay down and contest her very well, hands straight up.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you. Questions for Coach?
Q. Vic, I found it being that last night you were asked about the Ole Miss game from earlier in the season. Would you go as far as to say that was a turning point for you guys? How much of that enabled you guys to get here, if anything at all?
VIC SCHAEFER: I don't know the significance of that particular postgame other than, you know, you win by 20 and most people are, you know, everything is hunky-dory and for me it wasn't. Again, I think that goes back to playing for me and playing at Mississippi State. It's probably not the easiest thing in the world to do. We don't apologize for being demanding.
I think all these young ladies will tell you, the rest of 'em in the locker room, I coach the same way from the first tip until the last second of the game. I was coaching Jazz last night to manage the game late and y'all know I've gotten on that last five that's come in and not closed out a game properly, giving up an 8 or 10-0 run after we've held somebody to 40-something points and they go out there and "slop it up" give up 10 points in two minutes and look like death warmed over. I think there is a level of expectation, a standard that we try to hold everyone accountable to. So, you know, that particular night it was just one of those nights where I think we need to do address some things.
Q. Coach, you've played a demanding schedule, in conference, out of conference, what team reminds you the most of what you're going to face against the Bruins?
VIC SCHAEFER: I don't know. That group I watched last night, boy, they do so many things well. Cori has done a tremendous job with them. They play with a high rate of speed. Their point guard dictates how they want to play. Sometimes she is that bull in the China cabinet that's going, going, going, and Cori is over there trying to pull back the reigns a little bit. That whole team is really good and I think that whole team plays like that.
From their length, their athleticism, their size, it really four spots on the floor. Pretty unique team. I walked out of here last night going, now, did I read that right? Where they finished in the Pac-12? Because, you know, they just really looked good to me. I have so much respect for Texas. I see them a little more than I see those teams on the west coast. Again, watching it in person last night I was just really impressed with how UCLA played and dominated the game.
Q. Vic, you mentioned after the Oklahoma State game that the team was kind of having a problem finding their second wind in that game. Are you concerned at all facing another team that likes to run the floor like that? Do you feel like they have found their second wind?
VIC SCHAEFER: I think we're okay. Again, we were concerned going into the Oklahoma State game with how they wanted to play and get up and down. I thought we took that away from them. We're going to have to be obviously really good tomorrow as well, and do a good job in a number of areas, transition defense being one of 'em. Again, I think there's some things that you can do to handle that. We've just got to go out and execute it.
Q. Vic, these two programs I think have things in common but then things completely different. She is building a program in one of the biggest cities in America, in the world! You're in Starkville and there is a smaller population base there, but there are advantages of that, too, I think, just the feel of the whole state feels so close to this team. Talk about how you have used that to your advantage and how much Victoria coming there and being a Mississippi kid impacted that?
VIC SCHAEFER: Absolutely, I do think in our state you're either a Bulldog or you're the other school up north and there is nobody in between. There is no love. There is no straddling the fence. You don't drive by a house and they've got this flag and this Bulldog. I'm just telling y'all. It's unlike anything I've experienced. If there is a house divided, there is a road between it.
The fact of the matter is with this success of this team and this program I have seen and had so many people that wear the other color of the school compliment me and our kids and what they've been able to do. It's a sense of pride. I think people have no idea about the great state of Mississippi and the state we live in and what a tremendous place it is. The people in that state are what make it so special. Doesn't matter what school you support. It's who they are. It's really been, for me, someone that's not from that state. I've enjoyed it. It's been fun building it at Mississippi State.
Victoria was a huge part of what we've done because she gave us credibility. When we first got there and you're talking a vision, until you can get somebody to buy into that vision and give you a little bit of credibility, a national kid like Victoria, you know, it sometimes can be a challenge. Victoria, she not only changed our program, she obviously impacted my career, both professionally as well as personally. Just a wonderful kid. If I can't find Victoria Vivians in Starkville, all I gotta do is call the house because she is an hour and 15 minutes away in Carthage, probably eating grandma's cooking, going to church and enjoying being around her mom and dad. That's lost a lot in today's world with kids.
For me, I respect her even more for that, because I'm a family guy. Family is something that we talk about a lot at Mississippi State. It's something I believe in so Victoria has impacted our program, I'm going to lose about 300 season ticket holders, because when she comes -- I'm surprised nobody has robbed a bank in Carthage because there is nobody there to keep them from doing it when we play on game night. It's really been special.
Q. The match-up against Oklahoma State, the second game you guys did a good job of changing some things in terms of the tempo of the game. I know their personnel is different from UCLA's. But how much does that adjustment that you guys made against Oklahoma State particularly against Goodwin and containing her, how much does that give you confidence that you can do that tomorrow night?
VIC SCHAEFER: Sure. I think it gives you something to hang your hat on and you know you've had to do it before. Look, we've gone against some great point guards in the Southeastern Conference. Jordin Canada is really good and she really dictates, again, their whole demeanor, their tempo, the kid has a lot of confidence. She plays with a lot of swagger. It's hard to have swagger unless you're really good, unless your skill set is really good. She's got a good skill set. For us, we will have a game plan and it's one thing to talk about, practice for one day, it's another thing to go out and execute it. But with four seniors, we have had to do it before.
Q. Can you talk about the match-ups between Morgan and Jordin and Teaira and Monique and how you see that and what you think your kids are going to have to do to get the best of their kids and where Victoria is going to fit into the scheme?
VIC SCHAEFER: Sure, I think Victoria plays multiple positions for us and, you know, hopefully for them they're going to have to figure out who is going to try to guard her when she's at our 3B guard or if she is at the 3 guard. I think that's what's been the beauty for us this year is to be able to go with Chloe at 4 who can stretch and you shoot it, play Tori out there, a lot of times that can be a mismatch or player at 4, 3B as I call it and that's a mismatch.
As much as everybody is worried about our match-ups with them, I think that's an area right there that you can really, it's going to be an advantage for us. Those two match-ups at point guard and 5, I don't think there is any doubt that's going to be the key to the ball game for either team. I think you have two great ones at point, two great ones inside and it will be fun to watch those kids go at it and compete against each other.
These types of games and these types of match-ups make our game great. When you get this match-up in an Elite Eight game, again, I watched 'em last night and to me UCLA just really, really looked good. They looked good in a lot of areas. Their execution was good. Obviously their inside game was really good. I thought they got on the boards and got after Texas which I really could not believe that could happen to a big, strong, physical Texas team. So I think those are two match-ups that you pointed out that are going to be big for tomorrow night.
Q. Coach, when you look at UCLA, they're similar to how you guys were last year. They're hungry. They got over the Sweet 16 hump now they're looking to get to the Final Four, but Victoria said don't count out our hunger. How have they been balancing getting back to the championship, even though you're on the other end of the spectrum as the 1 seed trying to use that motivation to get back to the Final Four?
VIC SCHAEFER: So far, Tom, I think we've handled it pretty well. We're 35-1. We've taken the bullseye from last year of getting to the National Championship game to the bullseye, adding another bullseye this year of being undefeated for as long as, for 32 games. These kids have worn it all year long. Cori has done a great job. She's been there for seven years. We've been at Mississippi State for six. I think our paths, as far as the trajectory of our programs are similar in those years. Her and her staff have done a great job. I think our kids at the end of the day, I've stopped worrying about 'em being ready because they've been ready for 35 of the 36. The one game we didn't win, it wasn't because we weren't ready, we played a really good South Carolina team that night, they executed better than we did and they beat us.
For this team, this group, these seniors, the thing about them, they know what's at stake. They've been in this game before. That, I think, gives me confidence, probably gives them a little confidence, too, to understand what's coming down the pipe and how to respond in certain situations.
Q. Coach Close mentioned that hunger and watching you all in the run you made last year inspired her a little bit to say, hey I think that's what we want to be next year. When you hear a power 5 coach say that, how does that make you feel personally?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, again, I think there is parity in our game now. It gives anybody hope when you can go out there and beat a No. 1. Number one, we had to beat the best player in the game in Plum. Then we had to beat Baylor who rolls out seven or eight All-Americans, looks like a WNBA team. Then we have to roll in and beat a team that's won 111 games on the biggest stage in my industry.
I think anyone can use that and use it with your kids. For us everybody wants to talk about that game in the semifinal. It's one game. I didn't have to play them best out of seven. We just had to play one night, one game, execute, do our job. Again, for us in that game it was personal because of what had happened the year before. For anyone else, right now, they're just trying to get to that point and get to that game. Again, sometimes you have to go through something rough, not bad but just rough or uncomfortable to get to what the success is, something better down the line. We had to go through something really rough in that Sweet 16 game against that team to get to 365 days later to experience something very special. That's life!
You go through rough patches in life that get you ready for better things, and I believe that with all my heart. I believe the good Lord puts in you those positions and what a blessing to have a chance 365 days later for redemption. That's the piece that a lot of teams don't get. They have not gone through that heartache yet. They don't understand what it felt like to walk off that floor in Bridgeport humiliated. Probably the lowest point of my coaching career. Am I going to walk out of there and go to the bar and stay there seven days? Or am I going to learn from that and maybe put me a reminder with the number 60 on my desk, 60 in the locker room, 60 in the weight room, and fuel that, use that as fuel?
So I think that's where we were, and, again, a unique perspective and unique situation. But I think our game has provided us with so much parity. I think there's a lot of people that can make a run.
Q. You have two point guards that you are able to split so much time between for the last two games seems like Morgan has taken over those minutes. What has gone into the thinking in giving her back those minutes?
VIC SCHAEFER: Morgan has played better. She doesn't look tired. Nothing against Jazz. She has played well all year long. I just think Morgan is in a groove, playing extremely well. But you know what? Tomorrow night, it's all about feel with them, as far as me coaching those kids and I've done that their whole career. Anybody that's done their homework knows when Jazz is playing well, Jazz is going to play. Just so lucky and blessed to have two great point guards. So that's kinda how that will go tomorrow night and we'll see how it goes.
Q. Vic, big picture, what does it mean to the sport and what kind of impact does it have when programs like yours are able to build up and reach the level that that old guard has stayed at for so long?
VIC SCHAEFER: So just to clarify, programs like mine? Give me the clarification on that.
Q. When you build it up, to being a top national women's basketball program?
VIC SCHAEFER: I'm going to respond to that and say we are now. Obviously where we came from, you know, they had a little bit of success and then had fallen on a couple years of hard times and then to go from 13-17 to 22-14, 27-7 to 28-8, 34-5 to where we are now at 35-1, I think it gives anybody hope. But I think it also isn't easy. This didn't happen just because we all come into the office every day 8-5. I got a staff that grinds. They work their tails off. They understand the importance of every little thing that we do.
We talk about coaching the little things. Well, they are also as coaches doing the little things. It's so hard to do what we have done in the period of time that we've done it in. I think that's the thing. I had a blueprint when Scott hired me but I don't know that the blueprint was, hey, you're taking over a program that's coming off a 14-16, six seniors are on the way out the door off a bad 14-16 team. You've got no kids that are eligible of the three that you signed and by the way you're playing in the biggest, baddest conference in the country. And we had, what, one SEC player on that group? We developed two more but we had a nice Division III team that they left us. No disrespect to those kids. They were great kids and they played their hearts out.
We had to do a massive overhaul. At the end of the day it's rewarding. It's hard to do, but there is a process. We didn't panic when we went 13-17. We knew what that looked like. We didn't panic the next year when we went 5-11 again by the way we went 5-11 in the SEC that year. I thought we would win five games total. I didn't coach those kids any different than that same team that won a National Championship in 2011. We demanded from them just like we demand from this group now. No different!
I think the next year you go 5-11 again, but you're 22-14, you're in the NIT. Then you just keep growing. You've got to recruit. You've gotta stack classes. You can't have one good class then go two and three years and then you have another good class. You've got to stack classes. Victoria, Mo, Blair, that class backed up the first one, Bre, Ketara, Dominique and Chinwe.
You stack those classes then back that up with Teaira and Jazz. So we've done that every year. The next class was ranked 19th. The class we got comin' is ranked 10th. So that's the process of how you do it.
Again, I feel like we weren't hired to bring them a top-25 team. We were hired to bring them a top-10 program. Programs are there every year. Every year when the preseason poll comes out you don't look for them below 10. Where are they in the top-10. That's why you're looking. You're not down here in 17-25. 17-25 is fluid. Those teams are in and out all year long. Receiving votes one week, No. 23 the next, back to receiving votes, all the way out. That's not what I felt like I was hired to do. I was hired to bring Mississippi State a top-10 program. To do that, it takes so much time, effort, energy, focus of everyone involved.
But it also takes an administration that goes, you know what? He thinks it's important. We need to give him the opportunity to do it. I think that's the beauty for me and for us, is that they've given us the tools. They've supported us to allow us to go do our job and it's hard to do your job you got handcuffs on.
I think at Mississippi State, they took the handcuffs off and said, hey, it's important, here you go. Go get it done. And I think we've done that. It's very rewarding, and, again, you gotta give these kids credit, you gotta give them credit for our fan base. That's part of building a program, not just the X's and O's and not just the wins and losses. It's 10,000 people in that arena, what, four or five times this year, selling out both regionals. It doesn't happen that way most places.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. We'll see you tomorrow night.
VIC SCHAEFER: Praise the Lord and go Dogs!
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