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March 27, 2018
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Good morning, everyone. Really want to first start by just talking about how proud I am of my kids and our team. Obviously very hard to do what they have been able to do this year. They have had the target on their back from day one, just talking about last year and what they were able to accomplish; as the year went on this year, being undefeated for 32 games was a big challenge and they handled that like a pro all year long.
The one game we did lose, we lost to the better team that night. South Carolina is obviously very good and Dawn does a tremendous job, her and her staff. Just wasn't our night. Wasn't that we weren't ready. Wasn't that we weren't prepared. Just it wasn't our night.
But these kids have had two pretty big bulls-eyes on their back all year long, and have just really handled that, unlike any time I've ever coached. It's the best offensive team I've ever been associated with in 33 years. To have four senior guards, the leadership that they have provided has been out standing, and their maturity, really, is beyond anything, again, that I've ever experienced as a head coach.
In particular Teaira McCowan inside is a double-double machine. She has had an incredible year. She's had 26-double-doubles this year; she's had had 30-20 games, numerous 20-20 games and here and Tori are both very deserving of their All-American status that they have earned.
Point guard play has opinion tremendous with Morgan and Jaz, it's allowed us, people don't realize, we're redshirting three-time Gatorade Player of the Year, Myah Taylor, who came in as a point guard and that's the luxury we have with two great point guards in Morgan and Jaz.
Just really excited, again, to get back to Columbus. Again, so hard to do to see these kids have the success they have had. I'm just really proud and happy for them.
I'd be remiss without mentioning my staff. Johnnie Harris, my associate head coach came here to Mississippi State. I would not have come here without her. She has been named the Assistant Coach of the Year by the WBCA. Carly Thibault bow has been named one of the 30-for-30 coaches. Dionnah Jackson-Durrett, my other assistant, who is on our staff and does a tremendous job.
So I'm just really blessed with what I think is the best staff in the country. They do a great job preparing these kids, and help develop them. That's been a secret to our success. I think anybody that's followed us over the last six years, they know our recipe is recruit, retain and develop and I think we've done that.
We have no McDonald's All-Americans but we have kids that fit in our system, they play extremely hard. They are committed. You know, I think the other piece that people don't realize is we had a team GPA of 3.4 in the fall. Really proud of our program and where we are and excited about the opportunity.
Obviously you have three other great, great programs, great teams, great coaches, in the Final Four, and we are just proud to be a part of it.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the All-America awards and what Victoria and what Teaira and what Morgan have meant?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, they are very well deserved. I'm really happy for them, proud of them. Again, I think it shows a tremendous commitment on their part, my staff's part, with those players.
Those student athletes are very deserving. Morgan, as our point guard for four years here, she's really playing well right now, too. And again, she gets pushed every day by Jaz in practice, and they have made each other better.
You know, Victoria, to improve your shooting percentage 13 percentage points from two, and I think seven from three, from junior to senior year, is really astounding. Typically, the most improvement you make is between your freshman and sophomore year, but she's really taken off, playing with so much confidence right now. Had a heck of a regional in Kansas City, her and Teaira both were MVPs. I've never heard of that, co-MVPs of a regional, and both of them were deserving. I commend the people that voted on that for giving it to both of them because they both were outstanding.
Obviously Teaira, I've said it all year long, the kid does it night-in and night-out, 27, I think. You would know better than me but I think it's 27 double-doubles in the Southeastern Conference with two and three people hanging on her.
To be able to do it consistently over the course of the season, is really, really difficult to do. We had a heck of a non-conference schedule, as well, and just so proud of her and her development. And I say this all the time: I still think she's got -- she can go a whole lot further. I think her development is still way out there, and she just can become even more dominating, if that's even possible, which it is in my mind, you know, with another great summer and a good fall.
Q. That stat you mentioned earlier with the assistant coaches, what parts of you, either personality-wise or basketball-wise, does each of them kind of balance out, and in particular, how did Dionnah become part of that staff?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, my staff, is incredible. We are all so much -- first of all, we're family. They don't work for me. They work with me. We work together. They embrace the grind. They embrace the process. It is a hard-working -- they are so committed to our student athletes. Their attention to detail is spot-on.
I mean, we are all so much alike in terms of competitiveness and making sure that we cover our bases. We have everything, you know, not wanting to be surprised by anything in our preparation, and then the recruiting piece, they are just bulldogs, for lack of a better word. They are bulldogs when it comes to recruiting.
Again, just really blessed to have this staff, a mixture of experience and youth; and at the same time my youth is mature beyond its years, just again, the work ethic that this group has is amazing. I've been able to surround myself with people that have the same goals, the same drive, the same vision that I have, and that's the secret I think to any company, any program, is you've got to surround yourself with people that are better than you in some areas, you know that, have a drive and embrace the grind.
There is no time in our day. There's no -- in other words, there's no 8:00 to 5:00. It's daylight to the next day. I mean, it's just the way it is. I just appreciate them so much.
I was able to hire Dionnah a couple years ago. I got her from George Mason, came highly recommended to me, and you know, her and Carly both have been tremendous additions. Johnnie and I have been together a long, long time, and you know, we're family. I mean, she's done a heck of a job developing Big T, and as a post coach does so much for our program.
She's that assistant that when I'm gone, if there's got to be a decision made, she knows which decision it make and which one I would make. She's tremendous. I can't say enough about Johnnie, what she means to me personally as well as professionally. We're family. That's the best thing I can say about her.
Q. A little more on Teaira, if I could. I can remember when she was a younger player, you talked about just how there was so much to sort of build on with the raw potential of her. As you said, we're seeing that now. When you look back, even at the history of the last, I don't know, ten, 15 years of women's basketball, do you see her starting to really compare to some of the great centers that we've seen in the game, the great true centers, and what do you think are the things that she's most developed so far in her three years with Mississippi State?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: I think the thing that's really impressed me about her is just how hard she plays the game; in particular, her pursuit of the basketball rebounding.
She just -- there are times when I thought over the weekend, there were times when she just would not be denied, and she has really become that -- that Bill Russell-type, who understands angles and shots when they are coming off. She just has a tremendous nose for the ball. Her pursuit of the basketball has really become I think a staple for her.
It's hard to get a body on her and it's hard to move her. You know, her strength, I think is really another dominating factor in her game. I think the thing that as the year's gone by now this year, she's developing that skill set.
Her touch around the rim, her ability to get to her spots, and score from them, in more than one way. That's still coming and we still have a lot of work, in my mind, to do there, but just to be able to watch her develop her skill set; her free throw percentage, for instance, she started off the year in the 30s. She's now in the high 60s, but if you look over the last five games, she's at 80-something. She's done a tremendous job there improving her touch, her face-up game and her range.
I'm proud of her. As you know, those post players, they do all the dirty work. They are down there, you know, leaning, rubbing, getting shoved around and a lot of their development, too, is not just the physical piece but after you do all that and you run the floor and a guard misses you on a post-up, you know, you can't get upset about that. You have to turn right back around and go back and do it again and hope the next time, they don't miss you.
That's the mental possess that a lot of the big kids, post players, men and women, sometimes have a hard time dealing with, and she's been just a champ and a pro.
Q. When you took the job, what did you envision this program being? Obviously it had not been a powerhouse. What was it about Mississippi State that you thought, I could get it done here?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: My vision is exactly what we're experiencing last year, this year. I believed this could happen. I believed that we had the blueprint.
Again, part of that blueprint was Johnnie coming with me. You know, her knowledge of the game and her knowledge of what it takes in a program. That's such a broad -- there's so many things that go into developing a program. I didn't believe I was brought here to have a Top-25 team.
As I told Scott Strickland, my athletic director then, I wanted to come here and build a Top-10 program. There's a difference between Top-25 teams and Top-10 programs. Programs are there every year. Year-in, year-out. You pick up a preseason pole, you're looking for a certain team in the Top-10. You don't know where they are going to be but they are in the Top-10. Those teams 17-25 are fluid. One week they are in the pole, the next week they are out, the next week they are not receiving votes, the next week they are receiving.
That's not what my vision was. I envisioned us building a Top-10 program here, and again, I believed we could do it because of the people, because of the administration. Our facilities are incredible, and it's a beautiful part of the country.
Again, I'm not from Mississippi. I don't think I've been in this state other than to recruit the No. 1 player in the country one year and then I had to play here three times out of six years when I coached at Arkansas. So other than that, I had never even been through the state, but it's a tremendous place, tremendous people in this state. And we have a beautiful campus.
I can't tell you how many times I've had recruits and parents here and their parents have told me, "Coach, we had no idea this was here." I think I've lost six kids in six years who have actually been on official visits here.
But again, the only piece is, I had to have the right staff. We had to have the right people here that would be committed to our mission, and again, we didn't panic. That first year, when we went 13-17, that may be the best job in coaching I've of done. I didn't think we'd win three games and we won 13, won five in the league, and so you know, we didn't panic. We just went would work. We went recruiting.
That first recruiting class wasn't highly ranked. I think they were ranked 35th and maybe seventh in the league of 14 teams, but they were kids that fit. They fit our style of play. They fit what we desperately needed here, which was a competitive spirit and toughness. We just didn't have that.
So it's been fun building it.
Q. You're going to get a variation of this, I'm sure, all week. You're the only team that's beaten UCONN in a long time. How much relevance is there to that, and even though you beat them last year, you didn't get the ultimate prize which I'm sure drives you.
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: I think every year is new and different. Our mission this year is unfinished business. Our kids have embraced that. I'm sure Connecticut's is similar. They want to get back and have that opportunity again, and they have been driven by that.
I think you could see last night, they are very focused and playing at an unbelievable high level. I mean, they are so, so talented, so good, so well coached. You know, they are just -- they are on a mission, as well.
I think we've both been probably fueled by what happened a year ago. For us, we've now got to get ready and play a very, very good Louisville team that's extremely well coached, great players. We're both from very good conferences and so you know, that's our challenge this week is trying to get ready for them.
But I'm sure that everyone has their own motivations to get to where we are right now, and I think it's, you know, I'm glad I'm one of the 1-seeds that made it. I would have hated to have been the one that didn't. All four 1-seeds made it and now we are all motivated to try to get to the last game of the year.
Q. Every team has an identity. You're coming to Columbus. What can you tell the fans, the city, what is Mississippi State's identity? What are they going to see?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Our kids, I think they are going to see a very -- a team that typically all year has been able to score. We shoot it extremely well. We've got four kids around the perimeter that can really shoot it. We've got the big bookend inside in Teaira.
But I think past all that, you're going to see a team that plays extremely hard. You know, someone wants to describe you as an individual player or your team, as a tough, physical, aggressive basketball team, you'd probably like that.
I think a football coach would like it if they described your football team as a tough, physical, aggressive team; you'd like that, I think in any sport. Well, that doesn't say anything about your skill set.
I think for us, we've really tried to embrace that. It's part of our program. It part of our DNA of who we are. We have a saying in our locker room: It's not what we do but how we do it that separate us from the rest of the country.
This team has really prided itself on work ethic, attention to detail, and I think you're going to see a team that has tremendous chemistry, and they love playing the game. They really have a lot of fun playing a game. They have been a blast to coach. I think anybody that has seen us across the country knows that. Anybody that hasn't seen us, I think they will be impressed by how hard these kids play.
Q. You talked about your shooting. Has the women's game followed along with the men's game where spacing, three-point shot is becoming sort of more and more important? Do you embrace that or do you approach it a little differently?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, this year's team certainly has. I've never, like I said, this is the best offensive team I've ever had. They are just really, really talented. We can space the floor and shoot it at four shots and then again it's hard to get help off anybody to deal with Teaira inside.
So we have, we've embraced it. Really, again, it the first team I've had like that. Last year's team was more defensive-minded. I've complained a lot about this year's team defensively, and yet we averaged in the Southeastern Conference, we held people to 55 points a game and something like 39 percent field goal percentage defense, which isn't that great. But the points, I do like the points allowed.
Offensively we've averaged, 82, 84 points a game all year. Our point differential in the Southeastern Conference was 24 points in 16 conference games, which is unbelievable. It's off the chart.
Last year's team was 13, when we went 13-3, it was 13 points. So year's team is obviously offensively much more skilled and talented. So we've certainly embraced the four at one end for sure.
Q. I was just going to ask you, you talked about having a bulls-eye on your back and how proud you've been of your team for getting through the season and winning all those games, looking at a program like UCONN which is in its 11th straight Final Four, you hear that number and you think of how hard it is just to get to two. What does it say about UCONN's program? What do you think about that streak for them?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, again, it's a level of excellence never before seen in the game of basketball, not just women.
I think what Coach Auriemma and his program, his staff, have been able to create with their student athletes is outstanding. It's an incredible run, and it's not like it's going to end any time soon, I don't think. They are obviously extremely driven and highly motivated. They have done it every year.
So if and when it ever does -- when they retire, which obviously I don't know when that will be, but if and when that run ever ends, I don't think it will ever be seen again. I mean, it's just -- they have just been incredible. They are to be commended for it. It's an incredible feat, and trust me, I've lived it for the one year here, and they have done it forever, it seems like, just forever.
Again, I have so much respect for them, knowing how hard it is, and they just do it every year. I mean, they just crank it out every year, do it every year at such a high level.
Look, they are not just winning. He said it last night. It's not just about winning for them. It's how they win and how they play the game, and that's what I've tried impart on these kids here in our program. It's how you play the game and how you respect and honor the game, and I think that's where he's at with his program and how they coach. It's how they play. I think that's the piece that gets lost in all this is the way they play the game and dominate the game, in all facets, not just one.
You know, they talk about their offense and how good it is, but let me tell you, they are really good defensively, trust me. I got held to 38 one time.
Q. You talked about not having McDowell as an All-American, and we've had that discussion before, but when you picked Morgan William out of the crowd, what make made you pick Morgan because she seems like the glue that runs your show.
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: No question. She's really been special and what a blessing to have had her here these last four years.
You know, we saw a kid that provided who we are: How hard she plays; she's so quick, athletic, fast, long, but really just plays the game like a bulldog. She's just tough, hard-nosed, competitive. That kid played with a broken leg her sophomore year. Most kids would have turned it in and sat out six weeks. She played through it.
It's just been a blessing for me and our program here for four years. Love her like my own. She rooms with Blair. They are roommates. You know, just a special, special kid. But we saw a kid that fit what we needed and we've had some -- I've been a part of some great point guard over the years, but that's where it starts, really, for me, and for us is you've got to have great point guard play.
You have no chance in the Southeastern Conference if you don't have great point guard play, and she's really provided and been a steady player there game in, game out, day-in, day-out in practice and year-in, year-out.
Q. To follow up, do you think your girls like Victoria and Teaira, and even Morgan, not being selected for All-American teams out of high school, do they use that as motivation?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: I don't think there's any question; you and I both know, people get all caught up in putting a number by some kid's name, and it affects in how they are judged in so many opportunities. Not just in what college thinks they are good enough or recruits that, but even past that whether it's representing your country, or even at the next level.
These kids have all had opportunities to make some other teams while they are here, and they have not been chosen. You know, for whatever reason, these kids, they have tremendous pride. I do, too.
It's disappointing and disheartening because I know who they are and how hard they work. I know what kind of basketball player they are and I know what kind of teammate they are. I don't think there's any question that, you know, these kids belong. They have proven it and I'm happy for them. It can be a little bit frustrating.
Q. Just curious, we've talked a lot on this call about your team, but talking about the matchup that you have ahead of you, what do you make of the challenge that Louisville presence and what do you think you guys will have to do to get to the title game?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, they are really good. They are awfully talented. Obviously Jeff does a tremendous job. We're going to have to really play well. They have obviously got one of the greatest players in the game right now and Player of the Year in the ACC. But they have also got the other players around her.
One of my questions yesterday in our staff meeting: Okay, we know about Asia, but who else is capable of going off and really hurting you, and of course, we all knew the answer, but it created an opportunity for us to have conversations about that because they are very talented at every position.
The thing is, Jeff's going to do a great job. He and his staff are going to do a great job not only getting them ready but having them prepare for the things that we do and we do well. You're going against a complete program. You're going against an incredible staff. You're going against great players. They have had a heck of a year as all four teams have had. But just you're going to have to be an your A Game and because they are really, really talented, really, really special.
Jeff, I know Jeff well and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the job he's done there at Louisville.
Q. Doesn't look like you've ever played each other before.
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: We haven't. We saw each other that first year when I was year. I think we saw each other in Puerto Rico or maybe Puerto Vallarta that we played a tournament together and didn't play each other, of course he was very good then and we weren't very good.
I think that's the thing this time of year. We had never played UCLA either. Typically I've got a file that's three inches thick on every team I play, and even the TV people made a comment about my file on UCLA. Well, we just haven't played them very much, or any. The same will be true with Louisville.
I have had the opportunity to watch them play. I've made a point to watch them play during the season because I have so much respect for Jeff and their program and like watching how they play the game. They are similar to us in a lot of areas.
You know, I have seen them play, but it is a unique deal when you don't play somebody or haven't played them before. To play them on this stage, on a national stage, you know, it will be unique.
Q. I know you haven't had a lot of time to break down the Louisville squad yet, but what are some of the things that you all are thinking you need to do offensively and defensively to compete with the Cardinals?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, you know, No. 1, I think they are really good defensively. I think they play a lot like us in some of the things they like to do. Obviously you're dealing with an All-American in Durr that's just really hard to deal with.
Again, you have to be careful. If you take your focus away from someone else, there's someone else on that team that can go get 20 on you if you blink.
So you've got to be prepared for a total, total team, and so for us, we've really got to pay attention to detail. We've got to understand the scout. We've got three days to do that.
And then defensively, I know he's -- I've gone back and looked at historical things that he's done in the past with certain teams that might be similar to us, and so again, it's just going to be real important that we -- I call it coaching against a ghost. I'm always worried about what somebody might do. Well, that's what I'm worried about here because what he might do, he's done before. But just because he hasn't done it in the last ten games doesn't mean he won't do it against us.
So that's what makes a great coach, and a great staff, is whatever they have got in their defensive package or offensive package, that's what you're constantly worried about. I think they are so multiple in so many things they can do offensively and defensively, it's what makes them a great team, and Jeff a great coach.
Q. This nickname, Secretary of Defense, obviously you guy take a lot of pride as being a coach who stresses defense. What are the pillars of that philosophy?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, over the years, it's been a pressure, our ability to pressure the basketball and take away things that people want to do.
You know, it's become increasingly more difficult to have that philosophy, but we haven't changed. Back when three, four years ago, we had some little changes and some emphasis in hand shaking and things like that, if you notice across the country, there's a lot more zone being played.
I remember calling Johnnie in that day, saying, you know what, we are going to coach better and teach better. We've built a fan base here based on how hard our kids play, our toughness, our competitive spirit and I just don't think that we'd have the fan base we'd have right now if we were standing around in a 2-3 zone, and that's not to knock that. It may be great for someone else, but it's not what we hung our hat on around here, and I don't think -- I don't think we'd have 10,000 people come to see us play every night if that's what we were doing.
But it's what's been successful for me as a coach is our pressure man, and we pick up full court, we press the whole game. We just try to wear you down. You know, we've been really fortunate to have some great players here that have been able to provide that type of intensity. They embrace the fact that you have to play so hard.
Q. One question about Teaira McCowan. What difference does it make to have someone so talented and so tall? How much does that change the dynamic of everything?
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: Well, I'll answer that with just one simple comment. You can see the impact Teaira McCowan has on our team by how badly we missed her in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament when she had two fouls in the first, you know, four, five minutes. I sat her down the entire first half pretty much and we're down 11 at the half, and we can't turn it around and make the comeback.
You see firsthand the impact she's had on our program. She's very impactful. She impacts the game both ends of the floor. It's not just the shots that she blocks. It's the ones she alters. It's the times that you think you're going to dribble penetrate and you look up and there's six, seven standing in the lane and you go, you know what, I think I'll turnaround here and get back out in the perimeter.
She obviously cleans up a lot of our mess when we miss shots. She's a very impactful player for us.
Q. Watching the game against UCLA, there was a point in the third quarter when Teaira thought she blocked a shot and she was called for a foul, and the official -- Teaira, I observed Teaira muttering under her breath, "that's not a foul," and Victoria, crossed the lane, come over from the left block to the right block, kind of, you know, calmed her down a little bit. You talked about Victoria's maturation as an offensive player, but can you talk a little bit about her maturation as a basketball player, as a teammate? No disrespect to her; I'm not sure she would have done that earlier in her career.
COACH VIC SCHAEFER: No question. I think this entire senior class, I told them back in August, and I've shared this with you all: The two things that would at the point us from this day, from the opportunity to be in the Final Four, would be our maturity and our leadership. Those were the two question marks I really felt like this team had and that we needed to address.
You know, seeing Toro do that really speaks volumes for her, her maturity, and her leadership. You know, it's an emotional game. I've got emotional players. You know what, I'm an emotional coach, so we're all passionate about what we do and how we do it. That was a great opportunity that Toro took upon herself to lead.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports