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March 30, 2018

Roshunda Johnson

Teaira McCowan

Vic Schaefer

Victoria Vivians

Columbus, Ohio

Mississippi State - 73, Louisville - 63

THE MODERATOR: Joining us on the dais for Mississippi State, head coach Vic Schaefer, student-athletes Teaira McCowan, Victoria Vivians, and Roshunda Johnson. We'll open with a statement from Coach Schaefer and take questions from the student-athletes.

VIC SCHAEFER: Wow, so proud of my team today, as I have been all year. We talk about when things get a little bit tough and too tough for most people, when it gets really, really hard, that's when it gets about right for us.

Today was pretty tough. You're down three with, I don't know, 11 or 12 seconds left and not much -- you're going to have to do something right, and a lot of people are going to have to do it right. I thought we executed really well on a sideline out of bounds play. We put Blair in and ran her out, and the whole team seemed to run with her as a decoy. We put Ro out on the back side, and Tea really set a tremendous screen for her, but you've still got to make the shot. I thought, obviously, when you're in that position, there's a lot of things you've got to do well in that spot.

I want to really congratulate Jeff and his team and his program. What a heck of a game they played. I have so much respect for him, his staff. I've known them all a long time. Asia is such a tremendous player. When you have to go against somebody like that, you'd better have somebody that can lock her down, and I thought Ro started and then Jordan -- Jordan Danberry comes off the bench and plays 26 minutes, really did a nice job defensively on her, held her to 6 for 17 and has 10 points, 4 rebounds for us. Really, that kid's not played half that many all year but was really playing well today, hit some big free throws for us.

So when you get in these ball games like this and you play a great team like Louisville, you're going to have to have somebody on your bench step up. And I thought Jordan did that for us.

This one -- what do you say about Tea? 25 and 21? She's done it all year against the best teams in the country, the best coaches in the country. She did it tonight on the best stage you can do it on. Plays all 40 minutes, 6'7".


VIC SCHAEFER: Sorry. 45 minutes. I stand corrected. That's just hard to do for anybody. It's hard for Morgan William to do or anybody in a smaller size, but you put Teaira McCowan out there, and she's dragging everybody up and down the floor. Then competing every possession. She wants to get them all. I'm telling you, she wants every rebound, and you can see that as she's playing, how hard she plays.

But just so, so proud of these kids for -- we talk about toughness all the time, competitive spirit, and I just thought today it was really special with them. I've said it all year. I don't have the words, y'all, for when this is over. These four seniors, I don't have the words. So at least now I didn't have to have anything -- I wouldn't have had anything prepared today. At least now we're going to play the last game in the last year, and maybe we'll figure it out when we get to there.

But just really proud of our group again today. I thought their toughness won out.

Q. Tori, it was a really slow start offensively. What did you have to do to get things going?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: We just had to settle down and play our game. Like Teaira said before, we need to get out of our bodies. We just need to stay calm and do what we do best.

Q. Ladies, congratulations. Tea, for all the points and all the rebounds, Coach mentioned the screen. Can you take us through that play, what you did to get Ro open on the screen? And then if you could talk about 25 rebounds, career high.
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Well, on the screen, we set up the play for -- well, they thought we were going to go to Blair. So once I saw everybody shift, I took one fake back and screened for Ro and got her back in the middle of the free-throw line. So I knew she was going to be open when she threw the ball, and Ro knocked down the shot.

As for rebounds, Coach always says, Go get them all. So that's what I try to do, go get them all.

VIC SCHAEFER: Coachable.

Q. Ro, you were 2 out of 5. I think Coach even mentioned that. But you hit maybe the biggest basket in your career. Take us through having the confidence to make that shot. What was going through your mind?
ROSHUNDA JOHNSON: Shooters never give up on a shot. I felt like, even when I was missing, I wasn't going to stop shooting just because I wasn't making any. My teammates got me open. The Coach wrote up an excellent play, and we just had to go out and execute it. When I hit the shot, I mean, it made me 1 for 3 (laughter).

Q. This question is for Victoria. How are you feeling right now? Going back to the championship, what does that mean to you?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: I'm feeling good. I hope they're feeling good too. It means a lot. This is our second time doing it, and we're still making history for our school. I just feel like this year, we're going to have to execute and finish it all out and be on top this time.

Q. Victoria, you were out with four fouls, and they pushed the lead to seven. You came back in, and immediately it was like a 10-0 run. What was it like watching the game start to maybe get away from you, and how were you able to affect the game when you came back in with the four fouls?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: I didn't feel like the game got away from me. I just feel like I had slow down and focus and be mature about what I was doing at the time because my team needed me. When I got back in, I was making smart decisions. I guess in overtime I didn't make a smart decision, and I fouled out. But, hey, my team finished it out well. I'm proud of them.

Q. Teaira, speak of that, Victoria just spoke of a while ago, you guys had that huge win last year and then didn't finish it up. How much has that driven you guys? Everybody keeps talking about how UConn has been driven by that loss, but how much does that drive you all that you didn't finish your business last year?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: It drives us because we didn't do all the small things that Coach talks about. Sometimes as players, we blow Coach off and say we'll do it in the game. Sometimes in the game you can't turn it off like that. So we focused on boxing out, rebounding, playing plays out, and that's gotten us to where we are today.

Q. Coach Walz said you were the biggest difference between the teams, that they were going to try to push you out to keep you off the offensive boards. You only had five shot attempts in the first half. But we've talked all season about the wearing effect. They tried multiple players on you. How much did you sense the wearing effect and picking up steam as the game went on?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Well, I mean, they were subbing them out, so I didn't really know who I had. So I guess I was wearing them pretty good.

Q. Teaira, congratulations. Just wanted to know whether you had talked to Vic before the game about were you going to be in for the duration. When did you realize you would be potentially playing all 40 and then all 45? And just down the stretch, how you managed to gain speed. Even in OT, you're making those plays that define the game in the final minutes.
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Well, in practice we play bulldog, it's a little scrimmage of five minutes. It's the toughest five minutes ever. That just really prepares me in the game. You don't get any subs. So you're just going three games, five minutes -- four minutes?

VIC SCHAEFER: Four minutes.

TEAIRA McCOWAN: So, yeah, just going and competing.

Q. Teaira, back to you again. I told you in the hall before the game started, I saw you making those faces on television after the -- in the interview at the end of the regional. But what was that look on your face as you -- at the end of the game tonight? It was a scowl? How would you describe it? And what did it mean?

Q. Yeah.
TEAIRA McCOWAN: I just was feeling, I was in the moment. Came up with a face.

VIC SCHAEFER: Welcome to my world (laughter).

Q. This is for Victoria. Obviously, you guys tied the game. There was that wild sequence at the end. Did it almost take some pressure off you guys going into overtime? What did you guys say to each other before overtime started?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: Yeah, it take pressure off because we know we're an overtime team. If it's overtime, we say it's our time, it's our game. I feel like everybody just locked in, locked down, and they knew what it was time to do and we came out with the win.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. We'll take questions for Coach Schaefer.

Q. Coach, congratulations. You have so many weapons, but what in that final sequence had you draw the play up for Ro, given what was already said about where she was tonight up until that point?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, I don't think you can get caught up into where she is tonight. I mean, I've seen that kid for three years now, I've said it for three years. She's a pro. She's going to get to play basketball a long time after Sunday, and she wants to be in that moment. Her and Blair, I could have picked either one, but I really felt like they were going to run with Blair. I thought she'd be a great decoy.

Plus we were on this side, and we brought it back to her left hand. So that was the side that you want to bring it to Ro on. So I just felt really confident. That's a play we've run several times. Not a lot lately. So if you hadn't gone back a ways, you might not get that in your scout. But, again, I thought, when Blair took off across the top, they just -- they were running with her. I knew the back end would come wide open if Tea could just catch half of her, and she caught all of her.

Ro's got to make a shot. Let's face it. It's the biggest shot of the night, of your career, on the biggest stage you're ever going to play on. I don't care where she plays after this. That stage out there tonight is the biggest stage you're ever going to play on in my opinion, and it's going to have the most ramifications. So, you know, I've got a lot of confidence in Roshunda Johnson. She's been somebody we've just been really blessed to have, and she's made the difference in our team many nights, as you know.

Q. Vic, you got big performances from a lot of players tonight, but what Jordan Danberry gave you off the bench, what kind of contribution did she have? And did you expect you'd get as much out of her as you did tonight?
VIC SCHAEFER: I don't think I expected that much. I don't know that I expected her to play 26 minutes. She hasn't played 20 minutes, I don't think, all year. But she was really doing a good job defensively, and we were doing a poor job rebounding.

Jeff, his team is so relentless on the boards. That's their toughness. And we knew going in, we've had two really bad days, y'all, of rebounding in practice, and it's not something we've had an issue with, but we've had two bad days of it, and it reared its ugly head tonight.

Jordan gives us that rebounding edge at the guard spot. But I thought she was doing a really good job on Asia. You know, between her and Ro just trying to rotate fresh people on her, giving her a different look. Both of them maybe lack a little size, but, boy, they bring a lot of quickness and savvy. So just trying to do that.

And at the end of the night, Jordan really was the difference, I think, in a lot of areas for us, both ends, obviously.

Q. Vic, I mean, Tori's had a lot of great games during her career. This seemed like one of her best, just getting you buckets during the tough minutes when it was hard for you guys to find offense. That's not much of a statement -- it's more of a statement than a question, I guess, but she played like an All-American tonight.
VIC SCHAEFER: Yeah, she gets 25, and I wouldn't have guessed she had 25. It was pretty quiet. But she made a couple of big threes when we needed them. You know, her start was not what I wanted it to be. But, again, when you need a bucket, she's a good one to go to. We went with her and Tea both, just trying to isolate them a lot down the stretch.

Victoria's been in that moment, as you know, all her life. You score 5,700 points in your high school career, you've probably done that a bunch, and then she's done it for us for four years. I can't think of anybody better to have the ball in her hands in that moment when you're really dying on the vine and you need a bucket. She's just, you know, tonight struggled a little bit defensively, then picked it up, struggled rebounding a little bit, then picked it up. But just like last year, remember, she fouled out last year in this game. I don't think she's fouled out but twice in two years, and it's both in the semifinals in overtime. Killing me.

Q. With the game that was so passionate and so physical, how do you get your group to regroup for Sunday with a possible rematch of last year?
VIC SCHAEFER: Well, no matter who we play, I think it's real important from this moment on that we do some things a little different. The fact that we were able to play in the first game and not the second game. You know, last year we walked out of this arena, went back to the Loews hotel in Dallas, Texas, and walked through the lobby at 1:35 in the morning, and there were 5,000 people waiting on us. I mean, you talk about an amazing atmosphere, but still you're walking out of there really late.

So tomorrow will be different. Coach Schaefer will do some things different. I already had planned it if we advanced. There's just got to be a way that I need to manage it differently, so we will. You know, our kids, especially those four seniors, they got one left. We've had this opportunity before, didn't go the way we wanted to. It doesn't matter who we play tomorrow, y'all, both those teams are monsters. Super talented, well coached. It's the best of the best. So you'd better be ready.

And I think our kids, you know, we'll do everything we can to get them ready.

Q. In the short time you have to celebrate before Sunday, you can look at Teaira's 25 rebounds, putting you guys in the record books for a Final Four record. Any thoughts on that?
VIC SCHAEFER: Again, she's an All-American. It doesn't surprise me. Just really proud of her development, continue to be proud of her development in so many areas, not just as a basketball player. You know, tonight, we all were out there. I mean, she's got a couple people hanging on her most of the night. That can wear on you a little bit. She was able to really control her emotions, I thought, tonight in a really positive way. That's some growth for her.

So proud of her. But am I surprised? I'd have to say, no, I've seen her get 30 and 20 in our league. The kid's done it night after night after night. So she's a warrior. If there's a better five player in the country, y'all bring her. I'd like to see her because she is an absolute monster. I love her to death. I'm not trading her for anybody.

Q. Vic, I think you guys kind of arrived in the eyes of the, I guess, general sports fan public last year with that win over UConn, but then to follow that up with the season you guys have had and another thrilling national semifinal. What does that say about not just your program this year, but the direction your program is headed in and how much more you guys can grow?
VIC SCHAEFER: I think anything we've done this year validates last year. You know, like I've said many times, I wasn't hired at Mississippi State to bring them a top 25 basketball team. I was hired to bring them a top 10 program, which you have to understand at my university women's basketball is very important. They give us, in women's basketball, all the resources that we need to be where we are right now.

Now, what you also have to know is my fan base has changed in six years. Our first game might have had this many people at it six years ago. Now we have 10,000 tonight. They all thought going into September practice, October, this is going to happen. If this hadn't have happened, the sky was going to fall in Starkville, I'm telling you. They thought we were going to show up, and we're going back to the Final Four. It doesn't obviously work that way.

But our administration, our president, our athletic director -- there's so much that goes into this, and you have to have the support of everyone because you can't do it unless those people in a university are supporting you. And I think what we've shown the country is that, when you get the support of the right people and there's an investment in a program, this is what can happen. You can be in Final Fours. You can play for National Championships. You can have 10,000 a night at your games. You can have a passionate fan base that make the Final Four so special for everybody. I'm telling you, I couldn't be prouder. I couldn't be prouder to be at Mississippi State, to coach this team. The good Lord has blessed us in so many ways. I think, for us, this is the new norm.

Q. Congratulations. I'm just curious, you have never hesitated to substitute players in and out. You pulled starters. You even did it tonight with Victoria. Teaira McCowan plays all 45. Did you know going in that short of foul trouble, she was going to play all 45? Why is she so indispensable for this team?
VIC SCHAEFER: I don't think I go into any ball game thinking -- you know, I don't have any minute number, but Teaira's played a lot of minutes for us. Most games, she's logging 36-plus. I need to be better getting her out with 30 seconds before media, just to get her that extra time. But you're in a ball game like this against a great team like Jeff's, I can see me taking her out, and Jeff going after my redshirt sophomore Zion down there because that's the kind of coach -- I mean, he's a great coach, and he's got great players, and he's smart.

So I think that's in the back of my head. And you know what, you want to see a scowl, take Teaira McCowan out of a game. She don't like it. It doesn't matter if we're up 20 or down 20. She does not want to come out of the game. So for her, I just think it's where she is, it's where we are. I'd like to get her some time here and there, but it's really hard sometimes when you're in a knock down, drag out.

You know what, that's what makes me so proud of that kid, and, of course, Coach Harris, who's brought her along and developed her. She wants to. Most big kids are going, hey, Coach. They want out. Give me a blow. I'm tired. She's not that way. She wants to play. And I got a whole team of kids like that really, though, to be honest with you. Victoria didn't like coming out tonight either, trust me. But I needed to have a word with her, get her calmed down a little bit, and she's right back in.

I thought it worked a little bit because she came back in and took a better shot. Her first two shots, I thought were a little off the chart. I want them on my chart, not her chart. So I thought she settled in after that and really made some good decisions.


VIC SCHAEFER: Praise the Lord and Go Dogs.

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