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March 31, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with an opening statement from Coach Schaefer.
COACH SCHAEFER: Good morning, everybody. It's a great day to be a Bulldog, giving God the glory for No. 37 last night, I believe, and just excited about the day and the opportunity.
Congratulations to Notre Dame on a tremendous hard-fought victory last night. I think last night was great for our game. And you had two outstanding games played by four outstanding teams. And as somebody that's done this a long time, just proud to be a part of this industry and this game.
So we're excited. Today's a pretty important day. People ask me all the time, what did you learn last year and what would you do different? And there's going to be some things that we'll do different today that we didn't do last year to get ready.
But just excited for our kids. I'm so happy for those four seniors. They're getting to play it out again in their career. And, so, again, we're just excited about the day.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. When you were at this point last year you had just come off the historic, unbelievable thing that no one outside of your locker room thought was going to happen. Is it easier this year that there wasn't that monumental upset to get to the championship game? It was obviously a great game last night but not that magnitude to focus and get ready for the title game that maybe last year would have been?
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. I think that's yet to be determined as far as how we respond. We know we're going against a tremendous Notre Dame team. Muffet is a tremendous coach. Her and her staff do a tremendous job. And so we know we're in -- people say, well, you thought you might -- they might have thought, we might have thought we'd play Connecticut.
The only thing worse than playing Connecticut is playing the team that beat them. They're really good. Notre Dame is a heck of a team. And you know what? Coming in we had an assistant already prepared in case that happened. I knew they played earlier in the year. It was heck of a game. In fact Notre Dame led most of the way.
So we fully knew that what happened last night could happen. And so we're prepared for that. But hopefully, like I told our kids, what we're going to do today -- I thought last year we got beat because we looked tired the second day. Now, whether that was from emotional distress, from, you know, just coming off the high, or if we were just physically exhausted, which I don't think it is, whatever the case, I can control that today. And I'm going to control that by what we do in practice. That's something that I will control.
Q. Coming off that high, have you had a chance to check in with your team mentally today and see how they're doing today after last night's late night? And does going through that last year, kind of experiencing the highs and lows of that emotion, do you think that will help this time around?
COACH SCHAEFER: You know what, I haven't had a chance. Last night I think I left the film room at 3:30. I was up at 6:30 this morning. Victoria received the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award this morning, so we were at that award presentation. We left the hotel at 7:20. I've been with her all morning.
I just got back here 20 minutes ago. My starters are here now, but the rest of my team isn't here yet. I haven't seen them. The only thing I've done is check in with Julie, my trainer, on an injury report because I had some kids get dinged up last night a little bit. So I wanted a full report on them.
I'll see them here when we get done and check in with them. But we played basically seven kids last night. So five of them are here. They seem pretty good.
Q. You talk a lot about how the loss, 98-38, two years ago planted the seeds --
COACH SCHAEFER: And I'm never going to outrun that, am I? That's okay.
Q. But in that game, Teaira McCowan in particular was essentially your most effective player by far. I'm wondering what you saw that day and what you remember that made you see or think that she could be what she is now?
COACH SCHAEFER: That's a great question and the answer is that day she was about the only one that I felt like on my team that wasn't intimidated in Bridgeport. It was 14,000 people in there, they're all wearing blue. And she was the only one that, to me, functioned that day -- wasn't intimidated, competed, and just didn't seem like she was bright-eyed and wooed, just in awe, not wooed, but in awe.
I walked out of there that day feeling really good about her from that standpoint, competitively. And then it was a matter of us going to work and developing her, which Johnnie has done a tremendous job with.
So it's a great question and I've always said, to me, that was my turning point with her is when I felt like she was going to be what she is now, because that day she wasn't intimidated, by the crowd, by who she was playing against. She didn't care. And she really to me displayed that that day.
Q. Can you go back a year with Tori when she was in that shooting slump and you kept trying to tell her you can get through this, but eventually she and some of the starters ended up moving them to the bench and coming off? Can you go back to that and then everything she's done since then, the work she did in the summer and the way she's kept her shooting percentage all this year? I feel like nobody's probably upped her draft stock more than she has this year.
COACH SCHAEFER: When she's in that slump we looked at a lot of film, and the film shows shot selection more than anything. Her form's always been great. She's a big-time, high-rise jump shooter. Hard to get to her. Big frame. It's not mechanics for her a lot of times; it's just selection sometimes and the contested shot.
Last night her first two shots they were in her shot chart, they just weren't necessarily in mine. So that was something that I wanted to -- and again it's just because the kid's trying, for nothing else. And again you've got to know I've seen her make those same two shots a hundred times in her career, and I saw her make them a hundred times in high school with three people hanging on her.
And so for her, it's just been showing film, showing shot selection, hey, there's a hand in your face, you're contested heavily. Or, hey, you're settling here, look who is guarding you, go get you a 10-footer instead of the 22-footer.
As far as this summer, I just think the maturity of her, her confidence, she's got a presence. People talk about swag all the time, swagger. It's hard to have swag if you don't have a skill set. I've heard coaches say, well, we've lost our swagger. Well you've lost three in a row. It's hard to have swagger when you've lost three in a row.
I think she's got a presence about her. She's very comfortable when we put her at the 4. She's not only adapted to the mismatch that she has on offense, but she knows there's been some mismatches she's had defensively. And I think that adds to her confidence, her ability to defend better and impact the game.
She's rebounding at a high level, over six a game. So I think, again, in the summer we do a good job, I think, my staff does of maximizing our two hours a week for eight weeks. We don't try to wear them out. But we kind of space that out over a week where it might be four 30-minute workouts or three 40-minute workouts. We really pay attention to detail. We're a big technique program.
Q. What do you know about Jackie Young and did you know about her before last night?
COACH SCHAEFER: Yeah, I mean, I know she's had some big games for them. She's explosive, very -- just a heck of a player. They've got so many weapons. All those kids can really score, and her in particular, again. Again, I think explosive is the best word. She can get to you a number of ways. And again I think they're playing with a lot of confidence as well.
Q. I saw you sitting on press row last night watching the game, scouting, obviously. As you were going and watching it did you take for a second as a fan going, wow, this is great to watch? I mean, I'd pay money to sit and watch these two teams go at it and play basketball?
COACH SCHAEFER: Absolutely. I was complaining about my seat because I was so low and sitting behind people I couldn't see that well. It was a heck of a game. You're talking about two great coaches in our industry who have had so much success, and great players out there making plays left and right. And it just makes you proud to be a part of this industry.
So it was a heck of a game, great for our game. And one team made one more play than the other. That's what it came down to. One play. So did I enjoy it as a fan, probably not, because I'm throwing up, worrying about it -- it didn't matter who I was going to play. I'd be worried about it for the next two days. That's just who I am because I have such tremendous respect for both those programs. But it was certainly an outstanding game.
Q. If you go back to 2011 when you were at A&M, you were designing the defense to go against Muffet. I know Mississippi State hasn't played Notre Dame, but you've played her in a championship game. Could you talk about, even though the personnel is entirely different, what are the things about Notre Dame that are still the same, and how difficult is it to scheme against them?
COACH SCHAEFER: You know, they're so -- to me they just have so many weapons offensively and they have so many ways they can score. They're smart. I'll tell you what they do well, they pass interiorly well -- in the lane, 10 feet, five feet -- they're just really good, they're smart and heady, even I think their leadership really stands out especially when you go through what they've gone through.
They have tremendous leadership, and that starts at the top, it starts on the bench with that coaching staff. I think you just admire that. I think from the standpoint of maturity, leadership, I think they all have a presence. And that's what their program is about, that's what our program is about; we want our kids to have a presence.
I think offensively they're multidimensional. You just can't really help (indiscernible) -- so you've got to win some one-on-one battles.
Q. Specifically what are some of the things you're going to do differently today than you did last year?
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. I just mentioned it to my seniors and they screamed for the team doctor, because they think -- I knew they would -- they've thought I've lost my mind.
We're not going to go out there and kill ourselves out in practice, number one. We're going to really spend a lot of time stretching and especially with those kids that played a lot of minutes last night. We're obviously going to shoot a lot. We still haven't really shot it well. So we're going to shoot a lot.
And we'll go through their stuff and we'll go through our stuff and that will be it. That's unusual for me because I'm typically a drill guy, a fundamental guy for 30, 45 minutes of practice. We're going to do that come heck or high water. Probably going to bypass that today.
Q. You've got Victoria for one more game then she's going to move on to presumably a pro career. What kind of pro do you think she's going to make as a rookie? And do you get her ready for that pro career while you're also, you know, fitting her into what you're doing in your season?
COACH SCHAEFER: I think, you know, if you've watched us play, you've watched me coach her, anything and everything I've ever talked to her about, dealt with her in coaching, in game, out of game, I'm trying to get her ready for that next level, realizing that the next level is you've got to produce, you've got to do it their way or they'll find somebody that will.
And so I think for her, number one, she's going to be a great pro. When all she's got to do is worry about wake up in the morning take care of her body and eat right and go work out and not have to worry about -- right now she's up at seven every morning and dealing with one-year-olds. Been doing it all semester. That's part of her internship.
She tells me she's not changing diapers but she's doing everything else. You know, she does that all day until she gets to practice this semester. But just being able to focus on her job. I think she's still a long way from being the player that she can be. I think she's really good right now. I think she's going to be a heck of a pro.
The longer she's been with me, she's gone from being that volume shooter and gotta score to now understanding what shot selection is and enjoying the pass and the assist and being able to make it. In her high school career, y'all, I'm telling you, if I didn't see it 10 times, I saw it a hundred times, if she passed the ball there was a timeout, her coach met her at half court and she got a chewing.
I've got to break that. It's hard to break when someone's chewed out for passing the ball all their career. So she's learned to enjoy the assist. And we've put players with her that can finish.
So she's going to be a heck of a pro. No doubt in my mind. And going to do exactly what you want her to do all day, every day.
Q. You referenced Notre Dame's struggles with injuries a little earlier. How hard is that as a coach to overcome? And what do you have to do when you have to change players that many times?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, a blessing for her is she's still had some pretty good players there to play. So I think for her it's the chemistry piece. And then it's the you've got to really, the wear and tear piece over the course of a grueling season.
You know, we've not played very many kids either. And so you've got to really do the maintenance piece and make sure those kids are staying healthy and taking care of themselves, too. You've got to educate them on eat and sleep and all that.
So, again, let's talk about the kids that are there. Boy, they're really good, talented. A lot of McDonald's All-Americans there. So they've been able to really overcome it and I think the biggest piece is just the chemistry piece with the kids maybe playing more minutes than maybe they were going to play and then just the maintenance of playing at such a high level all year long.
They have really been able to do that. And, again, you play the schedule they play, play the schedule we play, and it is a long, hard grind this season that we call basketball. It's the only sport on campus that goes both semesters. If you're doing your job, we start conditioning at our place, it starts in late August because we start school in the middle.
And if you're doing your job you're playing on April 1st. Today is March 30th. So I think that's the thing that people miss about basketball. It's really -- it's hard on these kids. And, oh, by the way, we're going to go to class and graduate and do all that and have good grade point averages.
Q. Apologize if you've been asked this, but last year I know you had a really crazy night at the semifinals, you had the celebration and all and went back to the hotel, had to sign autographs. Might have gone to bed about 4.00 a.m. or something. How much different is it this year to play that early game, scout, go home, get a little bit of rest, and get this day -- how much different does this feel this year as opposed to last year?
COACH SCHAEFER: It doesn't feel any different to me because I was in there, I said it earlier, I was in the film room at 3:30 going, I did this last year, how is this happening again? But I realize my kids had been to bed where they hadn't been last year.
Our kids got to bed quite a bit earlier obviously this year. And I've talked to my starters this morning. And they said they feel, they're fine and they did get some rest. So I think it will be, from that standpoint, hopefully it won't be as difficult.
You know what, the opponent hadn't changed, though. Still a heck of an opponent. Great program. Well-coached and great players. So we've still got to go play.
Q. Last year in the postgame press conference after losing to South Carolina you mentioned that you thought you'll be back, but you also talked about like the confetti and that's something you're looking forward to. Have you thought about this year, just that feeling of getting that far and coming up just short? And is it something you kind of look back to and use to hopefully avenge this tomorrow?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I mean, we've not dodged talking about winning championships at Mississippi State, whether it's Southeastern Conference championships or winning a national championship. We've talked all year about unfinished business.
But it's one thing to talk the talk; you've got to walk the walk. And I think these kids have walked it every day in practice, preparation for games, in games. And here we are again, we're in that game. We're in the last game.
So I do think that our kids have been prepared for this moment. They've wanted to be in this moment. And last night's a great indication of how bad they want to be. You talk about toughness. You know, we have a saying, when it gets too tough for everybody else, that's when it gets about right for us. It was just about right last night. And so I think we've embraced that. And we've lived it.
Q. You talked about having the feeling like you've had a target on your back as a team, playing undefeated for a long time. Is there any way in which tomorrow's night is a bit of a relief -- you're here, you got to the place you wanted to be, you kind of survived that gauntlet? Is there a bit of a relief to get there as well?
COACH SCHAEFER: I don't think so. I think our kids, you know, they want to be in tomorrow night's game and they want to win. If we don't. I think there's going to be a lot of disappointment. I think our kids are emotionally invested in trying to win a national championship. They have been since day one.
So while it's great to be here, you know -- some teams you just want to make the NCAA Tournament. Other teams they're interested in that seeding and hosting. Other teams are interested in this day. I think we've been interested in tomorrow for a long time.
Q. It was an amazing day yesterday for basketball. And both games going into overtime, just all the theatrics and dramatic finishes. When you go through a day like that and now you have a championship to play, what is that like to be a part of that and the challenge of building on an amazing day of basketball and now trying to go out and now win the whole thing?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, certainly, as a coach, I'm proud of my sport. And again I thought it was a wonderful environment, all four teams provided, their fans provided for our sport. And so it's a great day. We did our part. Now for us we're in the game now. What do you have left?
We have a saying: "One more." We've got one more. But also the one more means one more when you're playing -- one more rebound, one more toughness play, one more charge, one more steal, one more stop, one more -- it's just one more. It's going to take a one more tomorrow for somebody. And so for us it's, I think that's where we are right now, it's one more.
Q. I think last year you played in the finals you played a team you knew inside and out, it was South Carolina, your SEC rival. Is it easier or harder to play a team you've never played before, that the kids don't know who the opponent is, as far as -- that well? Or is it something new and the tension of this is who we have to play against and that sort of thing?
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. For me, obviously, it's a familiarity. So when you have such a short turnaround, maybe somebody you've played, it helps. Obviously we've never played Notre Dame. I played them in 2011, but, I mean, that's completely, a long time ago.
So I think it's the challenge -- again I told my staff again last night, hey, this is where we do our job and we do it really well -- the one-day prep, getting our kids ready, putting them in a position to be successful.
I have so much confidence in my staff and I know they're going to be -- we're going to put our kids in a great position. It's our time to make sure we do our job so our kids can do their job.
Q. I have a very short first question then a follow-up if you don't mind. What is your why?
COACH SCHAEFER: What's my why?
Q. Do you understand what I'm referring to?
COACH SCHAEFER: You give it to me.
Q. You said you've asked the kids what is their why as to why Mississippi State can win or should win or whatever word you want, verb you want to use, a national championship. What is your why?
COACH SCHAEFER: Again, I think for us our why has been all year why us? Why not us? We're good enough. We're tough enough. I think our skill set's good enough. So we talked about that earlier in the year when we lost a couple of kids to injury and all that.
That doesn't affect -- to me it didn't affect us and put us in a bad spot. So why not us? And the answer is we're good enough. Now, we've got to go play a great team. But in my mind two years ago I told the team before we played I thought we had a Final Four team. This year, I thought we had a team that could compete for a national championship. Here we are.
Q. Is it fair that tomorrow's game will, could or will it define the legacy of the seniors?
COACH SCHAEFER: I don't think so. I think their legacy is etched in stone. Certainly it would add another -- I don't know what the word is -- epithet or whatever you want to call it -- it adds something to their legacy. But, look, they've won 128 games now in their career. They've won the Southeastern Conference championship, the first one in the history of the school in a women's sport. They did what one other team has done going 32-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
So I think their legacy is pretty well set. If we win, to me it just adds another line to what they've brought. Because what they've done for Mississippi State and for women's basketball, in particular, really has more to do with off the court than on, in my opinion; the impact they've had in our community, on our fan base, on our university, the pride that they have instilled in so many people across the country.
We've got people here at the game that they're all worked up over all kinds of things, you know, during the course of the game. And I look at them and go: I'm wondering six years ago were you that worked up about something that happened in women's basketball? But here we are today and it's important to them. And what's happened is because of our kids. These seniors in particular. But all of our kids. I call them -- I told you, I call them "The people's team." They just love our kids. And so it's special what they've been able to do to raise the brand of Mississippi State.
Q. Seems like every opposing coaches gets asked what are you going to do against Teaira McCowan. What have you seen coaches try to stop her and how do you counteract that?
COACH SCHAEFER: I've seen coaches use her like a clothesline and hang all over her. You know, that's what's so amazing about her numbers. She's just done it night in, night out with the best game plan, the best players, trying to attack her in so many different ways. The place where that kid's grown so much is, you know, you take some of the beatings that she takes, it's really hard to keep that positive attitude and not let it get to you a little bit. And I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm just saying it's physical down there. That's all I'm saying.
And for her really working with her on that piece mentally, hey, you gotta play. You've just got to play through it. We talked about playing through it all the time, play through it. And I think she's been really good and we continue to work with her on that. Because it can get -- it can get tough down there. It can get frustrating. With a post player, the mental piece is as big as the physical piece. You're down there. You're rubbing on everybody. You're just -- it's so physical. You get a tough rebound. You outlet it. You run down the floor. You post up. You are wide open and some guard misses you. That can get frustrating after a couple of times.
And for a big, you've got to let that go: Okay, I'm still going to go down there and rebound and get that next rebound I'm not going to go: You didn't get me the ball so you go rebound.
You've got to have that mental toughness, hey, I'm still going to do my job, maybe you'll catch me the next time. So I think for post players and their development it's the mental piece sometimes as much as the physical piece. So I'm proud of T. But, again, we continue to work with her.
Q. You probably addressed this but I missed it. You've achieved so much, but what would taking this next step mean for Mississippi State?
COACH SCHAEFER: I mean, it would be the first one we've ever won in any sport. I think enough said. It's so hard to do. We live in a tremendous conference. We know how hard it is to win those championships. But to come on this stage at this level, compete against the teams that we have to compete against, you know, in an NCAA Tournament and then in a Final Four, tomorrow you're going against one of the really tradition-rich storied programs in the history of sport. Not just women's basketball, but sport. Women's basketball.
What Muffet's done there and the consistency they've done it, it's incredible. So hard to do year in, year out. They're one of those programs, like I said, you either have a top -- I want a top 10 program not a top 25 team. She's one of those top 10 programs year in, year out. You're not looking down there at 11 through 20 where are they, no, they're somewhere in that top 10 year in, year out.
So you've got to -- you've got to respect that, which we obviously do and realize how hard that is to do and so obviously they've got our full attention. But to go against someone like that, hey, that's what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be this.
Q. I was wondering last night how you were feeling going into overtime and what was like your plan of attack?
COACH SCHAEFER: Yeah, a lot of confidence. We feel like overtime is our time. And to get to overtime to have to execute a great -- to execute that play and then to make the shots. One thing to execute the play. Another thing to still go in there and make that shot. And to get through and get to overtime at that point overtime we feel like we're built for. And then we obviously had a little momentum. And so I felt really good about it.
We typically (knocking on wood) don't lose many overtime games. Historically, at Mississippi State, even in my career, that's toughness time. We really pride ourselves on our toughness, competitive spirit, and just the will to win.
And I think that's when you bow your back and bow your neck and that's when toughness comes to the top. And again when it gets too hard, when it just gets almost impossible, that's when it gets about right for us.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports