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March 9, 2019
Greenville, South Carolina
Mississippi State-71, Missouri-56
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Mississippi State. Coach, if you could please start with an opening statement.
VIC SCHAEFER: Just really proud of my team today. We beat a very good Missouri team. Have so much respect for Robin and her staff. My heart was heavy going into the game knowing that Willie wasn't there on their bench. I know what he's going through.
Really proud of my team and how they competed today. Loved how we came out of the gate to start. These kids have really locked in and have played well since we got here.
Beat a good team today, a team that really played very well at our place. As everybody knows, kept us from being 16-0. I thought we answered today. Second quarter again was a big quarter for us. Anriel double-double, 19-10. T goes for 16-27, with two assists. She's the most unselfish big kid in the country. As well as so many other things. Really allowed us to play through today. I thought she was really, really special.
Anriel is getting more and more comfortable playing with her and finding her, and T finding Anriel. I think this duo is finally getting some chemistry between the two, enjoying the success of one another. I think that's part of why we're playing so well together.
Anriel comes out and is three for five from three. Jazz ran us great, four assist, one turnover, 39 minutes, two steals. She was three for eight at half. Every shot she's getting is really a good look.
Thought Jordan answered. She started out a little slow, got in foul trouble early, but came back with five assists, 10 points.
Proud of my bench. Wiggins comes off the bench today and plays extremely well. Made a big shot for us. The difference in the game the first time, they had 24 points off our turnovers. Today they had four points off our turnovers. We only had 24 points in the paint the first time. Today we have 40. Those were things we all talked about. We needed to fix them. I thought we fixed them.
Proud of our kids. Proud of the victory. Giving God the glory for 29-2. We need one more.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Anriel, you and Sophie have had a nice battle the last couple of games. What has it been like going back and forth with her? What is that competition like?
ANRIEL HOWARD: I think that we're both just hungry and competitive. We want to help our team win. Yes, it got a little competitive out there, like I said. That's just part of the game. She's a great player. I respect her, so...
Q. Teaira, the difference between the first game for you and the second game, it looked like maybe today you did a better job of establishing low post presence deep in the paint. How would you comment to that? Do you feel that was the case, did you work on that hard?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: I just had to get a feel for the game. The first time was turning, turning to them, it was offensive fouls. I was just trying to do my work early, mirror the ball, see where it was coming, then duck in.
Q. Anriel, did you worry or have any concerns about coming to a team with so many veterans who had accomplished so much, how you would fit in? How easy was the transition for you?
ANRIEL HOWARD: This is something that I've wanted. I knew what I was getting myself into as far as the standard and expectation of this program. I wanted to be a part of it, help it any way that I could.
But I'm just really grateful to finally be a part of it. We got a lot of goals that we're ready to achieve.
Q. Teaira, how was the transition with Anriel coming to Mississippi State?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: She's been great. She helps me on the inside rebounding. When her man is coming down, she's knocking off shots down there. She's a good token to have on this team.
ANRIEL HOWARD: Thank you.
TEAIRA McCOWAN: You're welcome (laughter).
Q. Teaira, there was a moment in the second quarter where you fell down. You stayed down for a while. Looked like you got up a little dazed. Throughout the course of the season, taking hits like that, being able to respond, is that something you've learned this year?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: Yeah, coach always say you got to be a pro. You get hit, I get hit night in, night out. Got to get up, shake it off, be a pro.
Q. Coach might quibble with the team's defense given he probably did a square on the 47.5. Defensively, he's talked about your team defense throughout the course of the season. It could be argued the defense is getting better, more help. There are more signs maybe the coach is applauding. How do you feel about the team's progress defensively even though statistically it may not show?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: I think sometimes we fall asleep and lose our man. Tonight we fell asleep a couple times. They got their three off. That's what I see. But coach may have something different.
ANRIEL HOWARD: I agree. Also I think we're finally learning -- we're gaining chemistry on defense. I think our biggest issue from what I've noticed is helping the helper. Now we're finally doing that. We're scrambling, going to find the open man. I think we've been progressing individually as well. Well, I hope so. I think I've been doing a little better defensively, so yeah.
Coach Schaefer, take it away (laughter).
Q. Anriel, coach mentioned the chemistry that you and Teaira started to come together. When did you see that start to happen or consistently?
ANRIEL HOWARD: That's a great question. I mean, we practice every day together. I mean, just being able to be out there together every day, you'll get chemistry eventually. It may have taken a little longer for me just because I am in a new program, so I was just trying to get chemistry with everybody. Understanding where I'm supposed to be, understanding the offense a little more. I feel like I'm finally understanding it. It's helping Teaira and my's chemistry. We're showing we can be a really good duo together.
Q. Anriel, defining success defensively, growing, you were forced onto Sophie when Bre and Jordan picked up two quick fouls in the first half. She had a lot of points, but it was enough to win. How do you define success when you're guarding someone like her?
ANRIEL HOWARD: Well, I mean, you have to make her uncomfortable. You have to be able to make her work. I thought that once I got on her a little bit, I'm a bigger person, so I think that bothered her a little bit.
She still ended up having a lot of points. I think it made her uncomfortable. I think that helped with our success.
Q. Teaira, this is now your fourth straight year in the championship game. Coach mentioned the team seemed to be locked in since you've been here. Has this year felt a little different?
TEAIRA McCOWAN: No, not at all. I mean, we just keep trying to get to the next game, the next game. We can't celebrate because it's not the last game.
It doesn't feel any different from last year when we got here.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you. We'll continue with questions for coach.
Q. Obviously South Carolina is out of the tournament now, but that aside, does it feel like this tournament might be different for y'all, you might finally be on the verge of doing something that you've never done before?
VIC SCHAEFER: I don't think it has anything to do with who's in and who's out right now for us. I think for us, we've just always been focused on Friday night against Tennessee, today against Missouri. Whoever it is tomorrow, it wouldn't matter. Teaira, she told you, Hey, this is how it's felt the last three years. I just want it to feel different at 2 tomorrow, feel different at 4. I'm tired of walking off the floor and confetti hitting me on my backside as I'm going to the locker room. I want to stand in the middle of it and have it hit me in the face.
For us, we have a saying of 'one more'. We've had that for a couple years now with our season. You can use it right now in this tournament even. Whoever we got to play, man, they're going to be number one playing really well, they're going to be hot, as hot as they've been all year. We'll have to be ready to play.
Our style of play is different than both those teams out there. They don't play man-to-man defense like we do. They're not picking up full court. They don't have a 6'7" kid that's been dragging people up and down the floor 38 minutes a night, tonight 40. I'm curious to see how we respond.
I know how it's been the last three years. We've looked like we're the team that's half a step slow. My focus in there when talking to our kids was, Take care of yourself starting right now, eat right, get an ice bath, cry, whatever we're doing, get back, get off your feet, get some rest. That's where I'm at right now.
But it's one more. These seniors, four of them, five of them, they got one more for the rest of their life. It's one more for the rest of your life. What have you got?
Q. Anriel and Teaira, after the game yesterday, Anriel said she didn't want to be outworked. The ability to get as deep as Teaira did, then really attack the glass like both of them did, how much was that something that you stressed?
VIC SCHAEFER: Anriel hasn't had a day in her career at Mississippi State in basketball where somebody outworked her. She has a motor that is off the chart. I liken her motor every day to a Dominique Dillingham who played for us, just practice games, it's every day, does it with a smile, great attitude.
She got a little fired up tonight. I'm excited about that because I know how competitive she is. At the same time sometimes you got to realize, hey, we're okay, we're winning. Don't let anybody get under your skin.
But I like that. I like to see 'em getting fired up. For her, she's not going to ever get outworked. That kid is going to be a great pro. Somebody is going to get a kid that every day is going to make their team better. What will happen with her, she's going to make some veteran mad, and they're going to tell her, You need to pull it back a little bit. Anriel ain't going to pull it back. The coach who gets her ain't going to want her to pull it back either. She'll make some veteran pro mad because she's going hard, she'll be embarrassing them because of how hard she plays.
Q. Looks like Missouri at times was missing Akira Levy tonight. Did you see that with the press?
VIC SCHAEFER: She was really good at our place. At our place she was the best player on the floor. She really played well for them, was a different kind of point guard for them. That kid is going to have a great career. I hate what happened to her. She'll be back. She'll be faster and stronger than ever. In today's medical world...
She's a heck of a player.
Q. You mentioned playing through Teaira today, not just for her scoring-wise, but the two assists. How important moving forward is it going to be, facilitating through her with her passing ability? How big is that going to be?
VIC SCHAEFER: It's something, again, that just adds to her game. She's not all about herself. She's all about the team, she's all about winning. That's a kid that's worked hard on her game. She's five out of five at the free-throw line today. She's down there battling against two, three people hanging on her most nights.
We talked about playing careful tonight. At our place, she was like a bull in a china cabinet. She broke every plate in the cabinet, fouled out. We talked about playing careful tonight, getting a feel for what it was going to be like, how they were going to guard her early.
I just thought tonight she was really special. When we went to her, she delivered. At the same time I just think her and Anriel are getting more comfortable with each other every day and enjoying each other's success. I think that's sometimes really hard, y'all, in today's world. Everybody thinks they got to get theirs. Your good teams, you don't have kids that are wanting that. They're wanting to win. The rest will take care of itself. I think that's where this team's getting to a little bit. It's good to see.
Q. Anriel said she had to adjust, learn the offense. From your point of view, how easy was that transition?
VIC SCHAEFER: It's been a challenge. I think she's handled it great. I think her teammates deserve a lot of credit for helping her. Anriel has worked hard on her game. She's expanded her range. She's still a load down low. She's a great midrange kid. She's got a lot of tools.
But I think for her, the defensive piece has been a little bit of a challenge just because we play a lot different than where she's from. Again, you get a kid that's been in high school, they do it this way. Then she goes to a place that's pretty successful, a university that's pretty successful, they won a lot of games. They had their own way of doing things.
Now she's coming to our place, we do things a whole lot different. You're not just a low post player. You're not just a high post player. I'm wanting you to step out, stretch it, develop that part of your game, go off the bounce, create that part of your offensive game. By the way, you're going to get in the press, we'll press people, you have to guard people player for player. That can be a challenge.
She's handled it like a champ. Her teammates have really been good for her. I'm going to tell you, she's really special, y'all. From a work ethic, attitude, she's just a joy to coach. I would have loved to have coached her for four years.
Q. Were there some things about Anriel that surprised you by what you got?
VIC SCHAEFER: I just think her energy rebounding. That's the first thing that jumps off the chart at you when you're watching her practice. Even in shootaround. You get kids walking through, jogging. We don't have any walk-throughs. We tape, go through an hour and a half at home. We're getting after it.
Sometimes kids will come in and they might just only be going half speed. She's going to embarrass you. She's going hard, getting every rebound. That's just the infectious play that she brings. I mean, you got to know, hey, if you're not ready, she's going to ruin your day in basketball. That's what you love about her.
I'm hoping my young kids see that because that's a piece, y'all, that's really hard to replace, that energy level. A lot of kids are talented, but they don't have that energy level.
I talk about it all the time. In recruiting, they have a number by their name because of their skill set. I want to know what the number is by your heart because that's what separates you and allows you to play in our program. If you don't have a low number by your heart, high ranking, it's really hard to play that style of play.
Q. How do you define success in guarding Sophie Cunningham? Did you meet that today?
VIC SCHAEFER: She gets 33. Nobody else had more than six. Two with five and one with six. That's a pretty good day. She's good. We ran the gamut on her. Used two, three different kinds of sizes on her. Anriel had the most success on her, to be honest with you. Her size bothered her a little bit, her competitiveness.
I mean, I think you don't just talk about individuals. I mean, we've guarded other greats. Chennedy Carter at Texas A&M. She might have 28, but you're doing a good job as a team on everybody else. I think over the years when we've had to play Kelsey Plum at Washington, some of those kids are going to get there, but you have to do a good job on everyone else, then you win the game.
All the kids did a good job on whoever they were guarding. Another one got 13, somebody got 12, somebody got 10. That starts adding up. Again, I think we made her work. She had to work really hard to get that.
Q. There was a stretch in the second quarter, she missed four shots. Do you see the progress helping the helper, being in the passing lanes a little bit more, overall team defense where it's getting closer to what you want to see?
VIC SCHAEFER: I think there's stretches. We have glimpses of hope. For me, I think you have those opportunities. You see those things. I'm looking for consistency. I'd like to string together four, five games now doing it in the 50s. We did that in the middle of conference, then it got away from us. We were back giving up 60-something. I know we're scoring a lot.
Still, you know me, I'd like to see us engaged defensively because we're really good in the open floor in transition. We get some steals, get out on the break, Jo is running, Jazz is pushing. We're pretty good.
For us, that's just a constant work in progress. I'm glad we held them to 56 today. That's awfully good. We gave up 75 at home to them. That's a nice little 19-point turnaround, if my math serves me right, my three hours of college algebra I had.
Q. How much have you seen Sophie Cunningham's game evolve over the last four years?
VIC SCHAEFER: To me, she's always been that competitor. She's just an unbelievable competitor. Wills her team. I think what she's really added is she's now posting up down low on guards that are smaller than her. She can really stretch you. She has the catch and shoot. She has that in her game where she can catch and shoot, doesn't need a very big window. In this league, you don't get a very big window. She's shooting like 50% y'all from three. Pretty good. Ain't like people are losing her. Your job going into a game guarding her is don't lose her. She's shooting 50% with people knowing she's going to be out there and you don't need to be losing her. You have to give that kid credit.
I think Robin has done a tremendous job developing her. Robin is going to miss her. We're all going to miss our seniors. That kid has been really good for them, been a part of a lot of victories. Anriel, Jo, been a part of a lot of victories for me, and Zion. Your team changes, you get new players, get a new identity. That's what coaching is.
I'm not going to miss her, I can tell you. She's a vicious, ferocious competitor, so...
Thank y'all for being here. Appreciate your coverage. Praise the Lord and go Dogs.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports