Published on March 30th, 2017 | by Landon Buford0
Mississippi State Bulldogs Women’s Final Four Media Day Coverage
COACH SCHAEFER: Good morning. Thank you for having us. We’re glad to be here. Really excited about our opportunity. Really proud of my team. We’ve had really a special year at 33-4. Coming through the schedule that we’ve had, I believe the comments made when the bracket came out was we were in the ‘spicy region’, and anyone who came out of that region would be battle-tested and ready.
We came out of that region. I’m really proud of our kids, for their effort. It took an extraordinary, obviously, effort to get out of that region, beginning with the two games at our place, then going on to play in Washington, the leading scorer in the history of the game, having to deal with Kelsey Plum, that great team.
Then beating a really good Baylor team, obviously, that was so talented, seven McDonald’s All-Americans. Obviously, a team that was favored to get here.
But our kids found a way. They have all year. It was a great basketball game. Had to be fun to watch for anybody that was watching it. I understand it was the most watched thing on ESPN that day. Again, awfully proud of our resilience and toughness that day.
It’s been that way all year with this team. They’ve been great all year long, in the moment. They’ve embraced those opportunities. We know we have a tremendous challenge in front of us going against a team that’s the best program in the history of the game, coached by the best coach in the history of the game, men or women.
We know what’s in front of us. We’ve had to deal with it before. Obviously, we dealt with it last year, and it wasn’t a real good experience.
But I think we’ve grown from that day; we’ve learned from it. We’re going to do our very best to play a really good ballgame tomorrow night.
Again, these kids have earned the right to be here, make no mistake about it. I’m just proud to be their coach. We’re looking forward to an opportunity tomorrow night in Dallas.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Victoria, whether it’s in person or on film, what does UConn do differently as opposed to any other opponent you’ve played?
VICTORIA VIVIANS: UConn is a very good team. They run the floor a lot. They make smart plays. They’re just a really great team. On film and off film, you can tell they’re a really great team.
Q. For all the players. The experience this year, you haven’t played yet, can you talk about how this is different so far, maybe how there’s a different sense of understanding what this is all about, the distractions, what it’s been like so far, how you hope it’s different Friday?
MORGAN WILLIAM: I feel like we’ve grown as a team since last year. We’re better overall. I feel like we’re in better condition to go out there and compete. Last year, I feel like we were a little timid to go out there, and it showed. This year I feel a little different vibe in the locker room, practice, that we can go out there and compete with them.
VICTORIA VIVIANS: I feel the same as Morgan. We were a different team last year. Like she said, we grew this year, became a better team. And going into this game this year, I feel like we’re more confident. We have a chance just like everybody else has a chance.
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Same as they said. I think we’re a different team this year. I think they’re also a different and great team this year, too. They’re fast. They have a great transition game. They execute offensively. They’re well-coached.
But we’re well-coached, as well. We’re a much better and deeper team this year. I think it’s going to be a great game and a great matchup.
Q. Morgan, how are you different as a player this year? Is it your confidence or more than that?
MORGAN WILLIAM: This year from last year, I’m healthy this year, confident as well. I feel like I’m back to playing myself than I was last year.
I have a big role. I mean, I had the same roles, but this year I had to fill the role of talking, being a leader, being the one that sets a tone for our team. I try to have a good day every day so my teammates can, too.
COACH SCHAEFER: And she had a broken leg last year, too. Played with it the whole year, too. Had a broken leg, so…
Q. For any of the players. Geno Auriemma in here earlier said he sees a huge difference in the way y’all are playing now than before Vic made the change, four new starters. I just wonder how y’all think it affected you?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: I think a big thing that went into the change is the two-week break we had coming out of SEC play. We got back and we had practice for that whole two weeks. We just worked a lot on our offense, executing offensively, setting better screens, coming off those screens better.
I think as a whole we just got better offensively. We really focused on executing. We knew if we wanted to win big ballgames, you have to execute offensively down the stretch. That was a really big focus for us.
Him changing up the lineup, we’ve changed up the lineup many times throughout the year in practice. We were already used to the lineup change.
I think everybody’s comfortable playing with each other. I think that has a big deal to do with our chemistry. We have great chemistry no matter what. I don’t think it really affected us, like, comfortable-wise. We’re all comfortable with each other, so…
Q. For all three student-athletes. A year later, what did you learn about that game against UConn? How much of a motivation is it for you guys now to prove that you aren’t that team that played against UConn last year?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: I think we just learned that we cannot be all tied up. Last year I think we were just tied up. Came out, they had us down 20 to something already. Can’t come out tired out if you want to play against UConn.
We just got to be confident, come out ready to play. I think if we come out ready to play, we’ll be fine.
VICTORIA VIVIANS: Feeding off what she said, we have to come out and play comfortable. Last year we got down fast. I feel like coming into the game Friday, let it speak for itself. Let us see what we do, what they do.
MORGAN WILLIAM: After the game, it’s kind of like a reality check as a team, as a whole. I feel like going into pre-season workouts and stuff, you really just wanted to work your butt off, develop more as a player, like a number one, two and three draft picks. We had a lot to work on, and it was an honor to play against them. That season, I just really wanted to work hard and get back to this point.
Q. Did you watch the tape of that game at all since then? What did you learn from it? Also, this team which is known for its defense has been scoring a ton lately. What’s changed to get the offense going to put up these crazy numbers?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Yeah, we have watched the film a lot. After we played them last year, we watched it a lot, before the season even started, just to remind you how fast the game can get away from you.
I think it taught us that we have to compete on each and every possession, take it one possession at a time. If you take it from there, it will be fine.
What was the second question?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Offense, okay.
Just like I said earlier, I think just practicing our offensive execution has helped us a lot, setting better screens, coming off the screens better. Then having a point guard like Morgan, who can lead your team, get people where they need to be, helps.
VICTORIA VIVIANS: Yeah, again feeding off Dom, we saw that film a lot last year. Even walking in the weight room, our strength coach has 60 on, like, the window. We see it every day. It didn’t leave our heads at all.
To be put back in this position mean a lot.
For the offense, like she said again, we executed plays, we started working on our offense. Even though our defense is good, we had to start working on our offense. We had to start working on plays, cutting off screens better. Shooting the ball. Coach say like, You got a good shot, but get the great shot.
MORGAN WILLIAM: Like they said, we did watch the film. He made us remember that. We don’t need to forget that game. It’s staying in the back of our minds so we don’t be complacent.
The scoring piece, I feel like changing lineups, it gave everyone confidence, like people who play behind them and behind me. For me personally, it helped me as a point guard ’cause playing with the second lineup, it made me talk more. Had to build the confidence in them, let them know, like, when I work hard to get an open shot, you need to take the shot. Stuff like that.
Blair did a great job. Teaira, all of them did a good job coming off the bench as starters. I’m just proud of them. I think that grew, that confidence. Once you have a sub, I mean, the starters are coming in. I feel like that doubled our points.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies.
We’ll continue with questions for Coach Schaefer.
Q. Could you elaborate a little bit on Morgan’s injury. Was it the fibula?
COACH SCHAEFER: She had a crack in her tibia. If you look back at the film, she wore a protective covering on it all year.
We rested her. We didn’t practice her at times all week, things like that. She’d play in games. Kid’s just tougher than nails. I’ve had other kids that have had that.
We tried then to see at the end of the year if it would heal, but it wouldn’t. She had a rod put down like you normally do. It’s a common injury. It’s one that doesn’t tend to heal.
But obviously, now she’s back to feeling good and 100%.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I was very close with my parents both, and I buried both of them. I still remember where I was standing the day I got the phone call that Donnie had passed. I don’t wish that on any young person. It’s hard enough when you’re an adult.
She’s Blair’s roommate. She’s at my house more than any other player for dinner or whatever. So she’s someone that I know, because of what she’s been through, I try to provide that stability whenever is necessary, because she is away from home.
I love all my kids. But there’s always a special place in my heart for any young person who has had to go through dealing with losing a parent. I mean, it’s terrible.
The kid’s handling it like a champ. Her mom, Monica, is such a strong, strong Christian woman. So there is that unique and special bond, you know, that we have.
Q. Vic, your numbers are overall higher of late on the offensive end. You’ve been real efficient all year, 19th in the country in offensive efficiency. How much of that has to do with Morgan being healthy and putting you guys in better positions? Then specific to her playing through that injury, do you think she found some ways to compensate that allow someone who is 5’5″ to do things like score around the rim?
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. We probably need to remeasure, because I’m pretty sure she ain’t the five and the second part of that.
Anyone that deals with what she dealt with obviously is a really tough kid. I mean, when Morgan makes a move, there’s so much torque, you know, involved. Really. So getting through that, certainly, I think she’s learned a great deal.
At the same time, you know, you look back to our Baylor game. We had four turnovers total. I think we had one at halftime. That’s an amazing stat this time of year. We forced 17, which that was the stat of the game at the end of the day, 17-4 in turnovers was the stat of the game by far.
Our offensive efficiency I think really starts with her, no question about it. I want the ball in her hands. I want her to make some decisions with the ball.
You watch Connecticut the other night, just completely disrupted Oregon. That’s concerning, but at the same time, you know, I know with Morgan and really the offense that we run, you know, we’re pretty good at doing some things, creating space and going off the bounce.
We have shooters. That’s the thing. I’ve said this all along about the change in the lineup. We put kids on the floor that were hot. They were making shots. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at our stats over the last five games going into the SEC tournament and in the SEC tournament and seeing who’s hot and who’s not.
At some point as a coach, you got to start playing some kids that are making shots that you’ve been watching every day in practice. As long as they’re not a defensive liability, you got to play those kids.
That’s what we did. Blair had 39 in the regional, 21-18, led us in scoring. She’d been making shots for weeks. It was time to get her in the lineup.
Teaira deserved to start. Really, for her, it was more of Chinwe had been getting a quick foul. So I was just trying to buy Chinwe sometime. She had two fouls like the first Minnesota at Tennessee earlier in the year. I was trying to buy her some time.
Then Teaira, I didn’t really want to start her. Probably could have midway through the SEC schedule. But I felt like she could be the Sixth Player of the Year, which she was. I didn’t want to keep her from having that opportunity. Obviously, we had great continuity and chemistry.
At the end of the day, let me tell you, Roshunda Johnson, she’s been nicked up, dinged up all year long, fighting through nagging injuries. If we can ever get her back going, she’s an offensive weapon, again, that can create her own shot, can stretch the defense.
At the end of the day, that’s kind of what’s contributed to us. Like Morgan said, she plays with those kids every day. Those kids have been in big ballgames. Blair had made three threes, including the go-ahead three at Tennessee that helped us beat them.
Our kids could care less who is out there jumping center. That’s really what we’re talking about, who is out there jumping center, compared to how many minutes they’re playing in a game. The minutes haven’t really changed that much.
Q. Coach, I noticed when I asked the kids the question about the UConn game, watching the film, there was kind of a wink and a nod between you and them, like they can answer the question saying what they said. Did you watch the film to learn what you can do, since UConn’s personnel is completely different with the three gone? What did you learn out of the film? How did the whole 60 number in the weight room come about?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, we watched the film when we got back. We watched it leading into the season. We haven’t watched that film. What I’ve shown them, you know, here, we showed bits and pieces of that game. You can probably figure out which piece we showed.
But, you know, there wasn’t a whole lot of great things to show. I mean, when you get beat 60, it’s embarrassing. I think the big thing we learned that day was the speed of the game. They were Speedy González fast. They were really fast. We walked into the gym that day with six players in walking boots, and it looked like we still had ’em on when we were playing.
It was a humbling, embarrassing experience for all of us. I think that’s the big thing you learn, is the speed of the game. Let me tell you, this team is no different. I know the names have changed with some of them. The team is no different. Great chemistry. Great defensive team. Great offensive chemistry. Great skill sets. They are fast.
So that’s the piece that hopefully with us won’t be new this year. We understand going in, we better run the floor or they’ll run us out of the gym in a hurry again. That’s the piece that has been the most concerning of all in preparing for them.
You watch on film. When they get a rebound, there’s not one player that turns and takes a step. They’re turning and taking a stride. They are running. That’s the difference, I think, with them when you’re dealing with them. I mean, it’s really a challenge.
Q. Vic, from your Texas A&M days, it looks like you still mine Texas for recruiting for talent. How much do you do that? Could you address contributions you’ve gotten from your Texas contingent this year on your team?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, all four of those kids have been special. We’re always going to recruit Texas. Obviously, I’m a Texas boy, born and raised here. Have so many colleagues and friends that are high school coaches in the state. We’ve got four kids on our team right now.
Ketara and Dom and that senior class are very, very special. Then Teaira is a sophomore and Blair is a junior. We’ll always recruit this state.
Those kids have all been impacts, no question about it. They have impacted our program. Again, because of my relationships with so many people in this state, we’ll continue to try to get back in and recruit the best kids.
The thing you got to remember is everybody wants to talk about the next McDonald’s All-American. We get together as a staff, Who are we going to get? I want to know where we’re going to get the next Dominique Dillingham, a kid that wasn’t highly recruited but has impacted our program as much as anybody I’ve ever signed. Her toughness, physical, aggressive. I mean, she’s just a tough, physical, aggressive basketball player. That doesn’t say anything about her jump shot.
You got to have kids like that. So we’ll continue to recruit this state.
Q. How much of playing UConn is in the head, playing against that winning streak, the legacy, the national championships? How do you address that, the perception that everyone is playing for second place?
COACH SCHAEFER: You know, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s there. It doesn’t matter how much you do talk about it or don’t talk about it.
Last year I talked about it a lot. This year, you know, we’re trying to treat it just like another business trip. This team has been really good on the road. We spent most of non-conference on the road. We only had three home games. So this team has done a great job of going on the road and being businesslike.
It wouldn’t matter if you were playing Connecticut on the road, home, or here at the Final Four. You’re still dealing with a well-oiled machine that is well-coached, has great players, and they’re always going to play great.
That’s what we have. So to combat that, we have to continue to play like we’re playing, which right now we’re playing as well as we’ve played all year. If I’m going to have to play them, which I am, now is the time to play ’em, from my perspective, in controlling the things that I can control.
That’s kind of what we’ve tried to focus on this whole tournament, is let’s control Mississippi State. Let’s work on the things that we know we got to get better at. Let’s win the minute, let’s win the hour, let’s win the day. That’s been what we’ve done since we got back from the SEC tournament. We scored 48, 49 points in the championship game. Set the game back 30 years offensively.
I don’t like having two weeks off after that tournament waiting to play in this tournament. But it happened at a great time this year for us. It allowed us to get back to doing some things. Allowed me to make some changes, quite frankly, work on some things that needed working on. It was really beneficial for us this time.
Q. Vic, these guys would be hard to prepare for if you had a month, let alone a couple days. I know you’re not going to give the game plan away. Can you give us a sense philosophically when you started thinking about preparing for UConn? Do you look ahead in the tournament, send an assistant coach to scout ahead? Always interesting how a team would like to scout Connecticut even if Connecticut is not their immediate game.
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. For us, we’re always — my players have been great about it, too. We’re great about, Who is next? What time do we play? When is the bus leaving? That’s how we’ve taken it all year long.
Like you said, you could have told me a year ago when we walked off the floor, You’re going to get them in another year, get ready. I’m not sure how much time I would have spent on it because I’m worried about 37 games between now and then.
So as it is, we started getting ready for them when we got home from winning the Elite 8 game, beating Baylor. We started getting ready for them then. We were very attentive watching the game that they played on Monday night.
At the end of the day, again, there’s only so much you can do because of their philosophy. Extremely difficult to prepare for, because they’re so multi-dimensional. Each player can do so many different things at each position, it really creates some mismatches for you.
So, you know, we’ve got to try to minimize those situations, if we can, the best we can. The battles that we can deal with, let’s deal with ’em.
Q. Coach, with all due respect to Connecticut, you’ve answered questions about Connecticut now for three days. How much do you want your kids to go into the game with the swagger that says, We’re Mississippi State? We’ve won 33 games, we’re hot, deal with us?
COACH SCHAEFER: I think we can say that just like that in our room. We have to be careful stepping outside and have that type of brashness.
For us, we do talk about, Hey, look, we’re playing well, y’all. We have four turnovers tomorrow night, we’ll be right there. Take care of the ball. Let’s don’t get caught giving up layups that we can’t defend.
There are all kinds of things that you talk about. But, you know, again, it’s hard to forget. We’re human. Listen, there’s not a more humbling thing than getting beat 60 on a Sunday afternoon, I think it was a Sunday, or Monday, knowing you’re going to the WBCA convention the next week, and they’ve asked you to speak about defense to your colleagues.
I mean, I remember calling Danielle, the president of the WBCA going, Danielle, it’s Coach Schaefer at Mississippi State. Are you sure you want me to give a presentation at the Final Four about defense? We did just give up 98.
That’s a humbling deal, y’all. But at the same time, I think you grow and learn from it. Again, our team’s different.
Now, we’ve got to go play. That’s it in a nutshell. We just have to go play. If we’ll go play, like we’ve been playing, look, we just bit a No. 1 seed. Baylor’s pretty good, by the way. They’re really good. Got a lot of really good players. They were so good they were talking about the UConn-Baylor matchup on Saturday night before we played them on Sunday. They’re obviously pretty good to a lot of people.
I just think we have to take care of ourselves. Control what we can control, win the minute, win the hour, try to win the two hours.
Q. Vic, when you came to Mississippi State five years ago, did you think you could be in the Final Four in five years? Also, just to develop the fan base. They used to have hundreds at home games on a Sunday afternoon. You had almost 6,000 on a Friday afternoon. Explain those two things. Did you envision being here now?
COACH SCHAEFER: Certainly I envisioned being here. I’m not sure anybody envisioned it happening in five years. It’s pretty quick. That first team we inherited we went 13-17. We didn’t panic. We knew what 13-17 looked like. We went to work, went recruiting.
Those kids that we inherited, we kept every one of them. We didn’t get rid of anybody. We asked them to change, and they did. I give those kids a lot of credit.
The recruiting piece became very important. I have a tremendous staff. I have an unbelievable staff. They do a tremendous job developing these young ladies both on and off the court. They’re great role models.
I did believe it. I wouldn’t have gone there. I would have never gone to Mississippi State if I didn’t think we couldn’t do what we’ve done. I just don’t know that anybody thought – including myself – that it would happen in year five.
Our fan base is special. We’ve averaged over 7,000 fans a game. We’re top seven in the country in attendance. We had 10-5 this year, 10-6 a year ago. What happened at Mississippi State in women’s basketball is very special. You can count on one hand and two fingers where else that’s happening across the country.
But that’s part of building a program. When you go to build a program, it’s not about X’s and O’s, wins and losses. It is about a fan base. I’m so proud that the Final Four is sold out tomorrow night. I know my fans had a big part in that. We’re going to have a great contingency here. Great support for our kids. Just like we had more fans in Oklahoma City than I think Baylor had. They were loud and proud. We’ve traveled well to the SEC tournament now for three straight years. Had as many fans as anybody except South Carolina.
So I think that’s the piece that as a coach you’re so proud of knowing the impact that my kids have had on the university, on a community, and on a state. Again, that’s why we do what we do. Very few times in life do you have a chance to make an impact. These kids have made an impact.
We go into the stands after every game. If we win, we’re in the stands. We’re hugging babies and kissing mamas or vice versa. Whatever it takes. But that’s what we do. In this game, that’s easy. But I call my team the people’s team because everybody that comes, they want to hug them, tell them how much they love them, they want to give them a dozen cookies. They want to feel a part of them. That’s what makes our game so special.
So for us, it’s been so much fun, so much. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. The best decision I’ve ever made. Again, I give my kids all the credit. People don’t come watch us play because we’re standing around in a 2-3 zone. That might work for other people. It doesn’t work for us. They come see our kids play because we’re a blue-collar, hard-nosed, tough, physical, aggressive basketball team.
I think the people in our community can identify with that, and they appreciate that. They want to show their son and their daughter, Hey, I want you to play like Dominique Dillingham. I want to play fearless and step in front of a freight train and take a charge. I want to see you compete like they compete.
That’s how you build a program. I’m really proud of that. You know, I got to give Coach Blair a lot of credit because I sat and watched him for 15 years, was with him. That’s how we built it when I was with him.
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