Schaefer looks at Tennessee win, previews Florida

No. 4 Mississippi State remained undefeated following a 74-64 victory at Tennessee, the program’s first on the Lady Vols home floor. Head coach Vic Schaefer spoke about the win’s significance and previewed the Bulldogs’ next game against Florida.

Opening Statement…

“We obviously have a big one coming up Thursday, a chance to play at home. Florida is really good. They’re playing very well, and I know [UF head coach] Amanda [Butler] is doing a great job with them after they lost [Eleanna] Christinaki. I think they’re really starting to find their chemistry; they’re doing a lot of things defensively that can really cause you some problems. They played South Carolina really well except for one quarter, and so they have our attention. They’re extremely talented and can get up and down the floor in athletic groups. We should have great focus today and tomorrow to prepare for them. We’re expecting a really good basketball team coming in here on Thursday at eight o’clock. I know it’s a little late for my group and my fans, but I need them to maybe get a nap that day and be here ready to go at eight o’clock on Thursday night.

On the depth of the team…

[Roshunda Johnson] is dinged up right now and is just gutting it out, and I really appreciate that with her. She’s trying to help us but with [Johnson and Ketara Chapel] in particular, you have some kids that have been in those big moments. And Jazz [Holmes] is playing really good at point guard right now; she’s making some really good decisions. She’s come a long way handling the ball and not turning it over, making good decisions. And of course Blair [Schaefer], she’s been in that moment many times as an AAU and high school player, and right now she wants the ball. I think she feels like the rim’s as big around as a peach basket right now, so she’s got a lot of confidence playing. She’s always been our best help defender. She and Ketara have consistently throughout their time here been our best help defenders. Teaira [McCowan] played thirty minutes the other night; Chinwe [Okorie] had two fouls in two trips. For Teaira to come in and drag the big girl from Tennessee up and down the floor for thirty minutes and basically have a push with her, I’m really proud of her because that kid’s an All-American at Tennessee and so special. Just the thought of having to deal with her again is not fun to think about. I’ve got a month and a half to not worry about it, but she’s just so good, and Teaira really I think went in and competed and held her own. So that group is not your typical, if you want to call them, second group. I think they’re all capable of starting, they’re all capable of making big shots in that moment and most of them have.”

On players embracing their roles…

“I think that’s what allows a team to be special. We don’t have kids walking around with the ‘I’ on their forehead. That’s unique in today’s athletic world, and I think that’s why we’ve had the success that we’ve had. I saw in that game the other day at Tennessee, us starting to get the chemistry piece offensively: the extra pass, drawing two kicking it where they came from to get that open look, turning down a tough shot to get a better shot. I just think that speaks to our kids and their basketball IQ and their selflessness. They’re really special, and I think, again, that’s what allows you to have those special teams and special seasons.”

On junior Blair Schaefer’s toughness…

“I think she’s just always been that way. And as y’all know, she’s played with a broken nose, she’s played with four stitches over her eye, she’s never missed a practice, never missed a game, would step in front of a freight train and take a charge. And, again, she’s a giver. She wants to win, she’ll do anything to help her teammates and she is a good teammate, but it takes a special mindset.”

On junior Victoria Vivians’ play late in the game versus Tennessee…

“Victoria’s had to do it all her career, to take that shot, to want to take that shot, to want to be in that moment. I think the thing with my team right now is we have several kids that want to be in that moment and aren’t afraid to fail, and that’s the mindset you have to have. And you have to want to be in that moment, you have to want to take that shot, you have to want to be the one that gets run over, that gets the stop, whatever it is. [Victoria] wanted to be in that moment defensively the other night and she responded.”

On Blair Schaefer playing to her strengths…

“The kid I see is the kid that brings it every day. Her and Dom [Dillingham] and Ketara, they’re pretty solid every day, bringing it. Not that others aren’t, but those three in particular just pretty much every day you know what you’re going to get. Blair’s always been a competitor, she’s always been a good practice player. She’s always been ready when the lights come on. I think the thing she’s doing right now, I noticed, she’s not turning it over. I think that’s a piece that’s been a concern in maybe her first couple of years, and I think right now she has an understanding of not putting herself in a position to make that turnover. I think that’s probably been the biggest improvement for her right now.

On MSU’s first win at Tennessee in program history…

“I understand the significance; I know how hard it is to win in that building. That was their 34th loss in the history of the building. It’s hard to wrap your mind around that statement. I understand that; I’ve been coaching 32 years, as I said, I’ve been in that building a bunch. No. 4 playing an unranked team happens a ton in that building, but usually No. 4 was Tennessee and the unranked was the opponent. It was flipped the other day. But for my kids, because they are young, they probably don’t understand the history, other than when you walk in there, you have banners from one end to the other. Like Dom said today, after you play them a couple of times, it becomes, ‘O.K. this is a really good team that we’re fixing to play,’ but you don’t let the other stuff get so big that you can’t function. Whereas in years past, ten years ago, twenty years ago, you had to go in there and play the whole aura of the program. Tennessee’s a great team, [head coach] Holly [Warlick] is doing a great job with them, they still have a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans, they still have a tremendous home court, great fan base, and they’re still Tennessee. But I think for our kids, they really went in there with a great approach, and they have learned to function in that environment, if that makes sense. We’ve gone on the road, and we’ve functioned in some other environments very similar, like Iowa State. And they’re seniors now, so they’ve already played there a couple of times, we’ve been other places that are hard to play, so they’re ready for that, they get it.”

On the team’s chemistry…

“I think our kids enjoy, because of who they are, the assist as much as they enjoy the bucket. I think we are successful because of our chemistry, because of how well our kids get along, on and off the court. Did I see it coming? Yes. I knew I had a lot of good players. The challenge for me, as a head coach, is to find playing time for all of them. Finding playing time and finding the right playing time are two different things, and that’s the piece, as a coach, that’s very challenging when to put who in, at what time, in what moment. I said this all along: it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes a game a lot of times. But also we have to, as coaches, get them ready so that they can function and they can contribute, and so I think the development piece with a lot of our kids has been important. I think the chemistry right now is what’s allowing us to be successful, no doubt about it.”

On bringing out the best in players…

“I still think our best basketball is in front of us. I think we’re still stirring the pot, so to speak. We played really bad Thursday, and I’ll take full responsibility for that. We were not very good at Arkansas at all in a lot of areas. Now, at the end of the day, we held them to 51 points and 29 percent shooting, but the chemistry piece defensively is the last piece that really comes. So my hope is that we’re still going to get better on that end, and right now we’re not bad on that end. It’s hard for me to get too excited one way or the other because Thursday, we weren’t very good, and then Sunday, we played a little better. But Sunday we made shots. Morgan [William] made some big shots for us with clock going down, we made three threes at the end of the first, second and third quarter, so some things went right for us. But we made plays. Blair makes the shot to end the half, but Ketara’s the one that made it happen. She was the one that made the play. We called the play to run out of the timeout, but they came out in a little bit of a different zone. She understands the game and she makes the play that allows Blair to shoot it by coming up and screening. So if you don’t have Ketara, Blair isn’t ever going to get that shot off. Ketara’s been a starter off and on her whole career, so to me she’s just another starter. The luxury we have with this team is that I have a starter that gets to sit there and watch and go in and fix what’s broken. I have a two-headed monster at forward with her and [Breanna Richardson] and I have a two-headed monster at five with Chinwe and Teaira. Those four are doing a great job. You can add Jazz to the point guard spot, Blair and [Roshunda] to the two spot. We’ve had a lot of kids that have been able to step up and provide good stuff for us.

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