THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Mississippi State. We'll open with a statement from Coach Schaefer, then take questions for the student-athletes.
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, you know, really want to congratulate South Carolina. Thought they really played well today. Again, we've had obviously some hard times dealing with them, and today was no different. I want to congratulate Dawn and her staff. Those kids played extremely hard. We got out-rebounded 13. We got out-scored in the paint, I think 13-6. Points in the paint were 42-20. We don't usually win games when we don't win the points in the paint battle. I thought they were really, really aggressive, did a really nice job attacking us. We had a hard time with them off the bounce. Had some foul trouble early with Bre and Dom, tried to weather that a little bit. But I don't think it would have mattered. I think South Carolina really played extremely well. Today just wasn't our best day.
As I told the kids, you know, you pat 'em on the back, tell them, Good job. They were the better team today. It takes nothing away from our 34-5 season. As my athletic director reminded us, there were 347 teams today watching this game. We were one of the two playing. Only one of them walked off that floor the winner.
I'm still waiting for the confetti to come down and be able to stand out there and my kids being able to stay out there and win it. We didn't have any confetti when we won the regional. Tonight we had to walk off the floor with the confetti coming down. That will be something we'll look forward to.
These three seniors are very, very special. Along with Chinwe (Okorie), they believed in a vision five years ago really, when we recruited them. They've been here four. When it wasn't easy to believe. Coach Harris and myself were part of that original staff. These kids believed. They made it happen.
We didn't get here by accident. We came through a really tough regional. These kids deserve all the credit for that. Today doesn't define us. It certainly doesn't define this team or this season. They had one heck of a year.
I just want these kids, especially those seniors, to know how much I love 'em, appreciate 'em. They're always going to be special in my heart, have a special place in my heart because of what they've accomplished, for believing and trusting us. Their parents believed us, they trusted us, they had confidence in us. I'm really proud of them.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Ketara and Bre, can you talk about what it's like to go against A'ja (Wilson). In the post, she seemed to have a determination about her tonight.
KETARA CHAPEL: A'ja is a great player. We've been dealing with her for three years. She's tough. We had a hard time guarding her tonight. I don't know. She's a really great player, so it's hard to try to match her intensity.
BREANNA RICHARDSON: Like she said, A'ja is a great player. I feel like tonight she came out and was just determined to get the win for her team. She played with energy that her team needed.
Q. Dom, why do you think this team resonated so much with the Mississippi State fan base this year?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: I mean, I think every year that we've been here, it's gotten better. I think we've been really good this year. So, I mean, the fans just keep growing. It just started our freshmen year. Coach Schaefer has us up in the stands hugging babies, kissing babies, hugging people. I think it's our family atmosphere and how personable we are with our fans. I think it's just grown every year.
Q. Dom, in terms of what you accomplished, what do you think it says that this team, without any McDonald's All-Americans, has gotten as far as they have? Coach talked about he recruited you specifically for your toughness. What do you think we learned about where the women's game is right now?
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: I think it means if you work hard, you can accomplish things no matter the skill level. Sometimes talent doesn't work hard. When you work hard without talent, you out-work the talent. If you put your mind to something, you'll get it done. You don't have to be All-American. You don't have to be 6'7". Morgan, itty-bitty, she plays like the biggest person on our team sometimes. A ranking, a skill level, doesn't define you. Hard work is what defines you.
Q. Dom, aside from the early start and the late spurt there in the fourth quarter, seemed like it was an uphill battle all the rest of the game. What was it like to try to get into an offensive rhythm? It really seemed like South Carolina made it difficult for you for long stretches.
DOMINIQUE DILLINGHAM: Yeah, we were up 7-3 at the beginning. They made a run. We weren't executing offensively. There's no way to put it. We just weren't executing offensively. We weren't putting the ball in the basket and we weren't getting stops, which isn’t a good recipe. I think defense is a really big key for us, and we weren't playing well defensively, which doesn't lead to points for us. I think it started defensively.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. We'll take questions now for Coach Schaefer.
Q. Coach, can you talk about how difficult it was to guard them? It seemed like from the tip, they were in attack mode and everything was going straight to the rim.
COACH SCHAEFER: They certainly were in attack mode. I'm going to take a lot of the responsibility for our poor defensive play today. We really feed off whoever's on the ball. I just didn't have a really good matchup on the ball today. I think when you're soft on the ball, it's always been my philosophy, if you got somebody soft on the ball, it's hard to get four behind you to play really hard. I'm going to take the hit for that. You know, you've got matchup problems with them. They got big ol' guards out there, 6'2" guards. We have a little bit of a size problem guarding them, not to mention how quick and athletic they are. So, you know, part of our philosophy going into the game, how we were going to guard a particular set, I think it really took some of our aggressiveness away. I'm disappointed that it did. Felt like it was the best way to guard that particular set. In the end, I think it created an atmosphere defensively that is not a good recipe for us. Again, it's kind of like starting a game off in zone, then going to man. I'd much rather start man and go zone. When you start zone, it's hard to get somebody to get up and get after it in man after you've been standing around, if that makes sense.
Q. Vic, was that matchup piece why Morgan was on the bench late in the game? What went into that decision?
COACH SCHAEFER: Jazz(mun) (Holmes) was playing good today. Morgan, she had some struggles early. Again, y'all, it's a long, hard grind of a year, of a season. We got in so late Friday night. We've been trying to almost play catch-up since then. I thought we had a couple kids today that just didn't quite have the energy level that we needed. When you combine that with their energy level seemed to be really good, I think that made for a bad recipe for our not being able to handle dribble-penetration. Again, South Carolina's really good defensively. They seem to play really well against us defensively. They did a good job again today. I mean, they play really hard against us and do a great job. Today was no different.
Q. To elaborate on your previous point about the defensive set. Was that going under the screen, not going over it, or giving them too much space on dribble-penetration?
COACH SCHAEFER: The screen is set inside the scoring area. We do things differently, depending on where the ball screen is. We didn't handle the ball screen well today. Again, you know, they're really good. They get going downhill, boy, and it's hard. If y'all noticed, we had probably six or seven block calls, where typically we're getting charges on all those. Dom is taking 52, Morgan is taking 51, vice versa. I think every one of them was right. Every one of them. We were just a half a step slow today on every rotation. We just couldn't get there. That's the way it is.
Again, you give South Carolina all the credit because they really attacked us. If you can ever get those first two charges in the first three, four minutes, it slows all that down. We couldn't get there. Bre had two block charge calls on her. Again, they're right. I mean, we're half a step late. We were half a step late all day.
Q. Coach Schaefer, on Friday night after you took down UConn, the way you took them down in overtime, one of the things that Geno talked about in here was being a gracious loser. It's easy to smile, be up when you win. I think the telltale sign, you'd agree, is how you behave when you lose. Can you tell us a little bit, without giving us too much, what you had to say to your team?
COACH SCHAEFER: Sure. Yeah, you know, with my team, just the last minute, I was coaching them the last minute, Hey, we're probably not going to win the game, but we're going to win the last minute. We talked about that in the huddle when there was 40-something seconds on the clock. We're in the kid business. We're constantly coaching and teaching young people. At that moment it's not about X's and O's. It's about trying to coach and teach them on how to handle adverse situations.
You go in that locker room, those four seniors, it's rough. I love those kids. I love all of 'em in there like my own, but those four seniors are really, really special.
You tell 'em, Hey, not our day. Make sure you pat South Carolina on the back. They played really well. It wasn't our best day. But it's not defining our season. It doesn't define them as young women. It doesn't define them as student-athletes. They've had a heck of a year, man. We've beaten two No. 1's to get here. We played on the last day. Are we disappointed? Absolutely. We have three rows in there.
The front row is my seniors, the back row is my junior and sophomores and freshmen. I challenged the second and third row, Okay, this is your team. You nine that are now sitting here, we're good enough.
I have a heck of a team coming back. I got the 19thranked class in the country coming in. It's their team. It shouldn't matter who is coming in, even though we got a heck of a group coming back. It's their time to go work and get better. Don't let this moment -- don't minimize this moment. How you feel, remember it. Wrap your arms around it. Use it as fuel. So you talk about those things.
I mean, I let my seniors talk. It was real emotional, you know. They've had the ride of a lifetime. Really for four years, they've had a great career. They've won so many games, built a program that is the talk of the country. They don't ask me to come speak about X's and O's. Used to. Now they want to know how we got the seventh largest fan attendance in the country in Starkville, Mississippi. That's what they want to know. That's good. That's good for the game. You saw my fans today. I feel horrible for them. I hate to have to walk out there and see them. You know what, there's probably going to be a thousand of them over in the Sheraton. We had 2,000 today sending them off. It's hard to look those people in the eye because I feel like I let 'em down. Those people love my kids. So that's what we talked about.
Q. Vic, to jump off from that point, very few coaches would have played Morgan William 23 minutes, taken Victoria Vivians out. How much of that played a part in thinking, This is not just an end, this is a team that you're bringing back next year, part of a larger process that extends beyond the end of this game?
COACH SCHAEFER: Yeah, no question. I mean, Victoria didn't have a great day. She was 4-16. Morgan, she had four assists, one turnover, was 2-6. Again, we're educating. This is an education process. I was trying to get 'em going. Again, both ends of the floor is real important for us, for me as a coach. I try to hold people accountable. If you looked at the stats, my two guards, all of 'em, we didn't have a very good day. The best position I had was my three position. That was Dominique. She went 5-10, you know. So my point guards combined went 5-11, but Jazz was 3-5. You can go down the list, but you're right. For me, I'm a big-picture guy. Just kept coaching 'em, trying to prod 'em, letting 'em know. Plus, when you got somebody maybe that seems like they're a little tired, you're trying to give 'em a blow. You give somebody a blow. Next thing you know, the person you're putting in is playing pretty good. Maybe you don't want to take 'em out. Don't forget, Jazzmun Holmes had 14 points against DePaul. Morgan didn't play a lot in that second half. I got a lot of confidence in that kid. She was playing well today.
Q. You talked earlier this season about getting more help for Victoria. It really seemed like you were either trying to get her going or, I don't know, get her to attack the basket a little bit more. Unfortunately, neither of those things worked out. Were other players not stepping up, or was she just the player you maybe had the most confidence in?
COACH SCHAEFER: We cut it to 54-50. I don't know what the time was on the clock. We had possession, if I'm not mistaken. Took two really bad shots. They go down, then we come down, have an unforced turnover and leave it for them at the top of the key and they go lay it in and it goes to 58-50. We had the game, cut it back, fought, fought, fought, got it back to 54-50, had possession.
Sometimes this group can get caught up in a moment. Again, I'm sure, too, everyone who is watching us for the first or second time, they think, Man, that's a really bad shot. Well, I've seen people make -- I've seen our kids make some of those shots that people think may be really bad shots. In that moment, we probably could have gotten a lot better shot. You could get that shot any time in the shot clock. We had one broken play, then the other one we just went off and left it. They took it and went and laid it in. That's kind of where the game got away from us.
We had it to 54-50, had the crowd going. We were right there. You know, again, maybe it took all we had to get to that point and get it back after being down so bad. We didn't have anything left. It just comes down at that point, you got to execute. We didn't execute. But, you know, South Carolina, they have a habit of making it hard for you to execute. Again, I said that about Connecticut. Because they're such a great oiled machine offensively, nobody wants to talk about how good a defensive team that team is. Same thing with South Carolina. Talk about A'ja Wilson, Gray. Let me tell you something, those kids guard your butt. They're just hard to handle. You know, it's just part of the game.
Q. Coach, I had a chance to talk to your former boss, Gary Blair. He said defense is what you done. You followed what he did by going out in the streets and getting people to believe in the program. Can you talk about where you go from here? I also talked to D.J., Dionnah Jackson. Where do you go? You've been on both sides of the field in this area?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, Dionnah actually came from George Mason. They played for Oklahoma. She hasn't been there in a long time. Her and Carly have been a great addition for me and Johnnie. Johnnie has been with me, we've been together, we're like brother and sister. She's so much a part of what we do, has made such an incredible impact in my life and on this team and our program. Again, I wouldn't be here today if she said, Hey, I'm not coming. That's the importance that Johnnie has in my life.
But, you know, when you work with somebody for 15 years, like I did with Coach Blair, to see how hard he worked at the marketing piece of getting out, you know, speaking to 20 people, 50 people, 200 people, driving two hours in Mississippi to towns I've never even heard of to talk to 25 people, 30 people. But you don't turn anybody down. My thing is, I always tell 'em, If you come to one game, your life will be changed forever because now you won't miss another one. You'll be living your life around when we play. That's happened.
Our fan base, I have people that come from the coast, comes in the weekend, come Thursday, stay till Sunday when we have two games in a row. From Tupelo, Memphis, then in between, Jackson. It's what makes it special. But you have to work at it.
You know, you all asked Dom about that. My answer is, our kids get all the credit because it's how we play the game. I believe our fans, we have some tremendous, passionate, loyal fans at Mississippi State. But I believe they appreciate the blue-collar, the hard work, the toughness, stepping in front of a freight train, taking a charge mentality, how hard we play. I think that's why they come watch our kids play. It gets louder in the Hump when we take a charge than any three-pointer that anybody could shoot. They have a real identity and a real appreciation for kids that play hard.
People love Dak (Prescott), but they loved him first because he's tough. He ain't running to the boundary, you know what I mean? He ain't a quarterback taking a hook slide. He's going to run over your butt. So that's why people I think really appreciated him and loved him so dearly. That's my kids. We ain't running to the boundary, you know.
It's been a real honor and a privilege to coach these seniors, this team. This team has certainly challenged me. But it's been obviously extremely rewarding. Just really humbled and honored to have had the opportunity at such a great university with these great kids.
Appreciate everybody being here today. I'm disappointed we didn't play better for you. It wasn't that we didn't try. Again, you have to take your hats off to South Carolina and Dawn Staley for a tremendous effort today. But we'll be back. Again, it's been a heck of a ride. I appreciate everybody in here. It's been fun. Thank you for being here.
All right, praise the Lord and go Dogs.