DALLAS - Vic Schaefer doesn't want his players to forget last season's humiliating 60-point loss to UConn in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs have had a constant reminder of that defeat all season long, with the number 60 written on the window of the team's weight room.
“It's annoying, honestly. It's annoying to see that 60,” point guard Morgan William said. “Like, dang, we got beat by 60. It's a pride thing, too. Getting beat by 60, that's personal.”
The Bulldogs will get a chance at redemption when they play UConn in the national semifinals Friday night. It's Mississippi State's first appearance in the Final Four, while the Huskies are here for the 10th consecutive year.
Schaefer recalled how he was invited to speak at the Final Four last season about defense, days after his team lost 98-38, and laughed at the notion.
While UConn's current team is vastly different from that squad - Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson left for the WNBA - Schaefer knows that the Huskies’ system hasn't changed.
“It was a humbling, embarrassing experience for all of us,” he said. “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. ... Speedy.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma doesn't put much stock into last season's game since his team is so different.
“There's nobody on this team right now that had anything other than ‘I was at that game’ to do with that score,” he said of the win. “If you watch that game, Stewie (Breanna Stewart) looked like an NBA player playing against high school kids. Moriah was so much better than anybody on the floor. And Tuck just dominated long stretches of the game. So the score was like 30-4 at the end of the first quarter. I think Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) had one bucket. I don't think Kia (Nurse) had any. The other guys didn't even play.”
Still, the group he does have has been great this season, going 36-0 and extending UConn's winning streak to 111 straight games.
“They don't own any of those 10 Final Fours. They don't own any of those 11 national championships. They only own part of the streak,” Auriemma said. “I mean, the only thing that this team has to hold onto, I've said this before, is the 36 wins that they have right now this year. So going into this weekend, how are they going to handle this situation that they're in right now? I have no idea. But it's not going to be that much different than, how is Mississippi State going to handle their first Final Four? How are those kids going to handle being here for the very first time?”
Here are a few other tidbits for Friday night's game:
Auriemma wasn't thrilled with the late start time.
“Well, I've said this in the past: TV and what's going on in the actual arena don't go together. So what's best for television is a 10 o'clock start on the East Coast, or a 9:30 start on the East Coast,” Auriemma said. “It's not best for my players to sit around till 9:30 tomorrow night, but it's best for TV because they're paying the bills. So they get to show the game whenever they feel like it.”
Schaefer and his daughter, Blair, are the first father-daughter to compete in the Final Four. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and her daughter, Makenzie Robertson, were the first parent-child combination to play in the national semifinals when the Lady Bears won the championship in 2012.
“They were Speedy Gonzalez 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,” Schaefer on UConn's speed last year.