STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer and guard Blair Schaefer established the separation between father-daughter and coach-player nearly a decade ago when Blair was in seventh grade.
The coach watched from the stands as his daughter turned the ball over multiple times during an AAU game. She was nearly in tears at halftime. He said at that moment Blair had a decision to make — did she want him to talk to her as a coach or a father? She said a coach.
"Then stop turning that dadgum thing over," he said.
Vic Schaefer doesn't have many complaints about Blair's recent performance.She has emerged as one of the unlikely stars of the NCAA tournament, scoring 39 points over two games to help Mississippi State advance to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season. The second-seeded Bulldogs (31-4) will play third-seeded Washington (29-5) on Friday in Oklahoma City.
Schaefer started just one game during the regular season and averaged about four points per contest, but after Mississippi State lost three of five games heading into the NCAA tournament, Vic Schaefer decided some drastic changes were needed.
So the coach put the sharp-shooting junior with the accurate 3-point shot in the starting lineup and she responded with a career-high 21 points against Troy and 18 more against DePaul.
"I won't be able to outrun the number of people there are in this world who will wonder what in the heck I've been doing with her," Vic Schaefer said. "Obviously she's had two really good games back-to-back."
Blair Schaefer's breakout weekend was part of a new-look Mississippi State lineup during the tournament's opening weekend. Usual role players like Schaefer, Roshunda Johnson and Ketara Chapel were inserted into the starting lineup while usual stars like Victoria Vivians, Dominique Dillingham and Chinwe Okorie came off the bench.
Dillingham said everyone has adjusted to their new roles.
"He's not crazy," Dillingham said. "I think we have 10 starters. Anyone could start. We're really deep."
Blair Schaefer is the latest Mississippi State player to prove that the team has several ways to score. Against DePaul, she was 6 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers during a crucial third quarter rally to help Mississippi State pull away for the 92-71 win in the second round.
Before the NCAA tournament, Schaefer had developed a reputation for hard-nosed defensive play and good outside shooting. But at 5-foot-7 there were some matchups that didn't work very well.
Most of the time, Schaefer would play his daughter anywhere from five to 15 minutes per game. So far in the tournament, her role has been increased drastically.
Blair said she's ready for anything and has learned to deal with the ups-and-downs of playing for her father.
"It's definitely very unique," she said. "You have to have a very good relationship with each other if it's going to work and you also have to have a team that's going to be good about the situation."
One thing that also makes it work is respect. It's clear that Blair believes her dad is a very good basketball coach while Vic appreciates the qualities his daughter brings to the court.
"It's very cool to see him coaching such a great team and being so successful and knowing that I'm a part of that," Blair Schaefer said.
"She's earned her way," said Vic Schafer the coach, not the dad. "She's a heckuva player. There's no moment too big for her."