March 13, 2018 10:37:14 AM
STARKVILLE -- It happens every year, but somehow it never feels like a routine.
Early Monday evening, several hundred Mississippi State fans filled three sections of seats in Humphrey Coliseum to watch the Women's NCAA Tournament Selection show. With the Bulldog players and coach Vic Schaefer sitting on the front row, the crowd had to wait until halfway through the show to find out what they already know.
For the fourth year in a row, and for just the 10th time in the women's basketball program's 43-year history, the Bulldogs will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. For the third year in a row, the Bulldogs will start that journey at home as hosts of first and second round games.
Seeded No. 1 in the Kansas City Regional and the No. 2 overall seed, Mississippi State will play Nicholls State, which will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance, in the first round. Syracuse and Oklahoma State, teams MSU beat in the regular season, will complete the four team field.
None of that was particular surprising, said Schaefer.
"As far as where we are -- the seeding, the regional we'd be in -- it's what I expected," Schaefer said. "I thought us and Texas would probably be seeded 1 and 2. I thought we'd get either Grambling or Nicholls, the two 16 seeds in our geographic area, in the first round."
The biggest news, as far as the Bulldogs were concerned was not who or where they would play but when.
That turned just as the Bulldogs had hoped.
First-round games are played on Friday and Saturday.
Last year, State opened with a Friday afternoon game, drawing just 5,500 fans.
The Bulldogs will open tournament play at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday at 5 p.m.
What might seem like little more than a slight change of schedules to the casual observer was a big deal to the Bulldogs.
"It's really exciting to be able to play on a Saturday night instead of a Friday afternoon," Schaefer said. "I'm thrilled we'll be able to have 10,000 fans in here for an NCAA Tournament game."
Mississippi State set a new attendance record this season, averaging 7,062 fans for each home game. State has also drawn two crowds in excess of 10,000, including 10,794 fans in a win over South Carolina, the largest crowd to ever watch a women's basketball game in the state.
On a day when there were few surprises, the Saturday starting time was the best news the Bulldogs could have received.
"To be a No. 1 seed is extremely special," said senior guard Blair Schaefer, the coach's daughter. "But to be able to have the opportunity to play in front of another sell-out crowd at The Hump, it's so amazing. I can't tell you just how thankful I am that we have fans who want to come and pack themselves into the place just to watch us play. That's special."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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