Mississippi State sophomore Jazzmun Holmes (10) will help lead the undefeated and fouth-ranked Bulldogs against Tennessee today in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
January 7, 2017 6:43:03 PM
STARKVILLE -- Nearly three years ago, Vic Schaefer had to find a way to get his team to regroup.
On Jan. 31, 2013, the Mississippi State women's basketball team lost to then-No. 9 Tennessee 88-45. It was Schaefer's fourth loss by 43 or more points in his first season as coach in Starkville.
The following year, the Bulldogs lost to the then-No. 10 Lady Volunteers 67-63 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Last season, MSU finally made history with a 65-63 overtime victory against then-No. 19 Tennessee. The victory was the Bulldogs' first in 37 tries against the Lady Volunteers. MSU built on that success in the Southeastern Conference tournament, using a suffocating defensive effort to beat Tennessee 58-48 to advance to the title game against South Carolina.
Schaefer remembers that first loss to Tennessee just as well as he recalls the two victories last season. He used the highs and lows of those three matchups to convey one message that applies to those games and to the one No. 4 MSU will play at 1 p.m. today against Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. The game can be heard locally on WKBB-FM 100.9 and seen on SEC Network+.
"My message to the kids is that was last year and this is a brand new year," Schaefer said Friday prior to his team's practice. "Just because it happened last year doesn't mean it is going to happen this year. We made that happen. We really gutted it out in the SEC tournament with a great defensive effort. Here, we held them to one basket in the fourth quarter to go from down 12 to get it to overtime and then found a way to win.
"My message was you better not assume anything. New year, new team. They have a new team. We have a new team. We have to go in there with a real tough mind-set that we have to make it a junkyard dog brawl. We have to really compete."
MSU is coming off a 59-51 victory against Arkansas on Thursday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Schaefer said his team was "really bad" in its push to a 16-0 (2-0 in the SEC) start to the season. The victory helped MSU keep pace with No. 1 Connecticut and No. 18 Virginia Tech as the only undefeated teams in NCAA Division I entering action Saturday. The Bulldogs earned the win despite shooting 6 of 30 (20 percent) in the second half. They countered their struggles on offense by holding the Razorbacks without a field goal in the final 4 minutes, 59 seconds.
Schaefer hopes the Bulldogs will deliver a more aggressive performance in every facet. He said he talked to several players following the game to accentuate that point. One of them was senior guard Dominique Dillingham, who started and didn't attempt a field goal and scored only one point in 28 minutes.
"That ain't happening again," Schaefer said. "Dom has to be aggressive offensively."
While Schaefer liked his team's defense and the key contributions from junior guard Blair Schaefer, who hit two timely 3-pointers and took five charges, he felt the Bulldogs struggled under the weight of being undefeated. The most important part, though, was MSU found a way to win.
"There wasn't any cheering or rah-rahing in our locker room. I think our kids understood we didn't play well," Schaefer said. "Missed free throws, turnovers, we just had a lot of things go wrong, but, at the end of the day, we found a way to win."
Schaefer knows MSU will need similar grit and determination against Tennessee (10-4, 2-0 SEC), which is coming off a 70-57 victory against Vanderbilt on Thursday night. Center Mercedes Russell (16.6 points, 9.6 rebounds) and guards Diamond DeShields (15.8 points per game) Jaime Nared (15.1 ppg.) lead the Lady Volunteers, who enter the game on a six-game winning streak that includes victories against Stanford and Kentucky. Tennessee has lost to Penn State, Virginia Tech, Baylor, and Texas (72-67). MSU beat Texas 79-68.
MSU is 0-15 against Tennessee in Knoxville. It is one of five SEC teams (Alabama, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt) that hasn't beaten Tennessee in Knoxville.
Schaefer reminded his players Tennessee advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season. MSU lost to eventual national champion UConn in the Sweet 16. While Tennessee isn't as deep after losing guards Andraya Carter (medical reasons) and Te'a Cooper (knee injury) in August, Schaefer said he told his players coach Holly Warlick's team still has plenty of talent and will present a difficult test on its home court.
"I think we'll see some zone press and maybe some man stuff," Schaefer said. "We will be ready for anything and everything. With their size and length, I see them trying to affect Morgan (William) and Jazz(mun Holmes) a little bit with some pressure. We'll have to be ready for that."
NOTES: Schaefer said he had "no idea" if junior Roshunda Johnson (leg injury) will play today. The transfer from Oklahoma State didn't play against Arkansas and logged only 10 minutes in a 74-48 victory against LSU in MSU's SEC opener on Jan. 1. She also didn't play in a 106-30 victory against Northwestern State on Dec. 28, 2016. ... On Tuesday, MSU will hold its third installment of the Hail State Hoops Luncheon Series. The luncheon will begin at 11:30 a.m., and doors to the Mize Pavilion will open at 11:15 a.m. The cost is $12 per person. It includes a meal and hoops talk with coach Schaefer, his staff, and members of the undefeated Bulldog squad. Fans can RSVP for the luncheon by calling 662-325-0198 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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