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No. 3 MSU striving to get even better

 

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer makes a point to his daughter, Blair, during a break in the action against Vanderbilt.

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer makes a point to his daughter, Blair, during a break in the action against Vanderbilt. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch  Buy this photo.

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE -- November seems like a long time ago. 

 

But as the regular season runs its course this month and turns toward March Madness, the Mississippi State women's basketball team can look back to the first month of the season for one of its signature accomplishments. On Nov. 20, then-No. 10 defeated then-No. 8 Texas 79-68 at Humphrey Coliseum. A national television audience on the SEC Network watched junior point guard Morgan William score a game-high 23 points to lead MSU a victory that was part of a program-record 20-0 start. 

 

Since then, MSU has climbed to a program-record No. 3 in The Associated Press and in the USA Today Coaches polls. Texas has responded as well, including a victory against No. 4 Florida State on Monday in Tallahassee, Florida. 

 

MSU's victory likely will be even more important as it gets closer to the NCAA tournament because it could give the Bulldogs the edge when the NCAA tournament selection committee determines the four No. 1 seeds.  

 

Until then, MSU (25-1, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) remains focused on the task at hand, which is a game against Georgia (13-12, 5-7) at 7 tonight at the Hump.  

 

Georgia has won three of its last four games, while MSU has won five in a row since a 64-61 loss to then-No. 5 South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. MSU and South Carolina are tied atop the SEC standings with four regular-season games remaining. 

 

Part of MSU's evolution as a program was on display Sunday in a 66-44 victory against Ole Miss at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs won going away even though leading scorer Victoria Vivians was 3 of 21 from the field and had 11 points. Sophomore center Teaira McCowan (17 points, career-high 18 rebounds) and senior guard Dominique Dillingham (12 points) helped fill the void. 

 

Vivians nodded her head to say she watched the Texas-FSU game when Schaefer was asked if he watched the game. Schaefer said he missed the game because he was recruiting in the state of Texas. When asked what she remembers from the game against Texas, Vivians said it was a tough game and that the Bulldogs won. She said MSU has made strides since then. 

 

"We have matured a lot since the Texas game," Vivians said. "Everything is better. ... We have a lot more games under our belt, so I think everything has progressed since then." 

 

Vivians said the Bulldogs have made more progress on the offensive end. The numbers reflect that as seven Bulldogs are averaging 7.5 points per game or more. Vivians leads the way at 16.8 ppg. while William is second (10). Chinwe Okorie (9.3), Dillingham (7.7), McCowan (7.7), Breanna Richardson (7.6), and Roshunda Johnson (7.5) help round out a balanced lineup that features 10 players averaging double-digit minutes. 

 

"I think we have both really grown," Schaefer said of Texas and MSU. "We may have started a little further ahead of the curve because of the veteran crew we had -- with eight juniors and seniors -- but I think our eight juniors and seniors have gotten better. I think Teaira McCowan and Jazz Holmes as sophomores have gotten a lot better. That is the piece that kind of pushes you along. 

 

"You knew our juniors and seniors have done in the past and what you figured they were capable of, but those two sophomore have really allowed us to become a lot better. They give us so much more depth at two critical positions." 

 

Schaefer has said repeatedly that depth is one of his team's biggest strengths. He said the continued maturation of his younger players and the development of the older ones will play a key role in how far the Bulldogs are able to go this season. 

 

Schaefer said he hopes Johnson, who missed the game against Ole Miss due to precautionary medical reasons, will be able to go tonight. 

 

"We're like a family," Schaefer said smiling, as he looked down to the black MSU shirt with Family across the chest. Vivians, who was sitting to his right, was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with Family across the chest, too. "We fight like sisters and moms and dads and love like moms and dads and sisters. That is our makeup. That goes back to my accountability and responsibility to them." 

 

NOTES: Schaefer opened his news conference Wednesday with praise for his team for keeping its poise and for its fans for creating a great atmosphere. When asked about the 66-44 victory against Ole Miss, Schaefer said he was concerned about some of the extra-curricular things that went on at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. On Sunday, he praised McCowan for the way she handled herself after she was pushed from behind by Shandricka Sessom, who was called for a flagrant foul. He reiterated that praise Wednesday. "There were a lot of non-basketball things going on in that basketball game that concerned me," Schaefer said. "I have addressed them. I addressed them with the appropriate people that need to look into that. There is no place in our game for things like that. I was more proud of how we handled that, but, to be honest with you, we prepared them going in and we knew something like that probably could happen, and it did. I was so proud of how we responded, specifically Teaira. (I thought she showed) great self-control. What happens if that kid goes into a camera and opens up her head or eye and has a concussion? ... There were a number of things that happened in that ballgame that were non-basketball that we didn't see on film. I have dealt with it, and I think the proper people are dealing with it." Forty-six fouls (20 by MSU) were called in the game. ... Tonight is MSU's annual "Think Pink" game at Humphrey Coliseum. The first 500 fans receive a free "Think Pink" T-shirt. Also, free pink pom-poms will be available while supplies last. ... The game will be streamed online on SEC Network +. WKBB-FM 100.9 will have the radio call in the Golden Triangle, while WCNA-FM 95.9 will carry the game to the Tupelo, Oxford, and Corinth areas. ... Live audio will be available at www.hailstate.com/plus and the TuneIn app. ... Tickets are $5 for adults, while youth age 18 and under get in free. MSU students also get in free with a valid student ID. ... MSU's game against Tennessee on Feb. 26 in Starkville will tip at 4 p.m. on ESPN2. It will be the Bulldogs' regular-season finale and Senior Day. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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