January 11, 2018 10:23:50 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer continues to preach about creating better habits.
Through 17 games, the Mississippi State women's basketball coach has been delighted to see the Bulldogs average 87.6 points per game. In addition to leading the Southeastern Conference, that mark is No. 6 in the nation.
No. 4 MSU (17-0, 3-0 SEC) also is second in the league in field goal percentage (program-best 48.6 percent under Schaefer). That number is good for ninth in the country. Both statistics are big reasons why the Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring margin (30.9 ppg.)
But Schaefer wants more.
When your program is coming off its first trip to the national title game, it's natural for any coach to try to identify areas that can help his team win one more game to secure the ultimate goal. This season, Schaefer has his team's defense in his crosshairs.
Entering its game against Ole Miss (11-5, 1-2) at 8 tonight (SEC Network) at Humphrey Coliseum, MSU is third in the league in scoring defense (56.7 ppg.), which is 25th in the country. That number isn't that bad, but Schaefer doesn't like the fact the Bulldogs are allowing teams to shoot 38.7 percent from the field. That mark is eighth in the SEC and 108th in the nation.
"I've got to own that as a head coach," Schaefer said. "That is personal to me. I want it to be personal to them."
Schaefer stressed Wednesday he and his coaches have to coach and to teach better to get the Bulldogs to play defense more like he is accustomed to seeing. Last week following a 111-69 victory against Arkansas in Starkville, Schaefer talked about the struggle he is having with this year's team to get it to play with the effort and energy he wants on defense. He raised those issues again as he talked about the latest installment of a rivalry with Ole Miss, which has seen MSU win the last seven meetings.
"I think part of my issue with us is right now is I think we have more energy than we think we do," Schaefer said. "I think we can play harder than we play at times. I am not afraid to address that with my kids. I have to wear that. For me, and I can speak for my staff, we coach hard, we work hard, and we give everything we have. That is all we know."
Schaefer talked about coaching his players' heart against Arkansas despite the program-record scoring mark in a SEC game. He said he will continue to encourage his players to push past feelings of fatigue they feel to reach for something bigger.
MSU senior point guard Morgan William said focus in practice is a key to achieving those "learned responses" Schaefer referred to. She said it is easy to lose your mental edge in practice when you get tired, but she said Schaefer has encouraged her to stay tough to develop "good habits."
"I feel like we are getting better at practice," William said. "We are getting some guys back (from their men's practice team). We are not going to look good at first with them for a while, but we'll get back to it at a higher speed."
Schaefer said MSU has a few of its men's practice players for practice Tuesday. He said he hoped to have more of them back Wednesday to help give the Bulldogs a different physical test in training.
As one of only four remaining undefeated Division I teams in the nation, Schaefer said he will continue to demand more from his players. He said the Bulldogs have "to own some of their issues," but he said a media availability wasn't the time to do it.
"Offense is great, and offensively we are special," Schaefer said. "But sometimes that offense isn't going to travel. Defense travels. There is going to be a night where offense doesn't make it on the bus and we're going to have to win a game with our defense. I want to be ready for that night."
Schaefer said he doesn't want his players to think they have to lose a game for that feeling to sink in. He hopes they "embrace this opportunity" and "get all in" on both ends of the floor to see how far they can go.
When asked how good MSU can be if it does that, Schaefer said, "We have to win one more game to be better than we were last year, right? That is pretty hard. What we did last year is extremely hard to do, but you know what, I am going to try to do it, and this team is talented enough. But we also have some things we have to fix if we're going to do it, but not unlike last year's team at this time."
NOTES: MSU's 17-0 start is the third-best start in program history. All three have come in the last four seasons. ... MSU is seeking to start SEC play 4-0 for the second-straight year. The first time came last season. ... The Bulldogs have scored 80 or more points in four-straight games, and 12 times this season, matching the total of times it scored 80-plus last season. ... MSU will celebrate StarkVegas Night tonight. Fans are encouraged to wear black. ... Donut bacon cheeseburgers will be on sale tonight between portals D&E. ... The student lounge will be open to MSU students. Bully's Kidz Kourt will open at 6:30 p.m.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.