Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team has a traditional way to say goodbye to its fans after their final game at Humphrey Coliseum.
After playing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, the Bulldogs whip their first two NCAA Tournament opponents, games usually played at the Hump, to reach the Sweet 16. Then, the senior class — which has won more games than any of its predecessors — gathers at half-court after the game to be serenaded by the cheering thousands of their devoted fans.
This happens every year, it seems.
Sunday night, it happened once again. Mississippi State (32-2) rolled past Clemson, 85-61, as the Bulldogs earned their fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs, seeded first in the West Regional, will travel to Portland, Oregon, later this week for a meeting with Arizona State on Friday.
For the 9,994 fans who came late for the 8 p.m. game, and stayed later, Sunday played out in predictable fashion, something MSU coach Vic Schaefer understood.
“I do think our fans think it’s easy,” Schaefer said. “I don’t think anybody understands how hard it is. It’s so hard. When we lose a game, it’s like the sky is falling around here.”
The Bulldogs who are completing their fourth and final season — Teaira McCowan and Jazzmun Holmes — have had the sky fall on them just 17 times. They’ve won 131 games, so far.
“All they know is winning,” Schafer said, who seemed to go to full pre-game speech mode as he talked about his seniors and the still unrealized potential the team has.
“For us, it’s ‘let’s go win a championship,'” said Schaefer, whose team has fallen a win short of the national title for the past two years. “Go pay the price. Endure the pain that comes with it. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it. You’re right at the doorstep right now.”
Schaefer is convinced he has the team to do it.
“We have this team now that could be our best ever,” Schaefer said. “I’m trying to get them there. We might not get there. It happens sometimes. But I’ll go to work (Monday) morning and practice them Tuesday and I’m going to try to get them there because I believe in them.”
Schaefer said the skill is there. Ultimately, he said, it may come down to focus.
“We talk about being predator or prey,” Schaefer said. “If you are a predators, your eyes are narrow and you’re not worried about the other stuff around you. Now, if you’re prey, your eyes are wide. You see everything because you’re worried that something’s gonna get you.
“So, let’s take all the distractions out and be laser-focused, he added. “If we’re laser focused, I ain’t trading this group for anybody.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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