STARKVILLE — Breanna Richardson acknowledges the “bursts” were there in 2014-15.
The 6-foot-1 forward had 16 points in a victory at Ole Miss, poured in 15 points in a victory at Auburn, had all 13 of her points in the second half in a loss at Tennessee, and matched her Southeastern Conference-high with 16 points against Florida.
But Richardson also will tell you she had as many stretches last season that she would like to change. Those periods were replete with turnovers on moves to the baskets, missed perimeter shots, or defensive lapses.
As a result, Richardson’s scoring dipped from 9.5 points per game as a freshman to 8.4 ppg. as a sophomore. Even though she lowered her turnovers from 97 to 87, she still was second on the team in that category. Richardson’s shooting also dipped from 42.4 percent to 40.5 percent. Those numbers are just part of the reason Richardson envisions a bigger junior season as part of a Mississippi State women’s basketball team that also has its sights set higher.
“I don’t think it was the season I wanted to have,” Richardson said. “I think I had my bursts, or I had a couple of showings like I had in my freshman year, how I wanted to play, but I was inconsistent. I don’t like that. I have to be more consistent for us to have an even better season.”
Richardson worked hard in the offseason to improve her ballhandling and her shooting. The training was done in part because MSU coach Vic Schaefer told her he was “committed” to giving hr playing time at the three, or small forward position. Richardson still will play the four, or power forward, but the move to a wing figures to give the Bulldogs more size and options to choose from a deep group of players at the other forward position.
Richardson will show off the improvements to her game Tuesday when MSU officially opens practice for the 2015-16 season. To date, Richardson’s work has been done in individual sessions, in training sessions with coaches, and in pickup games. This week, the work begins in earnest to making this a memorable season.
“I think she worked harder than anybody,” Schaefer said. “I think she focused hard on her ballhandling because she knows that is what I wanted her to really focus on. I think she is shooting the ball better than she has ever shot it. I have been really pleased with her development.”
Richardson was a member of the SEC’s All-Freshman Team. Last season, she was fourth on the team in minutes, but she started only 14 of 34 games as MSU set school records for wins in a season (27) and in the league (11). She also averaged 8.6 ppg. in SEC play, the third-best mark on the team, and led the Bulldogs in scoring six times and rebounding eight times.
But Richardson knows she wasn’t as consistent as she needed to be last season, so she focused on honing her ballhandling skills and becoming a better shooter and defender. She feels all three skills will help her in her transition to small forward. They also will add another dimension to what figures to be a versatile lineup if she remains at power forward.
Schaefer said he likes the depth MSU has with Richardson, Sherise Williams, Jazmine Spears, LaKeris Salter, and Ketara Chapel at the four position. He said a key will be finding options who can provide consistent production because opponents will know what to expect from forward Victoria Vivians after she led the team in scoring (14.9 ppg.) as a freshman last season.
“I need somebody who can step over there and have some size and rebound and do some of the stuff Dominique Dillingham does,” Schaefer said. “The jury is still out on it. (Breanna) probably is our most improved player from the summer because she worked hard on her game. I am committed to giving her some opportunities out there, but I can’t take her from the four position if I don’t have a four player who is functioning properly.
“At the same time, if I have a wing combination that is playing well, it is hard to mess with that. I think Kayla (Nevitt) and Blair (Schaefer) are going to be better this year, not that they were bad last year. They were just behind Kendra (Grant), who was a senior and a veteran. I think both of those kids made some big shots for us, too. I think those kids will be better, which is going to allow us to play four or five kids on the perimeter.”
Richardson is prepared regardless where she plays. She said she has noticed a difference in her game during pickup games. She said she isn’t turning the ball over as much and she is knocking down open shots. To make the changes stick, Richardson admits she has to “ease up” on herself because sometimes she feels her emotions take her out of the game. She is trying not to be so hard on herself when she makes a mistake or misses a shot. She said doesn’t notice she is hard on herself when she is on the court, but she said she always has been her worst critic.
Taking charges is another area Richardson wants to work on. She smiles when she says Schaefer would like her to be involved in more train wrecks, especially when she in on defense. She said she will have to ask Dillingham her secret for taking so many charges. Until she learns that secret, Richardson will continue to show what she can do at two positions so MSU can prove it belongs as a top-10 program. MSU will enter its season opener against Samford at 5:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, as the No. 6 team in Athlon Sports’ preseason poll and the No. 8 team in Lindy’s preseason rankings. Bigger contributions from Richardson could help the Bulldogs solidify their position as one of the nation’s up-and-coming programs.
“I told myself I have to have a better junior year because I feel I have to re-establish myself as a player in the league,” Richardson said. “I just have to come out and have a different mind-set and be better, more consistent.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.