GREENVILLE, S.C. — Depth has been the calling card for the Mississippi State women’s basketball team all season.
On Friday, the Bulldogs showed they can get the job done even without one of their biggest weapons.
With leading scorer Victoria Vivians held to five points, her second-lowest total of the season, MSU used 29 points from its bench and four players in double figures to pull away for a 78-61 victory against LSU in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament at Bon Scours Wellness Arena.
Morgan William led the way with 21 points, while Teaira McCowan had 15, Breanna Richardson had 12, and Ketara Chapel added 10 to make up for the 1-for-6 shooting performance by Vivians, who entered the game averaging 17.2 points per game.
“It is not like a bad thing, but it just shows our depth as a team,” Richardson said. “We have multiple weapons, and we just had to use them today.”
The six shot attempts were the second fewest Vivians has attempted this season. The performance marked the 16th time in Vivians’ career she has failed to score in double figures. It snapped a string of 24-straight games in double digits.
“We felt like we really had a game plan of defending one of the best players in the country in Vivians,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “I’m proud of the defensive effort on her.”
In other games where she hasn’t scored, Vivians has contributed in different categories, like rebounds or steals. On this night, though, she was only 3-for-3 from the free-throw line and had one rebound, two assists, and four turnovers in 34 minutes.
“Yeah, some people had an off night,” said William, who had seven assists. “We’re a team. (Victoria) can’t be our only scoring option. (We) can’t be one-dimensional. We got to play, do what we do. I feel like I stepped up, made some shots. I was able to get my teammates open for looks.
“I’m sure she’ll have a good game tomorrow. I’m not worried.”
MSU coach Vic Schaefer also wasn’t worried. He said the Bulldogs’ balance came through against when it was needed the most.
“We’ve had a lot of kids scoring for us,” Schaefer said. “Roshunda Johnson came off the bench, had some big games. Blair (Schaefer) has come off and had 18 (points). Our bench has been great all year.”
Johnson plays double-digit minutes
Johnson scored only four points, but the junior guard played 11 minutes, marking the first time since late January-early February she has played double-figure minutes in consecutive games.
Without Vivians’ scoring, MSU needed everything Johnson could deliver.
“If I can ever get her in practice for a week at a time, she probably would get where she is pretty good and get back to being productive for us,” Schaefer said. “It has been hard keeping her in practice because she has been nicked up and dinged up all year long. She will get better. She will continue to do better, and I thought she and Blair did a great job off the bench tonight.”
Tough night on defense for Dillingham
Dominique Dillingham earns the assignment of guarding the opponent’s best player every game.
As a member of the SEC’s All-Defensive team, Dillingham usually fares pretty well on defense because she can get in front of other players and use her toughness and her intelligence to take them out of their game.
Raigyne Moncrief proved a little tougher guard than usual. The redshirt junior guard scored from multiple angles in going 11-for-20 from the field en route to a game-high 25-point effort. She also had three rebounds and five assists in all 40 minutes.
“It is difficult,” Dillingham said. “But I love competition and it was challenging. It was fun going against her. She is a great player, and she is going to be in the WNBA someday.”
Schaefer credited Dillingham for her hard work and the team for helping to try to stop Moncrief.
“You hope that you can wear her down a little bit, which I thought late we did,” Schaefer said. “She is a heck of a player, and she was going against an all-defensive player in our league, one of the best. You’ve got to tip your hat sometimes and pat them on the back and go, ‘Hey, good shot and we’ll see you the next time down the floor.’ ”
Coach Schaefer named semifinalist for Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year
Vic Schaefer was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Werner Ladder Naismith National Coach of the Year award on Friday morning.
Schaefer led MSU to a 27-3 regular season, which was the best finish in program history. The Bulldogs also set a record for most wins in the league with a 13-3 record, finish, which was good for second place.
The 27-win season helped MSU record its fourth-straight 20-win season, a program record. Prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs had won 20 games only four times.
MSU also started the season with a program-record 20-straight victories. The success helped the Bulldogs climb to a program record No. 3 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 and a program record No. 2 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The victories have translated to packed crowds at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU has set attendance records the past three seasons. This season, MSU recorded a program-best average of 6,793 fans, which is seventh in the nation — an increase of 1,600 from last season.
MSU drew 10,500 for its regular-season finale against Tennessee. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season’s 10,626 for its game against South Carolina.
Texas’ Karen Aston, Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, Maryland’s Brenda Frese, North Carolina State’s Wes Moore, Washington’s Mike Neighbors, Missouri’s Robin Pingeton, Oregon State’s Scott Rueck, Florida State’s Sue Semrau, and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer round out the list of semifinalists.
Healthy turnout of MSU fans
After Tennessee lost to Alabama in the quarterfinals on Thursday, many of the orange-clad fans that typically pack the SEC tournament weren’t in attendance Friday.
MSU’s maroon-clad fans tried to make up for their absence by making up a large part of the evening session of 4,330 for the game between MSU and LSU and Missouri and Texas A&M.
“This is what building a program is all about, when you have fans that will travel and they are excited about coming here,” Schaefer said. “I would have felt terrible if I let them down.”
MSU’s Blair Schaefer on Community Service team
MSU junior guard Blair Schaefer was named to the SEC Women’s Basketball Community Service team.
Schaefer has cheered runners on in the Autism Speaks 5-Kilometer Run. She helped with the T.K. Martin Center Fun Run that supports MSU’s T.K. Martin Center for children with special needs for the second-straight year.
Schaefer also has participated in reading initiatives Reading Railroad and Bully’s Book Blitz. For the past three years, she spent time with children and led games at Travis Outlaw Day. She also joined her MSU teammates in judging the talent show for Camp Jigsaw, a camp at MSU for youth with autism.
Ole Miss’ Shandricka Sessom and Alabama’s Ashley Williams also were recognized.
MSU track and field standout Marrissa Harris represented the school in the SEC’s annual showcase of former student-athletes and coaches from all 14-member institutions.
Harris owns MSU’s fourth-best outdoor long jump (21 feet ½ inch), fifth-best throw in the javelin (124-3), and second-best score in the heptathlon (5,625 points). She was the 2008 SEC champion in the heptathlon, a 2008 and 2009 All-American in the indoor pentathlon, and a 2009 All-American in the outdoor 100-meter hurdles. She also was named to the SEC Honor Roll in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
Former Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Van Chancellor and Alabama swimmer Stacy Potter Inman also were recognized.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.