STARKVILLE — Dominique Dillingham hasn’t been walking around since Sunday muttering Kelsey Plum’s name under her breath, at least not the way DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno did Sunday.
But that doesn’t mean Dillingham and all of her Mississippi State teammates won’t get a crash course on everything related to Plum, Chantel Osahor, the rest of the Huskies before the teams meet at 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN2) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament’s Oklahoma City Regional at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
“I have seen her play a lot. She is really good,” Dillingham said. “That is all you really need to know about her. She is left-handed. She can do everything. … She is just a great player. Coach Schaefer will have a great plan for her.”
Dillingham received a little prompting from Schaefer to make sure she also talked about Plum’s ability to find her teammates. Plum showcased that ability Monday in a 108-82 victory against sixth-seeded Oklahoma. The senior guard had 38 points and 11 assists (one turnover) in 39 minutes to lead the Huskies (29-5) to the Sweet 16.
Bruno touched on Plum’s versatility and explosiveness Sunday following his team’s 92-71 loss to MSU at Humphrey Coliseum. The veteran coach was asked to speculate about a possible matchup between MSU and Baylor, which is the region’s No. 1 seed, but Bruno saw it coming and kept repeating Plum’s name before he answered the question.
Dillingham said MSU will have to approach the matchup with a similar sense of caution and realize the “helpers” will have to help helpers for the defense to be effective.
“They had 18 threes (against Oklahoma),” Dillingham said. “It is going to be a team effort (against Plum). It is not going to be just me.”
Schaefer agreed and said he doesn’t anticipate the Bulldogs having to take a crash course in helping helpers on defense. He said those fundamentals should be understood at this point and he expects his players will be able to fall back on what they know to help them against the Huskies.
Dillingham also doesn’t anticipate getting any more hyped facing a player like Plum, who passed former Southwest Missouri State All-American Jackie Stiles to become the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball. Against Oklahoma, Plum broke Stiles’ record to become the NCAA’s single-season scoring leader.
Dillingham isn’t the only Bulldog who could be involved in a pivotal matchup. Sophomore center Teaira McCowan and senior center Chinwe Okorie likely will be matched up against senior center Chantel Osahor, the nation’s leading rebounder (15.4 per game). McCowan, who is 6-foot-7, and Okorie, who is 6-5, will have the height advantage on Osahor, who is 6-2, but Osahor is a strong player who also is effective from 3-point range. One of her favorite shots is a 3-pointer at the top of the key. She is second on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Osahor is shooting 48.1 percent from the field. She is third on the team in 3-pointers (47, 37.9 percent).
“We guarded (South Carolina center) A’ja (Wilson), so I feel it is nothing more,” McCowan said when asked if she had been thinking about guarding Osahor. “She can knock down a shot as well as A’ja can knock down a shot. She can go off the bounce and has all of the counters. We just have to play them like we have been playing outside five players.”
McCowan said games against Missouri and DePaul have prepared the team for the challenge of guarding teams that like to scatter shooters on the 3-point line. The Bulldogs proved to be effective against the Blue Demons, especially after the first half. Okorie and McCowan appeared to make an adjustment in the second half and didn’t give DePaul’s shooters as much space to get 3-pointers off in the second half, even though they didn’t spend a lot of time guarding center Jacqui Grant, who was in foul trouble.
Offensively, MSU cored 202 points in victories against Troy and DePaul after Schaefer opted to shuffle the starting lineup. Junior guard Morgan William was the only starter who remained from the end of the regular season. Guards Blair Schaefer and Roshunda Johnson joined senior forward Ketara Chapel, who has been a starter earlier in her career, and McCowan in replacing Dillingham, Victoria Vivians, Breanna Richardson and Okorie. On Tuesday, Schaefer didn’t rule out the possibility of going back to the previous starting lineup, but he said he feels he has 10 “starters” and two freshmen — Jacaira “Iggy” Allen and Ameshya Williams — who are playing as well as anyone on the team.
“We executed some really good stuff,” Schaefer said Sunday. “Our kids really did a good job of attacking and doing some things offensively that we haven’t done all year. Hopefully we’re getting hot at the right time.”
Schaefer suggested he might not have been able to make a change like that earlier in his career. He alluded to his love for defense and said that he has had to catch himself sometimes not to think only about defense. As a result, he said he has realized this year’s team has had to spend more time on offense, which is something it continues to do. The result was a confident team that saw Blair Schaefer score a career-high 21 points and lad the team in scoring against Troy and backup point guard Jazzmun Holmes score a career-high 14 and hand out six assists against DePaul. The Bulldogs had six players score in double figures against the Blue Demons.
That confidence came through in comments the Bulldogs made after the game.
“I think as a veteran team there are things you need to accomplish and you need to get done as you mature and get better on the court,” Schaefer said. “I just think that this is just showing that our chemistry on the floor is showing and that our team is maturing in the best way possible, and at the right time.”
On Friday, MSU hopes it will be able to continue a record-breaking season that has seen it set new marks for overall wins and wins in the Southeastern Conference and advance to the NCAA tournament for the third-straight season for the first time in program history.
To accomplish that goal, the Bulldogs will have to guard against Plum, Osahor, and the Huskies taking over like they did against the Sooners. Dillingham feels the team has the right mind-set.
“I think we just had higher expectations for ourselves this year,” Dillingham said. “I think we felt we were a much better team this year. When we won Sunday, we didn’t really celebrate as much. Last year when we beat Michigan State, it was a lot of emotion. I felt like we were on such a high. This year, I think we knew it was going to be a hard game, but we expected to win. Coach Schaefer gave us a good game plan and when we won it was like we got the win and we have to keep going.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.