The Mississippi State women’s basketball team is still the national runner-up.
Pinch yourself MSU fans if you thought the last month of the 2016-17 season was a dream. Don’t worry, it wasn’t. A lot of the memories from MSU’s run through the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City and its victory against four-time reigning national champion Connecticut have come back into focus this month after MSU won the Best Upset ESPY for its 66-64 overtime victory against UConn in the national semifinals. The victory was part of a school-record 34-win season that saw coach Vic Schaefer’s team earn 13 wins in the Southeastern Conference, which also is a program-best mark.
To say MSU took over American Airlines Center in Dallas would be an understatement. Fans typically will side with the underdog, especially in a case like this one when MSU, in its first appearance in the Final Four, was vying to snap UConn’s college-basketball record 111-game winning streak. Morgan William’s game-winning shot, which made it to the finals of the voting for the Best Play ESPY, helped send the crowd into a frenzy and left UConn and its fans wondering what hit them. Former MSU quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys starter Dak Prescott was so excited he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to throw his cap. If he could have, he likely would have stormed the court, but he would have had to jump over several rows of media members from his seat in the first few rows.
Fans will have their chance to relive the game at 7 p.m. Tuesday as part of Mississippi State’s SEC Network Takeover. The “takeover” will begin at 11 p.m. Monday with a Thunder & Lightning 30 For 30 piece about former MSU baseball greats Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro. It will end at 10 p.m. Tuesday with One Night In March, a documentary on the racial barriers the 1963 MSU men’s basketball team had to overcome to participate in the NCAA tournament.
In between, the MSU volleyball, football, softball, baseball, and men’s basketball teams will share some of their biggest highlights from as far back as 1999. Schaefer’s MSU women’s basketball team then will get its chance in the spotlight with a replay of the game against UConn. A Final Four version of Relentless, Hail State Productions’ original, full-access, behind-the-scenes look at the team, will feature never-before footage captured following the victory against UConn.
The memories will continue today, as MSTV, MSU’s cable channel, will hold Hail State Productions Takeover Day. The channel will feature 24 consecutive hours of Relentless episodes from the football, baseball, and men’s and women’s basketball teams. In Starkville, MSTV can be viewed on MaxxSouth Broadband in standard definition on channel 98 and in high definition on channel 1098. Statewide, MSTV is available on channel 80 for fans with C Spire Fiber TV.
Don’t worry, though. MSU isn’t standing still. In fact, its players are staying busy in the “offseason.” Earlier this month, rising senior Victoria Vivians and rising junior Teaira McCowan were invited to the United States U23 National Team Training Camp on July 31-Aug. 4 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 12-player team selected from the camp will represent the U.S. at the inaugural U23 Four Nations Tournament in Tokyo, Japan.
Vivians, who participated in the 2015 USA Basketball World University and Pan-Am Games Trials, averaged a team-high 16.2 points per game last season. She earned third-team All-America honors from The Associated Press. She also was a first-team All-SEC performer and a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-Region finalist.
McCowan was third on the team in scoring (8.7 ppg.) and first in rebounding (7.1 per game) and blocked shots (1.5). She earned MSU’s first SEC Sixth Woman of the Year award.
McCowan was even better in the NCAA tournament, averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in victories against Washington and Baylor. She started all six of the Bulldogs’ NCAA tournament games, and was named to the Oklahoma City All-Region Team.
MSU will look to Vivians, McCowan, William, and seniors Blair Schaefer and redshirt senior Roshunda Johnson to keep the program among the nation’s elite. The Bulldogs figure to receive help in that regard from a class of newcomers that includes Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year Myah Taylor and Chloe Bibby, a 6-foot forward from Australia. Bibby is in Italy playing for Australia in the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, Under-19 World Cup. Bibby had 10 points and seven rebounds in a 66-61 loss to Japan and 16 points and six rebounds in a 109-34 victory against Mexico. Australia will conclude Group D action Tuesday with a game against Hungary. The 16 teams will advance to bracket play Wednesday. The tournament runs through July 30.
Bibby figures to help offset the graduation losses of forwards Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel. McCowan is expected to slide into a full-time role at center with the graduation of center Chinwe Okorie. Rising sophomore forward Ameshya Williams also could see more minutes on the front line following a season in which she showed potential.
Rising sophomore guard Jacaira “Iggy” Allen is another player who will be counted on to help keep the momentum going. Allen showed great energy and athleticism last season and often drew praise from Schaefer for her play in practice. MSU hopes Allen will emerge as a dependable contributor because it will need players to help replace the intangibles and leadership lost with the graduation of guard Dominique Dillingham.
The pieces are there. A healthy Johnson will bolster a backcourt that should be one of the deepest in the nation. Coach Schaefer said earlier this summer that leadership will be crucial. He said he is eager to have William take on a bigger and louder presence. If that happens, MSU likely will be back in the mix with the nation’s best at the end of the season. With the start of another season a little more than three months away, it’s not too early to start dreaming of MSU making more history. Re-visiting MSU’s victory against UConn on Tuesday will be a perfect place to start.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.