January 10, 2019 9:56:48 AM
STARKVILLE -- Fast starts have been the norm for the Mississippi State women's basketball team this season.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer loves it when the Bulldogs set the tone by "throwing the first punch," as he says, and establishing a defensive mind-set or pushing tempo to get an opponent on its heels.
In eight games this season, MSU has built a double-digit lead after 10 minutes. A 26-11 first quarter against then-No. 16 Kentucky on Sunday helped No. 7 MSU extend that streak to four-straight games. MSU will look to make it five in a row at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network) when it plays host to Georgia in a Southeastern Conference game at Humphrey Coliseum.
"That's a standard for us," MSU forward Anriel Howard said. "We want to come out hard, and we want them not ready for what we have to bring. ... We want to out-tough and outwork the other team."
MSU (14-1, 2-0 SEC) has seized the momentum from those fast starts to average 92.2 points per game, which is second in the nation, and to shoot 51 percent from the field, which is fifth in the country. Both marks lead the SEC.
The Bulldogs also have shown they can turn the tide in the third quarter. Against Lamar (42-15), Little Rock (32-14), and Southern Mississippi (23-8), MSU came out of the locker room and changed the nature of the game. The Bulldogs know they have to find a way to play with that same focus and intensity for longer stretches as they get deeper into league play.
"Coach says, 'the first five minutes,' " MSU senior guard Jazzmun Holmes said. "We have to come out with energy and just do what we need to do, get stops, score, get a good possession every time. The first five minutes is very important to him and it's important to us."
MSU's stingy play in the first and third quarters is one reason it is 15th in the nation in scoring defense (54.5 ppg). That total gives the Bulldogs the nation's largest scoring margin (37.7). MSU has trailed after the first quarter only three times this season.
Sophomore forward Chloe Bibby said the key to building on those starts of games or halves is getting players off the bench involved. Schaefer agreed and stressed the importance of bench players coming into games and fixing something if it is broken or keeping things going if they are clicking.
"Play withing yourself, do your job," Schaefer said. "That's what makes a great team. Everybody has a job to do. When you try to step outside of yourself and do things you're not capable of doing, that's what gets you in trouble."
McCowan named to watch list
Teaira McCowan was named Wednesday to the midseason top 25 for the John Wooden Award.
The 6-foot-7 senior center leads MSU in scoring (16.4 points per game), rebounding (13), and blocked shots (2.7). She also is among the nation's leaders in double-doubles (12, third), field goal percentage (68.7 percent, fourth), and rebounding (third).
The top 25 will be pared to 20 later in the season before a list of 15 finalists is revealed prior to the NCAA tournament. The Wooden Award winner will be announced April 12 at the College Basketball Awards.
n Also Wednesday, McCowan was selected as the No. 1 pick in a WNBA mock draft. The Associated Press polled a panel of WNBA coaches and general managers for their first- and second round picks for the draft, which will be in April. Panelists were limited to college seniors and eligible foreign players. They couldn't offer a pick for their team. The top three picks -- McCowan, Louisville's Asia Durr, and Baylor's Kalani Brown -- remained the same from the first mock draft.
The Las Vegas Aces hold the No. 1 pick. The New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever hold the No. 2 and the No. 3 picks. The Aces selected former South Carolina All-American A'ja Wilson with the No. 1 pick last season, the second year in a row they had the top choice.
Howard, a graduate student transfer from Texas A&M, came in at No. 12 in the first round (Seattle Storm). She was the only other MSU player selected.
n NOTE: The first 1,000 fans will receive a voucher for a Vic Schaefer bobblehead that can be redeemed after the game.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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