Importance of beating Ole Miss not lost on MSU women

MSU's Victoria Vivians (35)
Staff Writer

There was a time when the Mississippi State and Ole Miss women’s hoops rivalry wasn’t much of a rivalry at all.

The Rebels won 50 of the first 51 games in the series from 1975-1997 including 33-straight during that stretch. It’s turned in a major way towards MSU since that time with the Bulldogs winning 29 of the last 42, Coach Vic Schaefer has put a dent in that series number himself with an 8-2 record and seven-consecutive wins.

With the recent success against the Rebels as well as the Bulldogs currently sitting at No. 4 nationally with bigger goals in mind, the game still carries weight.The latest meeting takes place Thursday night inside Humphrey Coliseum with a tip time of 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Victoria Vivians grew up inside Mississippi and she knows as much as anyone about what the game means.

MSU’s third all-time leading scorer and her senior class have enjoyed a perfect 6-0 record so she has just one goal going into the matchups this year.

“Don’t lose,” Vivians said. “Me being from this state, my mentality is to not lose to another team in this state. They’re our little sister. We’re the big sister so we need to keep the tradition going.
“It gets bigger every year because I’m getting closer to the finish. I feel like we’ve got to finish it out and keep beating them.”

The  Bulldogs (17-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) know the challenge that the Rebels bring and the rivalry adds to it. Ole Miss (11-5, 1-2) has fought through the season-ending injury of top player Shandricka Sessom and stayed competitive.

After finishing 10-3 in non-conference play, the Rebels dropped a heartbreaking 73-72 road game at Arkansas and stayed with South Carolina until the fourth quarter before the Gamecocks pulled away. Last week was big for Ole Miss as they pulled off a 78-75 win in double overtime over Florida and now it comes to Starkville with some momentum.

Schaefer is wary of the Rebel offense led by junior Medinah Muhammad’s 18.1 points and junior point guard Alissa Alston’s 15.5 and 5.1 assists.

“I think they’re really playing at a high level. Those guards are really good and they’ve added some size inside that can create problems,” Schaefer said of the Rebels. “You’re talking about a really ultra-athletic group. Offensively, they’re playing at a high level.”

The opposing offenses and Schaefer’s team defense is what is keeping the sixth-year coach up at night. The Bulldogs haven’t played up to his standards after surrendering 69 and 70 points in their last two games against Arkansas and LSU.

The final scores of those games were irrelevant to the longtime coach, who is trying to get his team back on track of what they do best.

“It isn’t going to happen in one day and it won’t happen in one week,” Schaefer said of the defense. “It’s hard to get well going against the competition we go against. We’ve got to continue to work in practice and technique is a big part of that. The other piece is playing hard.”

On offense, though, State is one of the best nationally.

The Bulldogs have junior center Teaira McCowan dominating the paint for 20.8 points and 12.7 rebounds a game. Vivians is on a career pace with her 19.4 points and 54 percent field goal shooting. Roshunda Johnson throws in another 12 points a game herself and her defense has been top notch.

Add in Blair Schaefer’s 9.1 points and Morgan William’s efficient 4.5 assists and just a turnover a game and there’s much to like there.

It sets up for an interesting stretch run in the SEC and it doesn’t get any easier this week. Schaefer is just relieved to have a 3-0 start after two tough road opponents.

“We’re just excited to be back at home,” Schaefer said. “We’ve had to open two of the first three on the road and I’m really proud of our team for going on the road against two difficult teams and winning. That one (Thursday) means a lot to a lot of people.

“It doesn’t matter what the records are. You have teams and two fan bases that are passionate about the game. We know who is coming through the doors and we’ll be ready.”