MSU women grow into national power

Mississippi State's third-ranked women's basketball team
By: 
ROBBIE FAULK
Staff Writer

Coach Vic Schaefer has transformed Mississippi State from the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference to a perennial power nationally in five short years.
Each year has seen improvement.
The Bulldogs won 13 games in Schaefer’s first year then were in the Women's National Invitational Tournament quarterfinals in year two. In his third season, MSU was back in the NCAA Tournament with a school-record 27 wins. That was topped by 28 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015-16 that saw State become a hosting site of the first time in school history.
Now Schaefer and the No. 3 Bulldogs are working on their first No. 1 seed and are already 25-1 with an 11-1 Southeastern Conference record.
Out of all of the transformations over time under Schaefer, the offensive evolution of his team might be the most impressive. Defense has always been the team’s cornerstone, but they’re now becoming one of the SEC’s best in scoring points.
The last two seasons have hinged on Victoria Vivians producing for the Bulldogs. Last Sunday’s 66-44 blowout win at Oxford against Ole Miss saw Vivians go 3-for-21 from the field with 11 points. Despite her offensive struggles, the team won comfortably.
“I think it speaks volumes for our team,” Schaefer said. “In year’s past, the only reason (we won) was because of Victoria. In other words, not giving her teammates credit. The other night, she struggled a little bit, but I thought her teammates were fantastic.”
When the MSU Bulldogs welcome in their visiting Bulldogs from Georgia tonight at 7 p.m., they need not look any further than last year’s game in Athens to see how far they’ve come. MSU lost that game to Georgia 47-43 in what Schaefer thought was one of their worst offensive games in some time.
Georgia (13-12, 5-7 SEC) comes into this game hungry for a win but also with confidence after beating State last year on its home court.
“They are playing well and really present some problems for you,” Schaefer said. “I’m sure that they’re really confident knowing that they held us to 44 points at their place a year ago in a real ugly game. We did not play well offensively. We’re in the process of trying to prepare for them and the problems they present.”
The difference this year for Mississippi State is its depth and the quality of that depth across the board. Dominique Dillingham has added 7.7 points per game to become an offensive threat. Morgan William averaged 10 points and 4.7 assists. Chiinwe Okorie averages 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds and is relieved by 6-7 Teaira McCowan, who puts in 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 58 percent.
McCowan showed dominance in MSU’s road win at Ole Miss with 17 points and a career high 18 rebounds making things scarier for the rest of the SEC moving forward.
Vivians is averaging a team-high 16.8 points per game and finds herself on many of the national lists as an individual player. As much as the team has evolved around her, Schaefer has seen her evolve her game as a player averaging 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.7 steals.
 “I’m growing, not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end," Vivians said. "My whole game is growing. It’s helped me become a better player. I just think I’m a growing player right now.”
A win tonight will give the MSU Bulldogs a school-record 12th SEC win and will keep them at the top of the league standings with South Carolina , which owns the tiebreaker. The game can be seen only on the SEC Network + outlet online and fans are encouraged to wear pink for the annual “Think Pink” game.

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