Georgia on mind: Battle of Bulldogs time has MSU recalling past meetings

Mississippi State women's basketball players Jazzmun Holmes (10) and Teaira McCowan (15) take a photo with a fan after last season's win at Georgia.

Staff Writer

Vic Schaefer still recalls the game against Georgia back during his first season at Mississippi State in 2013.

It was one of the first signature wins that Schaefer would garner in Starkville and the game epitomized his team’s effort.

The homestanding Bulldogs of MSU beat No. 11 Georgia 50-38 in a game where they allowed two field goals in the second half. That team won 13 games overall and five conference games, but it set the stage for a winning season in 2013-14 and a postseason berth.

Schaefer recounts MSU’s trip to Athens last year as his program’s best in the series, though. State hadn’t won on the road at Georgia in the last eight tries, a period that dates back all the way to 2002. Schaefer lost in 2014 77-48 and had one of his team’s more forgettable performances in 2016 in a 47-43 defeat.

That’s what made a convincing 88-62 victory over the other Bulldogs as sweet as any that he’s had over Southeastern Conference teams in recent years. MSU led from start to finish and the game was never really in doubt.

“We played really last year and it was the best we’ve played against them and that goes back to my Arkansas’ days,” Schaefer said.  “(McCowan) carried us early in the game when it seemed like Blair (Schaefer) and (Roshunda Johnson) were building a house with the bricks they were laying and then they started making shots.”

That Georgia team went on to be one of the surprises in the SEC with a 12-4 record and finished third in the conference behind MSU and South Carolina. Mississippi native Joni Taylor is getting the Georgia Bulldogs back on track to where they want to be in the conference and they’re off to an 11-4 record and are 2-0 in the first week of conference action after wins over LSU and Vanderbilt.

Georgia lost an important piece to last year’s team in Mackenzie Engram, who averaged 12.9 points a game, but they return All-Conference performer Cailya Robinson. The senior forward is averaging 12.8 points this year with 8.1 rebounds. Georgia has also gotten a boost from guard Gabby Connally and her team-leading 13.3 points.

Schaefer has also been impressed with 6-6 center Jenna Staiti, who is among the SEC leaders with 32 blocked shots this season.

“They’re a year older and a year wiser and they’ve added a 6-6 transfer that can play against (McCowan)," Schaefer said. "I think that guard play is going to be extremely important. Your guards have got to be good every day or you’ve got no chance. It should be a great challenge.”

Georgia has held teams to just 53.6 points a game, but keeping MSU off the scoreboard might prove to be a challenge.

State has replaced its 3-point shooting team of 2017-18 with a different style of play that has shown them to be even more effective offensively. MSU is second in the country in scoring at 92.2 points a game, just 0.2 points behind Oregon who handed the Magnolia State Bulldogs (14-1, 2-0) their only loss of the year.

The key for Mississippi State is the emergence of different players capable of putting up points behind Teaira McCowan, who has 16.4 points and 13 rebounds a game while leading the SEC with 40 blocked shots.

Anriel Howard was a Godsend for Schaefer as a transfer from Texas A&M scoring 15.9 points and pulling down 8.2 boards a game. Jordan Danberry has stepped up this season and is the reigning SEC Co-Player of the Week, now averaging 13.3 points.

Then there’s Chloe Bibby, the Australian sophomore shooter, who is pushing along at a 12 clip. After being one of the leaders nationally in 3-point shooting, Bibby said her shots aren’t coming as regularly as they were. She leads the team with 29 long balls for the season and has hit 43 percent of those, but Bibby is currently 2-for-14 in the last three games.

“At the moment my shots are not falling so I need to find other ways to help the team get on the board,” Bibby said. “I need to get in the gym and be more consistent shooting the ball because that’s what I need to do most to help the team.”

While 3-point shooting has been one of Bibby’s strengths, it’s not even close to all she adds. Schaefer has played his sophomore more minutes than anyone else on the team as she averages 28.3 minutes a game. She averages 4.5 rebounds a contest, has hit 85 percent of her free throws and does what the coach wants her to do.

“The biggest thing is she’s not hurting us,” Schaefer said of Bibby. “She commands your respect. People are going to go out there and guard her on the perimeter. I think people are guarding her a little tougher, but at the same time, she’s not settling. She’s playing at a high level and allows us to play through her.

“She’s not hurting me on defense and she’s not turning the ball over. Anybody that knows me, that’s how you get on the floor.”

Bibby and MSU welcomes in Georgia Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum for an 8 p.m. tipoff. The game will be on SEC Network for those unable to attend. For those that will be in attendance, MSU will give away free Schaefer bobble head dolls to the first 1,000 fans to enter.