State women hope defensive game keeps improving

Staff Writer

One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle that has been missing from head coach Vic Schaefer’s 2018-19 Mississippi State team has been the defense.  

Schaefer has been pleasantly surprised with the Bulldogs’ ability to score at a high rate and they’re currently on pace to challenge a Southeastern Conference record in points as they average 89 per game. They’ve already broken the school record with six 100-point performances this year and they have a multitude of players that can hit double figures every night.  

There hasn’t been much to complain about on the offensive side of the basketball, but Schaefer and his players are demanding more of themselves on the defensive side. That’s where Schaefer has taken pride in his coaching in the past and his players are seeking to get back to that dominant phase of the game. 

“I think we have room to improve on that end just because we have a young team and they don’t get the point of help side yet,” MSU senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes said. “That will help us come closer to our goal. We have a lot of different players that can do a lot of different things like create their own shots. If we’re getting steals out front, we can get easy layups.”  

Since surrendering 71 points to Georgia and 74 against South Carolina in a week’s time, the Bulldogs are starting to round into form.  

In the last three games, MSU hasn’t given up over 50 points. The Bulldogs are averaging 42 points a game defensively in that stretch including holding LSU to 35 points on the road on Thursday, which was a program record for an SEC opponent.

Schaefer attributes that success to the athletes he has on the floor, namely the guards.  

Holmes has 44 steals for the season and Danberry has 39 and MSU is getting great production defensively from the post players as Anriel Howard has racked up 29 steals, blocked 13 shots and is averaging 7.9 rebounds, while Teaira McCowan has 54 blocks and 13.8  boards a game. That doesn’t account for the shots she prevents from even happening when players drive the paint and see her presence.  

“With this group, they’re a little different as every team is," Schaefer said. "With Jazz and Jordan, they have a real feel for when there’s blood in the water. They get a feel for when they have an advantage. We’re pretty athletic out there. When I see those kids, they get one steal and realize ‘hey, we can get another one.’” 

While the defensive side of the floor has seen a spike in improvement, the Bulldogs have also dipped in scoring a bit the last two games. There can’t be much of a complaint with scoring 80 points against Ole Miss as it’s still a high mark and though they had 68 points against LSU, they won the game by 35.  

It should be noted that LSU is the SEC’s best defensive team this season, which Schaefer felt shouldn’t be discounted. At the same time, he’s searching for consistency.  

“You have to give credit to your opponents," Schaefer said. "Both of our opponents the last two games have played zone. Our execution could obviously be better. The thing about this team is that we’re just really inconsistent right now. That’s the piece that I’m really challenged with as a coach is to develop that consistency.” 

After the impressive road win at LSU, MSU (20-1, 8-0 SEC) is hoping to continue what has been an impressive 24-game winning streak in SEC play. The Bulldogs are back on the road as they take the short drive up to Tuscaloosa Sunday to take on Alabama (11-10, 3-5 SEC).  

The Tide have been up and down this season with a blowout win against Tennessee on its resume as well as a win at Georgia last week and a three-point loss at South Carolina. However, there’s a 27-point loss to Texas A&M and a 10-point loss to Auburn in there also.  

The two teams converge at Coleman Coliseum at noon and the game can be seen on SEC Network.