Bulldogs, Gamecocks have developed into SEC powers

Staff Writer

It wasn’t very long ago when Mississippi State and South Carolina were not on the women's college basketball radar.

In the Southeastern Conference standings, the Gamecocks were last in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, while the Bulldogs were last in 2005-06.

My how times have changed.

Through the leadership of coaches Vic Schaefer and Dawn Staley, the programs have come into national prominence.

Last year, MSU and South Carolina played for a national championship and Monday night will meet in a top 10 matchup in Starkville.

“To have two teams in the conference playing for the national championship and have teams in our league consistently in the top 25, it just speaks so highly of our conference, of our coaches and players that are in this conference,” Schaefer said. “It’s a nightmare of a league, but it’s the fish bowl and bubble we choose to live in.”

The Bulldogs rank No. 2 in the nation with their records of 23-0 overall and 9-0 in the SEC. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 7 in the country, are the defending national champions and bring records of 18-4 overall and 7-2 in the league Into tonight’s outing. The tip is set for 6 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum.

MSU lost to South Carolina three times last season with two coming in the finals of the SEC Tournament and national championship game.

Another opportunity is welcomed by senior guard Blair Schaefer and the Bulldogs.

“Great players want to play in big games,” Blair Schaefer said. “That’s what you’ve worked for. When two teams are getting ready for each other to have a top 10 matchup, that gives everyone so much excitement. It gives us energy to go out there and execute.”

It’s a matchup not only anticipated by the players and coaches, but supporters get excited as well.

Count MSU men's basketball coach Ben Howland as one of those fans.

On Friday, he was also looking forward to seeing tonight's women's outing and continues to be amazed with how Schaefer's squad is playing.

"I can't say enough about our women's program and what they are doing," Howland said. "It's going to be fun in the Hump (today). Again, I'm on my soapbox now. Coach Schaefer is the National Coach of the Year and we better be doing a great job promoting that as a program and as a school. I think I counted they are 54-4 over the last two years. They broke the streak of UConn.

"I'm telling you right now. I can't say enough about the job they're doing and what they are doing as a team and a program. It's exciting for us now as a men's program to have these two programs both playing well, but what they are doing is incredible."

Tonight’s game has been sold out for several weeks, which means the Humphrey Coliseum could possibly have over 10,000 people in the seats.

Coach Schaefer said this game has been on the minds of the national media and ESPN since the summer, so that lets him know that women’s basketball at MSU and South Carolina has arrived..

“For the women’s game in the Southeastern Conference to have two of your teams playing for the national championship, that meant so much,” coach Schaefer said. “I know for Mississippi State fans, this date has been on their calendar for a long time. If there is a women’s basketball game on somebody’s calendar for a long time, then you are doing something right.”