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Toughness tells tale for Bulldogs' redemption

 

Mississippi State University women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer shows his emotions during a back-and-forth contest Monday against South Carolina. State won the contest despite shooting only 36.7 percent from the field.

Mississippi State University women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer shows his emotions during a back-and-forth contest Monday against South Carolina. State won the contest despite shooting only 36.7 percent from the field. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer reared back and raised his leg for added emphasis. The fist pump that followed exorcised five years of frustration. 

 

The Mississippi State women's basketball coach and his No. 2 Bulldogs had to wait another 6 minutes, 24 seconds to complete a 67-53 victory against No. 7 South Carolina on Monday night before a Humphrey Coliseum record crowd of 10,794. 

 

But Blair Schaefer's 3-pointer from the right corner, which included a pump of her right arm and a leaping spin from the senior guard, signaled this might be the night MSU (24-0, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) ended an 11-game losing streak to South Carolina. 

 

Coach Schaefer punctuated that signal with a fist pump that rivaled a baseball umpire's best out call and suggested the Bulldogs weren't going to be denied. 

 

"I thought it was freakin' awesome," Blair Schaefer said of seeing the reaction of her coach/father. "We had just hit two 3s, and for him to be so excited about our excitement and our energy, that is something we don't see too much because he is so demanding and he wants us to be perfect. But that was a pretty close to perfect moment." 

 

Sixty-six seconds later, Blair Schaefer added to the perfection when she drained another 3-pointer off a cross-court pass from Jazzmun Holmes to help send the Bulldogs to their first victory against the Gamecocks (18-5, 7-3) in 10 tries under Schaefer. 

 

The victory strengthened MSU's hold on first place in the SEC and its two-game lead on Georgia. It also gave MSU a three-game cushion in the loss column on four other teams as it continues its quest for the program's first SEC regular-division title. 

 

"Here is what we talked about before this ever started tonight: We lost to South Carolina because they've out-toughed us," Coach Schaefer said. "I don't know that we out-toughed them tonight, but I think we matched their toughness." 

 

Two years ago, South Carolina beat MSU twice, including in the SEC Tournament title game. Last season, the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs in the regular season, in the championship game of the SEC Tournament, and in the national title game. Now Kentucky is the only SEC team Schaefer hasn't defeated as MSU's coach. 

 

"They are our league's best team," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "The record shows it. The rankings show it. They did a great job. I am happy for them. I am happy they could play that way in front of all of these people because there are some people who were in the building who haven't watched women's basketball before. 

 

"I just hope it is not in vain," she added. "They have to get back in the gym and support this team." 

 

Victoria Vivians had a team-high 24 points. Blair Schaefer added 14. Teaira McCowan had nine points and 20 rebounds. Holmes added six points and matched her career high with eight assists off the bench. 

 

"It feels great," Vivians said. "When I went into the stands after the game), my dad said, 'You finally got the monkey off your back.' I feel like he was telling the truth. Finally getting that win against them brings a lot of confidence for us." 

 

The Bulldogs also delivered on defense, holding South Carolina to 37.7 percent shooting (20-for-53) from the field and forcing 17 turnovers. 

 

Most importantly, MSU showed the grit and determination of a team that wasn't going to be denied. 

 

"Yeah, this game is really important," Blair Schaefer said. "We lost to them three times last year, but it is one game. They are a great team, so we're probably going to have to play them again because they're that good. 

 

"Today was a great win, but we have to enjoy the win tonight and then re-focus and keep doing what we have been doing for 23 or 24 games," she added.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

 

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