Mississippi State University senior Victoria Vivians takes a shot during Saturday's NCAA Tournament game against Nicholls at Humphrey Coliseum. Vivians, nicknamed "Queen Victoria," scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds during the game, which State won 95-50. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
March 17, 2018 10:06:22 PM
Last October, Victoria Vivians was chosen as homecoming queen at Mississippi State and she's embraced the title of "Queen Victoria" ever since.
It suits her, probably more than she realizes.
While it would be a silly exercise to draw too many parallels between Mississippi State's senior All-American basketball player and the 19th Century Queen Victoria, who sat on the throne of England for 63 years, there are some amusing similarities.
This weekend, Vivians and the top-seeded Bulldogs are making their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, easily blowing past Nicholls, 95-50, in a first-round contest Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum. Vivians scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the win.
The Bulldogs have gone from reaching to second round in Vivians' freshman year to the Sweet 16 as a sophomore to the national runner-up last year.
This season, it would be unfair to dismiss the contributions of other players, particularly seniors Morgan William, Blair Schaefer and Roshunda Johnson, along with junior center Teaira McCowan.
But in any court there can be just one queen. At MSU, it's Queen Victoria.
That was understood from the moment she stepped on the court as coach Vic Schaefer's most prized recruit after Vivians set a Mississippi high school scoring record of 5,745 points in a legendary five-year career at Scott Central High School in Carthage.
"When we recruited her, I told her she wasn't going to have to do it by herself, that we would get some good players to go with her," Schaefer said. "The better the players we've been able to put around her, the easier her job has become.
"Now, do I still go to her when I need something done?" he added. "Absolutely."
In the beginning
In her first three seasons at Mississippi State, Vivians took 1,678 shots, more than twice as many shots as any other teammate over that span. As Schaefer built the groundwork for a defense that remains the Bulldogs' identity, the MSU offense, especially during her first season, could be summed up pretty simply: Vivians shoots. Everybody else rebounds.
"My freshman year, I was just out there playing, without any cares in the world, not worried about what I was doing," Vivians said. "I was taking most of the shots, just throwing stuff up most of the time."
There weren't many other options, Schaefer said.
"Victoria has only done what we've asked her to do," Schaefer said. "Her freshman year, we had a hard time scoring if Victoria didn't score. We had some kids that we would develop at a later time, but back then, she was the one that had that scoring mentality."
As other players began to develop their offensive skills, Vivians has often remained the best, if not the only option.
Vivians has taken 108 more shots than any other player this season and her willingness to take any shot in any circumstance has not gone unnoticed nor without occasional criticism.
At last year's NCAA Tournament selection show, the team gathered with several hundred fans at Humphrey Coliseum to celebrate. During the show, Vivians was criticized for her shot selection and inconsistency. It was like being invited to a barbecue only to wind up on the spit.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown? Not Vivians. She bore the criticism with predictable stoicism.
Her coach had a different viewpoint.
"Every shot Victoria has ever taken, I've seen her make a 100-fold," he said. "Some, you think aren't so good, I might not think they're good. But I've seen her make 'em."
Vivians has scored 2,400 points at MSU. As NCAA Tournament play began, she needed just 21 more points to move into second place on the Bulldogs all-time scoring list.
Growing into the crown
No one is criticizing Vivians this year. She has dramatically improved her shooting percentage -- from 37.1 percent as a junior to 48.5 percent this season. Her 3-point shooting has improved from 28.1 percent to 39.5 percent over that same time. That improvement is a reflection of her growth as a player and the emergence of other players who can share the scoring burden.
She has become a complete player, Schaefer said.
"She is an All-American because she plays both ends of the floor," Schafer said. "She's a great teammate and has become a good assist player. She rebounds the basketball. Her shot selection has really become her strength."
That's important to Vivians.
"I feel like since my freshman year, my game has grown defensively and offensively," Vivians said. "I'm taking better shots and doing better things without the ball."
Her maturity can also be seen in how she carries herself.
By her own admission, Vivians was always shy among strangers. Her decision to sign with Mississippi State was greatly influenced by her desire not to be too far away from her family, something that persists.
"If I can't find Victoria in Starkville, I know she's in Carthage," Schaefer said. "She won't be anywhere else. She's going to be with mama and daddy and grandma."
But she has grown more comfortable in the spotlight. The once reticent player is loose, even playful.
During Friday's press conference, a reporter addressed Vivians with a question:
"It seems to me you're pretty..."
"I'm pretty?" she interrupted. "Thank you."
That sort of playfulness has always been there, but only previously revealed itself when she was with her close circle of friends and teammates.
"Oh, Victoria is a lot of fun," said fellow senior Blair Schaefer. "She jokes around just as much as anybody."
"She a hoot," Vic Schaefer said. "Fun to be around."
That quality almost never manifests itself on the court, though. Players like Morgan William and Blair Schaefer are prone to show their emotions.
Vivians, by comparison, plays with an almost regal air of calm, the dignified demeanor you would expect from a queen.
"I try not to show my frustrations on the court," she said. "It's kind of a sign of weakness. I feel like I should just keep a level head."
Blair Schaefer offered a different theory.
"A lot of us, when we make a big shot, we show it," she said. "But (Victoria) has made so many shots that when she makes a big shot, it's like, no big deal. She expected to make it."
The end of the era
Queen Victoria sat on the throne of England at a time when the British empire spanned the continents, a time of growth and prosperity. Hers was a glorious monarchy.
Alas, the end of the Victorian Era at MSU will come to a close within the next couple of weeks, but not without notable achievements past and, perhaps, glory still to come: Four straight NCAA appearances, a 30-0 SEC regular season record and first SEC title this year, the NCAA Tournament runner-up finish a year ago, a senior class that has won more games than any other.
"If you can can't stop and smell the roses, you're missing the boat," Schaefer said, mixing his metaphors. "I've tried to really enjoy my players, especially the last couple of days."
He added he's extremely proud of Vivians.
"She's just been a real pleasure and a joy to coach," he said.
Mississippi State will face Oklahoma State Monday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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