Tournament opener not 'ho-hum' affair for MSU

March 5, 2013 11:00:41 AM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


Vic Schaefer hopes the Mississippi State University women's basketball team can back up his talk Monday afternoon. 


As part of the annual teleconference prior to the Southeastern Conference tournament, Schaefer said he has to be the "proudest coach in the country" based on the fact his players have kept "plugging away" while learning to deal with the ups and downs that come with being a young and inexperienced team. Those signs reared their head again Sunday, as MSU fell behind Auburn University by 16 points at halftime en route to a 74-65 victory. 


The loss came on the heels of a 50-38 victory against then-No. 11 University of Georgia on Thursday in Starkville. Point totals aside, the biggest disappointment in the result was that it cost MSU (13-16, 5-11 Southeastern Conference) a chance to earn the No. 9 seed in the league tournament. The loss cost MSU chances to win tiebreakers with the University of Missouri and the University of Arkansas, which both won Sunday, and a tiebreaker with Auburn and dropped MSU from ninth to 12th. 


As a result, MSU will take on the University of Alabama (12-17, 2-14) at 5 p.m. Wednesday (Fox Sports South; WNMQ-FM 103.1.) in the first round of the expanded SEC tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Ga. The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M University forced the 14-team SEC to add a day to the annual tournament. The winner of the MSU-Alabama game will take on the University of South Carolina at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. 


"In the biggest game of the year on the biggest stage on the road with a very young and inexperienced basketball team we didn't play well in the first half," Schaefer said Monday. "We didn't guard. We gave up 40 points in a half. We gave up 38 in the whole game against No. 11 in the country three days before. It is real hard when you have a young team that is learning how to handle adversity and success. We hadn't had that victory over a top-12 team in the country. Nine of our 11 players up until this year had not been in that position, so it was a new experience for everybody except our staff." 


Schaefer credited Auburn for using its pressure defense to force 31 turnovers. Those mistakes proved too much to overcome despite the fact MSU shot 52.1 percent for the game and had a 30-26 rebounding advantage. 


Senior Blanche Alverson led Auburn with 32 points, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, on Senior Day. 


Despite facing a long road to get to the SEC tournament title game, Schaefer feels his team still has a lot ahead of it. He has stressed all season that his team needs to get better every day, so he isn't going to allow his players to look at a No. 12-No. 13 game as a letdown. 


"It is not a ho-hum game for us," Schaefer said. "It is an opportunity for us to win No. 14 and for these young ladies to win No. 6 in the SEC. We're excited about the opportunity. We just played Alabama a couple of weeks ago (a 75-51 victory on Feb. 21 in Starkville), and we'll be the only game in town that night. It doesn't change anything. ... We're not going to stop coaching and teaching and getting better." 


n In related news, sophomore center Martha Alwal was named one of the three finalists for the C Spire Gillom Trophy, which is presented annually to the state's top female collegiate basketball player. 


Alwal joins the University of Southern Mississippi's Jamierra Faulkner and the University of Mississippi's Valencia McFarland as finalists. The winner will be announced March 11 at a luncheon at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. 


Alwal leads the Southeastern Conference with 16 double-doubles, 10 in SEC play, and 18 double-figure rebounding games. She also tops the league with 9.9 rebounds per game. 


Her 16 double-doubles this season tie former All-America LaToya Thomas (2001-02) for the second-most in Mississippi State single-season history. 


n In other news, junior guard Candace Foster was named Monday to the SEC Community Service Team. 


Foster has been an active member in university and community functions in her three seasons in Starkville. 


"I enjoy giving back to the community and am honored to be recognized for my community service," Foster said. "It's important for me to give back to the community since it has meant so much to me during my time in Starkville. My desire to give back is what led me to wanting to be an educator. This is such a great community that has been instrumental in my growth as a young woman during my time at Mississippi State." 


The Jackson native has participated in Christmas giveaways where she collected school supplies and toys for children. An active member of Mississippi State's M-Club student-athlete service organization, the Jackson native has participated in Bully's Book Blitz, an effort that sends student-athletes into local schools to stress the importance of reading. 


Foster also is an active member of MSU's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As part of FCA, she has served as a sports camp instructor and been a featured speaker to local middle school students.

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.