March 5, 2014 11:44:51 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Vic Schaefer has talked numerous times about how much progress the Mississippi State women's basketball team has made from last season.
Schaefer hopes the Bulldogs continue to prove him right by not duplicating the finish to the 2012-13 season.
A year ago, MSU followed its best victory of the season -- a 50-38 win against No. 11 Georgia in Starkville -- by losing its regular-season finale at Auburn. That game cost MSU a chance to move higher in the final Southeastern Conference regular-season standings and forced it to play on the first day of the five-day league tournament. MSU didn't hang around long, though, losing to Alabama 63-36 in one of its worst efforts of the season.
This season, MSU again failed to capitalize on an opportunity to avoid playing on the first day of the SEC tournament by losing its regular-season finale to Georgia. The 77-48 loss was one of the Bulldogs' most disappointing efforts, according to Schaefer. MSU (18-12) hasn't had much time to dwell on that loss because it has been busy preparing for its game at 5 tonight (SportSouth) against Missouri that will kick off the 2014 SEC tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. MSU beat Missouri 69-62 on Jan. 26 in Starkville, but finished as the No. 13 seed in the 14-team league after it slipped to 5-11 (its SEC record in 2012-13) after the loss to Georgia. Missouri (17-12, 6-10) earned the No. 12 seed after losing to Arkansas 72-70 in its regular-season finale.
No. 11 seed Arkansas (19-10, 6-10) will take on No. 14 seed Ole Miss (11-19, 2-14) at 7:30 tonight (SportSouth) in the other opening-round game.
Schaefer doesn't feel there is a correlation between how his team ended this season and its finish last season. A year ago, he was pleased MSU rallied from a 40-24 halftime deficit and made a game of it against Auburn. That wasn't the case against Georgia, as MSU trailed 44-15 at halftime. Schaefer credited Georgia for playing with a purpose in avenging its regular-season loss to MSU. He also said his team might have been mentally and physically fatigued after playing three overtime games in a row. A loss today would give MSU a longer respite than Schaefer would like. A victory would set up a matchup against No. 5 seed Florida at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
"I have said a hundred times that if you play bad in the SEC you're going to get embarrassed, and we got embarrassed," Schaefer said. "I think we have to learn from (the loss to Georgia) so it doesn't happen again."
Schaefer admitted he saw the performance coming but he could do little to stop it. He said Georgia was playing for pride and a higher seed (it finished in a five-way tie at 7-9 and earned the No. 9 seed) on its Senior Day and wanted to make a statement. Now he hopes his team can recover from one of the worst losses of the season in an attempt to do the unthinkable: win five games in a row to secure the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Anything short of that likely will mean another postseason invitation bid for the Bulldogs, most likely the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
"We have to have complete focus because we're not good enough to look past anyone in this league," Schaefer said. "Missouri lost to Tennessee by six, lost a close one to Arkansas, and had us down at halftime at our place. They're coming in with a load of confidence and are a hard team to defend."
In the other game, Ole Miss will try to win back-to-back SEC games for the first time this season after a 73-71 overtime victory against Auburn in its last regular-season game. Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said junior forward Tia Faleru, who didn't play against Auburn, could be back in the lineup after she suffered a concussion on the last play of the game against Missouri.
"We're coming off a win over a good Auburn team and have been playing really good basketball," Insell said. "We're probably playing our best ball all year and easily could be coming in on three- or four-game winning streak. Our record doesn't indicate how good our team has been at times."
Ole Miss didn't participate in the tournament last season after it self-imposed penalties on the program following an investigation into impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct. Insell said his team, especially senior Valencia McFarland and her classmates, is excited to be back in the league tournament.
"Getting that win (against Auburn) was huge for our confidence," Insell said. "I feel real confident because every opponent outside of South Carolina and Kentucky at their place we had a chance to win."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.