November 20, 2012 11:01:12 AM
Vic Schaefer hopes perseverance is a precursor to toughness.
In its last game, the Mississippi State University women's basketball team rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit to beat Louisiana Tech. Schaefer hopes MSU (2-1) can build on that momentum at 3:30 p.m. today when it takes on Winthrop University in its first of three games in the inaugural Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
MSU will face Oregon State University or the University of California at Santa Barbara on Wednesday and an opponent to be determined Thursday. The University of Central Florida, Gonzaga University, No. 8 University of Louisville, and Missouri State University round out the bottom half of the bracket.
MSU's games will be broadcast on WKBB-FM 100.9 and WXWX-FM 96.3, or WNMQ-FM 103.1.
Schaefer and the team arrived Sunday in Mexico for their first road game of the season. The team played Tulane University in a closed scrimmage in Jackson, but Schaefer said this experience will give his team a chance to bond and to build chemistry and toughness. He was proud of the way the Bulldogs persevered and hit timely shots and made big plays down the stretch to earn a big victory.
"I don't think it was very pretty," Schaefer said of the victory. "I think you're going to find this year we're going to win ugly and that we will have to muck it up and make it ugly."
Schaefer praised the effort of sophomore guard Kendra Grant, who had 14 of her team-high 20 points in the second half. He also credited senior guard Darriel Gaynor (11 points) for hitting the game-winning jump shot with 52 seconds remaining.
In addition, Schaefer singled out sophomore center Martha Alwal for her defensive presence and redshirt sophomore Carnecia Williams for taking a charge and making the "play of the game" to push MSU to the victory.
Schaefer said the coaches re-played the second half of the Louisiana Tech game to the coaches in the hotel in Mexico and complimented them on their ability to find a way to make things happen. Even though Schaefer said the team is young (Gaynor is the only senior), he said that showed a toughness he likes and wants to continue to nurture.
"We are going to have to have everybody step up and everybody involved in making a play or two," Schaefer said.
The longtime assistant and associate coach at the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University has made plenty of trips like this one. He said he is curious to find out how his team will react to games where it doesn't have much support from a crowd and will have to motivate itself, especially playing three games in three days.
"It gives you perspective on who is going to help lead and in the toughness factor to show you does your team have it or is it one of two people," Schaefer said. "We are going to get outside our comfort area."
That's why Schaefer feels toughness will be an essential ingredient. He said the Bulldogs' ability to play aggressively and to be physical on both ends of the court will help build the mentality he knows will be crucial in the Southeaster Conference. And while Schaefer wants the players to enjoy the cultural experience of going to another country, he said he wants them to apply the lessons they have learned and get better -- and tougher -- each day.
"The beach is beautiful and it is hard for a young team that is inexperienced and immature," Schaefer said. "We have to be able to separate business and pleasure. It is hard for somebody who has never done that and to turn that switch and to realize that it is work time. It is a challenge that will be part of the evolution and developing a program and developing this team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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