January 5, 2013 11:32:48 PM
Vic Schaefer isn't going to back away from a challenge.
So don't think the first-year Mississippi State University women's basketball coach is going to demand any less from his players after one of the program's worst losses, a 92-41 setback to Vanderbilt University on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. The loss was the worst in a Southeastern Conference opener for MSU (8-6). It also was MSU's worst loss to Vanderbilt (11-3) in the series since a 108-44 defeat on Jan. 17, 1993, in Nashville. It marked the most points Vanderbilt has scored in a regulation game in the series since a 99-60 victory on Feb. 2, 1997.
To compound matters, the 92 points were the most MSU has allowed in a SEC game since a 98-83 loss to the University of Florida in the SEC tournament on March 2, 2006. That doesn't sit well with a coach who takes pride in the defense his teams play and who has a nickname "Secretary of Defense." In fact, you have to go back to Jan. 30, 2003, when he was at the University of Arkansas, to find the last time a team with Schaefer on its coaching staff allowed that many points -- a 92-79 loss to the University of Tennessee.
"We're trying to teach them to play with a level of competitiveness," Schaefer said. "It's a hard lesson to learn. Like I have said before, if you don't play hard you're not going to get beat, you're going to get embarrassed."
MSU will try to get back on track at 2 p.m. today when it plays host to No. 18 University of South Carolina at Humphrey Coliseum. South Carolina (12-2), which also is ranked No. 15 in the latest USA Today/ESPN Top 25, lost to No. 12 University of Tennessee 73-53 on Thursday in Columbia, S.C., in the SEC opener for both teams.
There likely won't be many respites for MSU in a 16-game SEC schedule. Six SEC teams are ranked in this week's Associated Press poll. Vanderbilt is also receiving votes in both polls. That fact concerns Schaefer because he said his young and inexperienced team is still trying to put two halves together. On Thursday, Vanderbilt built a 53-18 halftime lead.
While Schaefer praised Vanderbilt's chemistry, execution, and understanding, he reiterated that the "buck stops with him" and said he and his assistant coaches have to continue to push their players to give their all for as long as they can in everything they do.
"At some point, it doesn't have to be about the Xs and Ox. It is about life skills," Schaefer said. "We're going to continue to demand it of them and we hope in five to 10 years they look back and say, 'Coach, I am glad you demanded that of me and made me do things the right way and all out because it allowed me to be successful and molded me into the woman I am today. If we don't, they will slip into mediocrity."
In the big picture, Schaefer acknowledges his team's inexperience, lack of depth in the post, and its lack of size at the guard positions. Still, he hasn't allowed his players to use excuses for what the Bulldogs don't have. Instead, he has tried to raise the bar by demanding accountability and stressing the importance of taking pride in wearing Mississippi State across their chests. He said he doesn't want to have to continue to coach effort and intensity because he feels those things should be givens. He admitted he isn't sure how he is going to get his team to play more consistently, but he also said he won't shy away from following the same plan he has implemented at Arkansas and at Texas A&M University. The plan worked so well that in 2011 Texas A&M won a national championship thanks in large part to a stifling defense and a tireless work ethic. Those are two ingredients Schaefer is going to work just as hard to bring to MSU.
"At the end of the day, our job as coaches is to get the most out of kids we can," Schaefer said. "We are not going to sit here and settle for the effort we had (against Vanderbilt). ... When my staff is as competitive as they are, there is no way we are going to sit back and let this continue to be. We're going to continue to be demanding. We don't apologize for being demanding. We're going to keep asking the kids to lay it on the line.
"We're a long ways from getting it. The bottom line for us is having an understanding of how hard to play. We're coaching an understanding of how hard we need to play to be competitive."
MSU will face an opponent that knows how to do that. Unfortunately, coach Dawn Staley's team shot only 21.1 percent was outscored 41-22 in the second half Thursday. Tennessee trailed 35-32 before going on a 35-7 run in the next 13 minutes to build a lead as big as 25 points.
South Carolina, which lost 53-49 at then-No. 1 Stanford University on Dec. 19, entered the game against Tennessee as the SEC leader in scoring defense. The Gamecocks slipped to third (34.2 percent) in that category and remained 11th in the league in shooting percentage (39.5). MSU is 12th in shooting percentage (38) in the 14-team league.
Sophomore Aleighsa Welch leads South Carolina in scoring (11.9 points per game) and rebounding (8.9). The team leads the league and is fourth in the nation in scoring defense (47.5 ppg.).
Schaefer hopes MSU will develop some of the same habits. Looking back to the teams he helped coach at Texas A&M, he said those players took several years to develop the habits they needed to play defense as consistently as he demands. He only knows one way to help the Bulldogs realize that goal.
"All you can do is work," Schaefer said. "That's the only way I know to fix things is to get back in the practice gym and work. We're going to keep demanding it of the kids and they're going to get it. I don't know what it's going to take for them to get it, but they're going to get it."
MSU will continue its homestand at 7 p.m. Thursday when it plays host to the University of Florida.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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