March 11, 2013 10:32:01 PM
The bad taste has lingered in Vic Schaefer's mouth.
It likely will remain for the rest of the month and into April when a new national champion is crowned.
And while the Mississippi State University women's basketball team's chances of making the NCAA tournament were slim prior to the Southeastern Conference tournament, a 63-36 loss to the University of Alabama on Wednesday ended any chance the Bulldogs had of advancing to the postseason.
The fact that the MSU's season ended in Duluth Ga., isn't what left the bad taste in Schaefer's mouth. Nearly two days after the loss, the Bulldogs' first-year head coach still was having a difficult time fathoming how a team that had defeated Alabama 75-51 almost two weeks earlier in Starkville saw its season end in such a humbling manner.
"I don't know how other people feel about it, but it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth," Schaefer said. "I don't know how long it's going to take to get rid of."
Schaefer will try to wash that taste away armed with the knowledge MSU (13-17, 5-11) won one more game in the SEC regular season than last season's squad. It accomplished that feat with one senior -- Darriel Gaynor -- and only two players -- sophomores Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant -- who had played significant minutes in 2011-12.
MSU also had to overcome a lack of depth and adjust to a new high-energy defensive system that held players accountable and demanded that they do everything in their power to make life miserable for opponents. Schaefer took pains to highlight those areas throughout the season, and reminded fans and members of the media that the Bulldogs would have to take "small steps" this season as they tried to build the program back to its Sweet 16 appearance in the 2009-10 season.
None of those factors made it easier to digest a loss to Auburn University in the regular-season finale. A victory in that game would have secured MSU a No. 9 seed and would have helped it avoid the No. 12 vs. No. 13 seed game Wednesday night. A victory against Auburn also likely would have secured MSU a spot in the postseason, likely the Women's Basketball Invitational, one of two other postseason events available to teams that don't qualify for the NCAA tournament.
None of those factors helped Schaefer or members of his staff reconcile the fact Alabama dominated nearly every facet of the game in the SEC tournament.
"I am so tickled to death and so proud of my team that it had 13 victories and five SEC victories, but I am sick to my stomach about how we played in what really were the last two games of the season, and those were the two biggest games of the season," Schaefer said. "In the Auburn game, we had a lot riding on it and we played uninspired and unemotional. It is just very disappointing."
Schaefer talked Friday from the SEC tournament about how he said at his opening press conference last March that he didn't want to coach players hearts. He returned to that theme nearly two days after his first season in Starkville ended and said he didn't want to blame his players, but that it was "unacceptable" that he and his assistant coaches continuously had to find ways to energize their players.
For a man who earned the nickname "Secretary of Defense" for his passion about defense and for a man who was an integral part of the Texas A&M University women's basketball team's march to the national title in 2011, coaching heart is a non-starter. He understands a team that ended the year with only 11 active players may have ran out of gas and wasn't capable of registering the intensity and effort it produced in the high point of the season -- a 50-38 victory against then-No. 11 University of Georgia on Senior Night on Feb. 28.
Schaefer said he will have to try to embrace that fact and remember the youth of his team. He will have to remember the strides the team made from a three-game losing streak in November that saw MSU lose to Winthrop, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Central Florida. He said he will have to recall how his team fought off the University of Arkansas at home for its second SEC victory and then went to Columbia, Mo., the next week and beat the University of Missouri 61-56.
"I can't get consumed with that last game," Schaefer said.
Schaefer said he can't allow the fact that he felt Alabama wanted it more than his team eat him up in the offseason. Instead, he said he has to look ahead to the the arrival of Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Breanna Richardson, Kiki Patterson, and Chinwe Okorie. Those five players will help provide needed post depth and additional backcourt help.
"I think we got everything out of them this year and then some," Schaefer said.
MSU will have to get even more out of its returning players next season. The Bulldogs will lose Gaynor, who led the team with 45 steals and 40 3-pointers. The 5-foot-6 guard from Las Vegas started 23 games and averaged 5.9 points per game.
MSU also hopes to have forward Carnecia Williams closer to 100 percent. The 6-3 forward from Memphis, Tenn., struggled at times with a painful left knee injury. Still, she was third on the team in scoring (8.3 ppg.) and led the team in field goal percentage (52.3 percent).
MSU will look to continue to build on Alwal, who Monday received the C Spire Gillom Trophy as the state's best women's basketball player, and Grant.
Alwal, a 6-4 center led the team in scoring (12.1 ppg.) and in rebounding (9.7), while Grant started all 30 games, was fourth in the SEC in minutes per game (34), and second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg.).
Those building blocks should give Schaefer and his assistant coaches plenty to take minds off of the bad taste that remains in their mouths, but that doesn't mean getting rid of that taste will be easy.
"(The five coaches) are as competitive as anybody in the country, and all of us have a bad taste in our mouths," Schaefer said. "We need to get past it because we have so much to accomplish in building this program."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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