December 13, 2013 11:08:36 AM
The "monster" is coming.
Vic Schafer wasn't referring to exams or to the last-minute holiday rush to purchase gifts when he made that comment. The Mississippi State women's basketball coach was calling attention to the fact that the start of the Southeastern Conference season is 20 days away.
That may sound like a lot of time, especially for all of the shoppers who haven't started due to a false sense of security that Christmas is 12 days away. But Schaefer has been through the battles in the Southeastern Conference as an assistant and associate head coach at Arkansas and in the Big 12 Conference when he was at Texas A&M. He doesn't take any solace in the fact that his team is 9-1 coming off a break for exams and preparing for what could be its biggest remaining test of 2013, a game against Southern Miss at 7 p.m. Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum.
Schaefer said MSU took Sunday and Monday off following a 75-49 victory against Alabama State last week. That victory didn't leave a good taste in Schaefer's mouth, either. While MSU played a strong first half in limiting Alabama State to four field goals, Alabama State outscored MSU 37-36 in the second half. A 26-victory might be a sign of celebration in some programs, especially for one like MSU that finished 13-17 last season, but Schaefer has said from day one he doesn't want his players to settle for anything less than their best effort for 40 minutes.
"We can't have a bad half and a good half. We have to have two good halves," Schaefer said referring to the Alabama State game. "We led 39-12 at half and come out in the second half and let them outscore us by one. If we do that in the SEC we're going to lose."
Schaefer's goal coming back to the court is to find a way to re-focus the Bulldogs on the "urgency" of the situation given SEC play is looming in the distance.
To hammer home that point, Schaefer referred to the end of the 2012-13 season, when MSU lost to Alabama 63-36 on March 6 in the SEC tournament in Duluth, Ga. On Feb. 21, MSU defeated Alabama 75-51 in Starkville.
"It is hard to change sometimes, but we walked out of the locker room last year and our theme for the future was change," Schaefer said. "We had to change. I think it is an on-going process. I certainly hope we're not close to where we will be in March. There is a tremendous upside to this group. There also is the Achilles that you walk on every day and let that thing hinder you. I think it is real important that we, as (former Texas A&M and MSU) coach (Jackie) Sherrill said, keep our head down and our butt up and keep plowing ahead and pushing forward."
Schaefer also used the word "grinding" to describe how he wants his team to battle through stretches like a recent one in which it played six games in 12 days. A "break" from games for exams doesn't really qualify as a respite, but Schaefer said he was pleased the team had two "really good" workouts Wednesday and Thursday. He hopes to have another solid one today to prepare MSU for a Southern Miss team that is 6-1 and riding a four-game winning streak. Last year, Southern Miss used a basket by Ance Celmina with six seconds left to earn a 61-59 victory at Reed Green Coliseum.
MSU will play at North Dakota State at 7 p.m. Tuesday before returning home to play host to Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 20) and Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 30) to end the year. MSU will kick off SEC play at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2 at Florida. Games against Auburn and Arkansas will follow in what could be a crucial three-game start to the season. The first three could be even more important because MSU, Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas figure to be bunched in a pack of teams fighting for positioning behind league favorites Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.