December 17, 2013 10:41:37 AM
STARKVILLE -- Martha Alwal knows she and the Mississippi State women's basketball team will have some fans supporting them tonight for one of their longest road trips of the season.
Alwal won't know until game time, though, just how many friends and family members will travel more than three hours from her hometown of Worthington, Minn., to Fargo, N.D., to watch her and MSU (10-1) take on North Dakota State (3-7) at 7 tonight.
WNMQ-FM 103.1 will broadcast the game live. HailStateTV subscribers can access the free live audio at www.hailstate.com/hstlive.
Alwal said a charter bus will travel from Worthington, Minn., to Fargo, N.D. She also knows a bunch of people who will drive on their own to see her play.
"This is the first time I am going back home, so I am excited to play in front of my friends and family," Alwal said.
The game marks MSU's first trek to the state of North Dakota for a game, which will be its final road trip of the non-conference slate. MSU will play host to Southeastern Louisiana on Friday and Mississippi Valley State on Monday, Dec. 30, before it kicks off Southeastern Conference play Thursday, Jan. 2, at Florida.
Alwal will have plenty to talk about with friends and family. On Monday, the 6-foot-4 junior center was named SEC Player of the Week. College Sports Madness also awarded her SEC honors.
Alwal, a preseason second-team All-SEC pick, leads the team with 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. She also leads the SEC with 2.7 blocked shots per game. She had 19 points and nine rebounds Saturday to lead MSU to a 71-61 victory against Southern Mississippi. The victory pushed the Bulldogs to 10-1, which is their best start to a season since 2008-09 season.
After the game, which MSU led by double figures for most of the game but couldn't pull away, served as a learning experience for the Bulldogs on how they need to tighten up on defense to limit a team's fast-break opportunities. Junior guard Kendra Grant said Southern Miss capitalized on several quick transitions when MSU didn't get back on defense.
Alwal said the physical nature of the game resembled a SEC game. She also believes she will see more double- and triple-team defenses like she saw against the Golden Eagles.
"I think I played well through that," Alwal said, "but when we get into SEC play we're going to go against people who are taller, so it is going to be hard for me to do anything. We just need people to step up. If someone other than me and Kendra steps up, I think we'll be harder to defend. If someone steps up we will be fine."
MSU coach Vic Schaefer was pleased with the toughness his team showed and the competitiveness with which it played. He was especially pleased MSU forced 28 turnovers. He said the Bulldogs needed every one of them because they shot only 26.9 percent (7 of 26) from the field in the second half, which prevented them from closing the game out earlier.
Still, Schaefer acknowledges MSU is taking more small steps toward where it needs to go to be ready for the battles in the SEC. He said it is encouraging to see his team find away way to win when Grant, Savannah Carter, and Dominique Dillingham combine to shoot 9 of 30 from the field. He said continued progression and production from freshman forwards Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel will aid the cause.
NOTE: On Thursday, MSU will hold its second HailStateHoops luncheon. The cost for each luncheon is $12, and Thursday's attendees will be treated to a special "12 Days of Christmas" performance from the Bulldogs in addition to a meal and a basketball discussion with Schaefer.
The luncheons begin at 11:30 a.m. at Mize Pavilion. Doors open at 11:15 a.m., and fans can RSVP by calling 662-325-0198 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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