Mississippi State junior guard Victoria Vivians toes the 3-point line for a shot in a 73-62 victory against Ole Miss on Monday night at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. No. 4 MSU will take on Alabama at 7 tonight at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
January 19, 2017 10:11:18 AM
STARKVILLE -- Humble and hungry.
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer is going to try to follow that way of thinking the rest of the season. It might sound like a difficult proposition, especially since the Bulldogs are off to a program-record 19-0 start and have climbed to all-time high rankings in The Associated Press and the USA Today polls (No. 4).
But Schaefer knows the records MSU has broken in the first three months won't mean anything when it enters the one-and-done phase of the season in March. That's why he wants his players to stay focused for each step, starting with the next one at 7 tonight when MSU (19-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) takes on Alabama (14-4, 2-3) at Coleman Coliseum.
"We're a long way from a finished product," Schaefer said. "We're not even close to peaking, which I don't want to peak right now, so there is plenty to work on and get better at."
Schaefer is focused on getting the Bulldogs back to their non-conference levels of offensive production. In its first 14 games, MSU shot 47.8 percent from the field, including 39.1 percent from 3-point range. Both figures were the highest in Schaefer's five seasons in Starkville. Those numbers have slipped to 42.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from 3-point range. The Bulldogs' field goal percentage defense has improved from 39 percent in non-conference to 35.4 percent in the SEC.
As a result, MSU's scoring has dipped to 72.4 points per game. It is allowing 54.8 ppg. in league games.
"We have to get better on the defensive and the offensive end," MSU junior guard Victoria Vivians said. "We're not fully ready on the offensive end. We have mistakes, and of course we have some mistakes on the defensive end. Fixing both aspects of the game will help us reach higher."
Vivians, who is shooting 40.2 percent from the field overall, is shooting 35.7 percent from the field in SEC play. Vivians has led the team in scoring in only two of the Bulldogs' first five SEC games, which is the same number of games at this point last season. This season, the Bulldogs' added depth and maturity has helped them be more balanced on offense and not have to rely on Vivians as much.
Schaefer said the differences in field goal percentage are to be expected when you go against better athletes. He said the familiarity SEC teams have with his squad makes it even tougher to execute on offense.
"Everything suffers when you go in this league," Schaefer said.
Post production is something Schaefer doesn't want to suffer. Schaefer wasn't pleased with his post players following a 73-62 victory against Ole Miss on Monday. He said centers Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan needed to be more assertive in working to get open, particularly on ball reversal. Both players combined to score nine points after they teamed to score a season-high 38 in an 82-49 victory against Florida on Jan. 12.
Schaefer acknowledges life is going to be harder for his post players because they will go against taller and bigger players in the SEC. Still, he said all of his post players have to work hard because the Bulldogs can't be a team that lives and dies by the jump shot.
"You have got to have an inside game, and those guys have to shoot 60 percent down there," Schaefer said.
Schaefer said the Bulldogs have to do a better job of reading defenses because he felt there were plenty of chances to feed the post against Ole Miss. He said the team worked on that Tuesday as well as getting the post players to recognize where the double-teams are coming from and becoming facilitators for their teammates.
"We have shown glimpses chemistry wise offensively of being really good at times," Schaefer said. "The grounded piece, I see those glimpses where we still are a long way from gettin' it."
MSU senior guard Dominique Dillingham said the Bulldogs are somewhere in the middle when it comes to fixing what is broken on both ends of the floor.
"We're pretty good right now, but we're not perfect," Dillingham said. "There are obviously things we need to get better at. I wouldn't say a lot, but I wouldn't say a little, so there are definitely multiple things we need to get better individually, and as a team we have room to improve."
NOTES: The game can seen locally on SEC Network+ and be heard locally on WKBB-FM 100.9. Live audio streams will also be available on www.hailstate.com/plus and the TuneIn app. ... A win would help the 2016-17 team set a program record for road wins in a season (nine). ... Schaefer said the addition of Arkansas transfer Jordan Danberry, who joined the program at the start of the semester, will give the Bulldogs an athletic guard who will make them better in practice. Schaefer said he isn't sure how Danberry, who will have to sit out the rest of this season due to NCAA rules, will use her remaining two seasons of eligibility. "She is someone who brings a skill set to a program that utilizes that skill set," Schaefer said. "She and I have had a great communication since day one. We have been upfront and honest about the whole deal from day one. I think she understands the expectation coming in here and we have a plan. What she has brought to practice in terms of that lightning-quick, explosive guard, she is going to make us better every day." ... No. 1 Connecticut and MSU are the only undefeated teams left in Division I women's basketball. ... A victory would help MSU get to 20 wins for the fourth-straight year. Prior to Schaefer's arrival, MSU had only four 20-win seasons.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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