Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer looks on during a practice earlier this season. Schaefer said Thursday following a 111-69 victory against Arkansas he would fix his team’s defense after he wasn’t pleased with th Bulldogs’ effort and energy on that end of the floor. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
January 6, 2018 10:44:20 PM
STARKVILLE -- There were plenty of statistics for Vic Schaefer to circle Thursday night.
But as much as the Mississippi State women's basketball coach loved to see his team put five players in double figures in a 111-69 victory against Arkansas, there were other numbers he couldn't ignore.
Those stats -- the one Schaefer doesn't like -- get squares. Those are the bad ones Schaefer commits to memory and tucks away for the next practice to ensure the Bulldogs get better.
On this night, Schaefer could find more than enough in the first three quarters to elicit a mix of disappointment and frustration that isn't typically seen following a history-making performance.
"It's just how you respect and honor the game," Schaefer said about the defensive effort he expects from his players. "To me, we're just out there sometimes. We don't play hard. We just hope you miss. Those are the reasons why people don't watch the NBA.
"We built this program, we built our fan base because they want to come watch kids play hard. We built it on defense, so it is hard for me to get past this piece. Yes, I love the fact we scored 111 points. I absolutely love the fact we are scoring a lot of points. Thank goodness we are. I have a big-picture mentality where there is going to be a night our offense doesn't travel. We're going to have to hang our hat on our defense, and right now we ain't got anyplace to hang it."
Schaefer hopes to see a return to the defense he enjoys at 1 p.m. today (SEC Network) when No. 5 MSU (16-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) takes on LSU (10-3, 2-0) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"Sometimes offense doesn't travel," Schaefer said, "and you're going to have to rely on your defense one of these nights. Mentally, we're just nowhere near being the defensive team we're going to need to be to win the league."
Schaefer said in his opening comment following the game against Arkansas he was "really disheartened" in the first half by his team's defensive performance. The Razorbacks shot 44.4 percent in the first quarter and 47.1 percent in the second quarter and trailed 49-39.
Schaefer said the Bulldogs "don't play anything like I like them to play" on the defensive end. He added he spent the first half coaching his players' heart, and that it was "extremely frustrating" because he has never had a team like it.
In the next breath, Schaefer acknowledged the 2017-18 Bulldogs are "super, ultra talented" on offense. The program-record point total in a SEC game was the No. 1 stat on a night the Bulldogs had 25 assists against only four turnovers and shot 57.9 percent from the field.
MSU's season stats are just as impressive. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in scoring (87.9 points per game), 3-point field goal percentage (37.7), assists (285), and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54). They also are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring (sixth), field goal percentage (ninth), assist-to-turnover ratio (ninth), free throws attempted (10th), and free throws made (ninth).
But for a man who earned the nickname "Secretary of Defense" for his ability to get his teams to shut opponents down, Schaefer said his disappointment in his team's defensive play stems from a lack of "energy and effort." To highlight his point, he praised the effort of the players who finished the game. Bre'Amber Scott and Jazzmun Holmes entered the game with 4 minutes, 57 seconds remaining. Chloe Bibby and Zion Campbell came on with 3:45 left. Nyah Tate played the final 1:46. Those five played a part in MSU outscoring Arkansas 32-12 in the final quarter.
"You saw people denying, (denying) handoffs, denying one pass away, playing really hard," Schaefer said. "It took 35 minutes to get to that point. This group is a challenge. I won't make it y'all. Fourteen more games like this where I have to spend the first half ... I will be six feet under come March. It is a challenge and a struggle to get them to play hard defensively and to get them to do the things I want to get done."
The statistics undoubtedly would force Schaefer to draw a square around his team's field goal percentage defense (38.3), which is eighth in the SEC and 106th in the nation, and its 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.8), which is fourth in the league and 105th nationally.
MSU is fourth in the SEC and 25th nationally in scoring defense (55.9 ppg.), but Schaefer isn't satisfied. When asked how he plans to fix it Schaefer said, "I'll fix it. I know hot to fix it. I said it tonight on the bench, 'Just get me to practice tomorrow. I will fix this mess.' "
Senior guard Roshunda Johnson said the Bulldogs didn't play like they needed to on defense. She said there is no way the Bulldogs will get lulled into thinking they don't have to play defense the way Schaefer likes just because they are playing well offensively.
"We just need to play our defense," Johnson said. "We are (capable of playing defense like Schaefer wants). We'll fix it."
NOTE: Victoria Vivians and Morgan William were named Friday candidates for the Senior CLASS Award. They are two of 30 players who will vie for an award that recognizes the top senior women's basketball student-athlete who excels in the areas of competition, community, classroom, and character. Vivians is averaging 20.4 ppg. She recently became the third MSU player to record 2,000 career points. William leads the team with 4.5 assists per game. Her 4.0 assist/turnover ratio leads the conference and is fifth in the nation. Last season, she became the program's leader in assists. Ten finalists will be selected in February and placed on a ballot that will be distributed nationwide. The award will be presented during the women's Final Four in Columbus, Ohio.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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