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No. 2 MSU improving on defense as seniors go for No. 111

 

Mississippi State senior point guard Morgan Williams breaks away from the pack and eyes the basket in a 76-45 victory against Ole Miss on Jan. 11 in Starkville. William, Blair Schaefer, and Victoria Vivians will go for the 111th victory of their careers at MSU at 1 p.m. today against Ole Miss in Oxford. A win would help the senior class, which also includes redshirt senior transfer Roshunda Johnson, equal the mark set last season by Ketara  Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson.

Mississippi State senior point guard Morgan Williams breaks away from the pack and eyes the basket in a 76-45 victory against Ole Miss on Jan. 11 in Starkville. William, Blair Schaefer, and Victoria Vivians will go for the 111th victory of their careers at MSU at 1 p.m. today against Ole Miss in Oxford. A win would help the senior class, which also includes redshirt senior transfer Roshunda Johnson, equal the mark set last season by Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff  Buy this photo.

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Cameron Newbauer had to know Vic Schaefer wasn't going to like something he saw Thursday night. 

 

It's just that the first-year Florida women's basketball was wrong when he guessed Schaefer probably wasn't going to be happy with his team's defense in a 90-53 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. 

 

Schaefer, who has talked repeatedly about No. 2 MSU's issues defensively, was pleased, though, with his team's ability to hold Florida to 39.7-percent shooting from the field and to force 23 turnovers.  

 

Instead of the Bulldogs' defense, Schaefer wasn't pleased the Gators had a 37-32 rebounding edge, including a 15-11 advantage on the offensive glass. Many of those rebounds on the offensive end came on effort plays, much like MSU had in a 71-52 victory against then-No. 6 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

 

"I just thought they had tremendous energy. You have to give Florida credit," Schaefer said. "I know they will take that, and we have to go back in two weeks and play them again." 

 

No. 2 MSU (21-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) will play three games prior to that meeting Feb. 8 in Gainesville, Florida. The first game will come at 1 p.m. today (ESPNU) when MSU takes on Ole Miss (11-9, 1-6) at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. 

 

A victory today would help MSU's senior class of Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians, and Morgan William record its 111th win, which would match the number set by Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson last season in a program-record 34-win season. The final victory in that campaign, a 66-64 overtime win against four-time reigning national champion Connecticut in the national semifinals snapped the Huskies' NCAA record 111-game winning streak. 

 

In the first meeting against Ole Miss, MSU earned a 76-45 victory on Jan. 11 in Starkville. The Bulldogs broke out to a 14-0 lead en route to winning its eighth-straight game in the series. 

 

The victory signaled a possible return to the kind of defense Schaefer wants to play. MSU limited Ole Miss to 26.7 percent shooting from the field. It also held a 12-rebound edge. But Schaefer is still searching for a more consistent effort on defense, especially after Alabama shot 52.4 percent from the field against MSU in his team's 75-61 victory on Jan. 14 in Starkville. The Bulldogs forced 26 turnovers in that win. 

 

Against Florida, Schaefer was pleased MSU's pressure led to a 27-6 advantage in points off turnovers. The ability to play with that level of energy will help the Bulldogs on nights the offense doesn't travel, as Schaefer has said repeatedly, and will help them get into a flow offensively. 

 

"I just think we played really hard," Schaefer said. 

 

As Schaefer continues to search for that kind of effort every game on defense, he is finding ways to mix things up on offense. Against Tennessee, Schaefer said his team's experience with four senior guards and two juniors enabled him to put in new sets. The looks featured more isolation plays for senior guard Victoria Vivians, which enabled her to take the basketball to the rim. 

 

Against Florida, MSU also showcased a few new looks on offense to get junior center Teaira McCowan the ball. At 6-foot-7, McCowan continues to attract a lot of defensive attention. The Gators tried to pack the paint against her and used a defender behind her and multiple defenders converged on the post when she received an entry pass. Still, McCowan was able to score a game-high 23 points thanks in large part to a 15-point third quarter. 

 

The examples show MSU has areas to improve on even though it continues to do something that "is not normal," according to Schaefer. MSU and Connecticut are the only two undefeated teams in Division I women's college basketball. 

 

To stay there, Schaefer knows the Bulldogs will need to continue improve on defense and to evolve on offense. Greater consistency and production off the bench will help in that area.  

 

Against Florida, Schaefer called timeout in the fourth quarter with Jazzmun Holmes, Jordan Danberry, Bre'Amber Scott, Chloe Bibby, and Zion Campbell on the floor. He said he called the timeout because he thought the Bulldogs were "slopping it up" defensively. He said he wants them to play and to practice better. 

 

While Holmes, a junior backup point guard, has been the most consistent player off the bench, Schaefer said Danberry, a junior transfer from Arkansas, is working into form. Danberry continues to show an ability to create her shots and to affect things on defense, but she was 3-for-9 from the field against the Gators. Schaefer has said he needs Danberry to be more efficient and to take care of the basketball because he wants to play her more minutes. The same goes for everyone off the bench. 

 

"I need (Danberry) to get there," Schaefer said. "I need them to play better and to practice better so I have more confidence in playing them." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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