February 1, 2018 10:17:02 AM
STARKVILLE -- Numbers don't faze Morgan William.
Throughout her career, the 5-foot-5 Mississippi State senior has gone against bigger guards and found ways to excel. Whether she uses her speed, her ballhandling, or her often overlooked shooting, William has played an integral part in helping MSU become one of the nation's best basketball programs.
At 7:30 tonight (SEC Network), William can add another accomplishment to the long list she and classmates Victoria Vivians and Blair Schaefer have achieve at Bulldogs. A win by No. 2 MSU (22-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) at No. 15 Missouri (17-4, 5-3) would give the seniors their 112th career victory, which would eclipse the mark set by Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson last season in a program-best 34 win season and a trip to the national title game.
When asked Wednesday if the number 112 held a special meaning to her, William's reaction was classic. She tried not to show any emotion, but she broke out in an infectious laugh and couldn't help let on that the number has a special significance.
"It's exciting," William said.
William, who had MSU coach Vic Schaefer to her right, couldn't stifle another laugh as she said neither the seniors nor her teammates were going to get caught up in all of the hype about a new program record for wins or extending a record winning streak to start the season.
Still, William said a there has been talk between current players and Dillingham, who is working as a student assistant coach, about the possible short shelf life of 111.
"Tori is like, 'Dom, we're coming for you' and stuff like that," William said. "I am just laughing. We are, but we're going to keep quiet. Silent assassins."
William, who has worked to have a louder voice in her career, probably wouldn't mind remaining a silent assassin. While others were concentrating on Vivians and Teaira McCowan, William went off for a career-high 41 points against Baylor in the Elite Eight last season. That performance catapulted MSU into the Final Four, where William did herself one better by hitting the game-winning shot in overtime to defeat four-time reigning national champion Connecticut.
William said all of the numbers and accomplishments are on the radar of the seniors. She said she, Schaefer, and Vivians started their careers at MSU as the hunter looking to knock off the hunted. After winning 27, 28, and 34 games the last three seasons, MSU has climbed the ladder in the SEC and nationally and is now the hunted.
"We were trying to put targets on their backs. Now we know the target is on our back," William said. "We have flipped the switch, so we know we have to out there every night and we're going to get everyone's best game. We know any game anything can happen, so we're not trying to have a mistake or a slip-up."
William credits the coaches for helping the players stay humble. She said she and her teammates realize they're still not perfect and that there are plenty of areas for improvement.
This season, the team's program-record start has it in position to win its first SEC regular-season title. MSU has a two-game lead on every team in the league except Georgia. It holds the tiebreaker against Georgia thanks to an 86-62 victory on Dec. 31, 2017, in Athens, Georgia.
MSU and UConn are the only undefeated teams remaining in Division I women's basketball. On Sunday, Schaefer, Vivians, and William -- Roshunda Johnson, a transfer from Oklahoma State, has played the last two seasons at MSU -- earned their 111th win in a 69-49 victory at Ole Miss. Coach Vic Schaefer was disappointed with aspects of the team's performance. He spent most of his post-game media session taking about what the Bulldogs needed to improve on and they would risk "getting run out of Columbia" if they played like they did in parts of the game against Ole Miss.
Coach Schaefer has emphasized the importance of being ready to go in the first quarter. The last time MSU played in Columbia, Missouri, the Tigers used a 23-11 first quarter to beat the Bulldogs 66-54 on Jan. 14, 2016. He hopes the seniors and the rest of his team will be prepared for the challenge of having a huge bull's eye on their backs. Schaefer also is confident MSU will have its complete focus on Missouri and won't look ahead to its showdown against No. 7 South Carolina at 6 p.m. Monday at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I think our kids understand what's out there," Schaefer said. "I can't keep them from not knowing what's on social media. I have tried to talk to my own people about hey, I have some games long before I have to get to that one. ... We know going into Columbia, Missouri, against that team can really turn into a bad deal if we're not ready to go, like it did two years ago.
"Our kids are doing a good job. I think they have proven over the course of the season one game at a time. We have had some really good teams on our schedule. We have played some great teams in the league already. We certainly have some monsters in front of us."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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