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Minichino column: Things falling into place for No. 2 Bulldogs

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE 

 

Echoes reverberate after games like this. 

 

They also should stir a fire in players and fans to make it happen again. 

 

There's no denying the atmosphere for the No. 2 Mississippi State women's basketball team's 67-53 victory against No. 7 South Carolina on Monday night was the best this reporter has seen in his years covering the Southeastern Conference. 

 

The only game that immediately comes to mind that rivals the energy and noise experienced in Humphrey Coliseum happened on Nov. 12, 2000. No. 1 Connecticut had Sue Bird, Shea Ralph, and Svetlana Abrosimova. No. 3 Georgia had Kelly and Coco Miller and Deanna Nolan. A crowd of 16,294 packed what was then known as the Hartford Civic Center. 

 

The music pulsed. The crowd rocked. You could feel the vibrations in your teeth -- much like at Davis Wade Stadium when the music is kicked up past 11 on the speakers. 

 

The game was a dud. 

 

UConn routed Georgia 99-70 in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic en route to a 32-win season that ended with a loss to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the national semifinals. Georgia went on to win the SEC tournament title and 27 games before falling to Missouri in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Athens, Georgia. 

 

There's no telling how far MSU or South Carolina will go this season. That's another story for another day.  

 

With six SEC regular-season games remaining, MSU (24-0, 10-0 SEC) has a two-game lead on Georgia and a three-game lead in the loss column on Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri, and Texas A&M. That cushion gives the Bulldogs a margin for error as they move closer to clinching the program's first SEC regular-season title. 

 

Six years ago, regular-season titles and trips to the national championship game were dreams. MSU coach Vic Schaefer, his wife, Holly, and countless players have talked about how they believed a champion could be built in Starkville. They have discussed the grass roots efforts used to build a following that is the envy of nearly every Division I women's basketball coach -- as well as plenty of Division I men's basketball coaches. 

 

But Schaefer knows teams like his don't come along every day. That's part of what made the environment in the Hump so special. You could sense the urgency from seniors Victoria Vivians, Blair Schaefer, Morgan William, and Roshunda Johnson. You could tell they wanted to end an 11-game losing streak to South Carolina with every fiber of their being. The fans could sense it, too. The result was electricity. 

 

In my play-by-play notes, I wrote "Eruption!!" to emphasize how the crowd came alive when Vivians hit a 3-pointer to give the MSU a 46-44 lead in the fourth quarter.  

 

By my count, there were at least four other "eruptions" in the final 8 minutes, 9 seconds. That doesn't include the priceless reaction by coach Schaefer after South Carolina coach Dawn Staley called timeout with 6:24 to play following a 3-pointer by Blair Schaefer. 

 

To say Schaefer reared back and raised his leg for added emphasis on his fist pump as he walked out on to the court to greet his players would be an inadequate description. Sometimes we try to find the right words to paint a picture. Sometimes you have to see it with your own eyes to capture the moment. It's a picture I will remember for a long time. It really did feel like coach Schaefer was exorcising the ghosts of losses to South Carolina in the SEC tournament title game the last two years and in the national title game last season. 

 

If anyone has a picture of Schaefer's reaction, please let me know. I know someone who would love to buy a copy and frame it. 

 

The whole evening was suitable for framing. But don't think of it as an accomplishment. Think of it as a next step on a record-setting journey. Schaefer and the Bulldogs want more. There are regular-season and tournament titles to be won, not to mention the ultimate prize of a national championship. 

 

This team can do it. The Bulldogs can do it the future, too. There isn't a five-star player in the nation who wouldn't love to play in an atmosphere like the one that was on display Monday night. 

 

If you need further proof, just look at how much players like Vivians and Teaira McCowan have grown in their time in Starkville. Both have made themselves into future professionals thanks in part to the hard work of Schaefer and his coaching staff. That should be another selling point for the next Vivians and McCowan to want to come to MSU to build upon the records seniors like Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson broke. 

 

The days of dismissing MSU's chances of becoming a women's basketball power are gone. They disappeared long before MSU ended four-time reigning national champion UConn's NCAA record 111-game winning streak last season. It may not be "normal," but MSU is 58-5 in the last year and a half. That should call more players and fans to the Hump to be a part of an atmosphere that was heard and seen around the nation. 

 

It's one thing to listen to the echoes and wonder. It's another to embrace them and to make them last longer. If that sounds like a daunting challenge, don't be alarmed. Coach Schaefer will be there to guide you. Watch out, though, the former umpire might break out with a fist pump, especially if you honor the game and get down and play offense and defense like a Bulldog. 

 

Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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