February 10, 2018 11:07:34 PM
STARKVILLE -- Morgan William's tenure as point guard for the Mississippi State women's basketball team has been marked by a poised resolve that has helped her overcome any obstacle.
Last season, William's maturation as a floor general was one of the underappreciated stories in MSU's program-record 34-win season and its run to the national championship game.
William's junior campaign most likely will be remembered for her 41-point performance against Baylor in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament and her game-winning shot against four-time reigning national champion Connecticut in the national semifinals.
Lost in the shuffle of those memorable performances was one of the best seasons in MSU history. William improved her field shooting percentage from 32.1 percent as a sophomore to a career-best 46.3 percent last season. William also handed out five more assists (single-season record of 181) and committed 22 fewer turnovers (78) in 42 more minutes (39 games).
In many regards, William is doing even better this season. She first in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 3.3 ratio (Southeastern Conference -low 14 turnovers). Overall, she has 109 assists and only 27 turnovers.
As a team, MSU leads the SEC and is third in the nation at 11 turnovers per game. In SEC play, MSU commits a league-low 9.5 turnovers per game. MSU's plus-9.2 turnover margin leads the SEC and is third in the nation.
Field goal shooting percentage is the only area William has slipped compared to last season. William enters No. 2 MSU's sold-out game against Kentucky at 1 p.m. today (ESPN) at Humphrey Coliseum shooting 39.1 percent from the field, including 29 percent from 3-point range.
But things could be looking up.
William is coming off a 15-point effort Thursday in a 98-50 victory against Florida in Gainesville, Florida. William was 6-for-7 from the field, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range, in 22 minutes.
"I thought Morgan was much better on both ends and really sparked us," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "She gave us a little boost in confidence early."
The 15 points were the most she has scored in a SEC game since she had 18 in a 111-69 victory against Arkansas on Jan. 4 in Starkville.
"I think it was shooting without a conscience," William said. "Sometimes I hesitate and it throws me off, so I just shot it."
Against Arkansas, coach Mike Neighbors elected to leave William open until she hit eight field goals. He employed the strategy so the Razorbacks could double-team junior center Teaira McCowan. William responded by stepping into the open space and going 8-for-11 in the first half to force Arkansas to change its defense.
Against Florida, Schaefer said Florida tried a triangle-and-two in which it used two individuals to guard two players and used the other three in a triangle zone. William again solved the defense with one of her best and most confident offensive performances.
"It is the fifth person on the floor you really have to pay attention to," Schaefer said when asked how much better MSU can be when William scores like she did against Florida. "Morgan has been working and trying to get out of her little slump that she has been in. Everybody goes through it during the course of a season. I think it showed in the ballgame where she is. I think she showed really good leadership, but I think our team's confidence really goes up when she can do what she did early in the ballgame. It creates problems for the other team because there is absolutely nowhere to come from to help off any of them."
William had four field goals in the previous four games. She had eight points on an 8-for-10 showing from the free-throw line against Ole Miss on Jan. 28 in Oxford.
The 15-point game was William's eight double-digit effort of the season. Last season, she scored in double figures 19 times, including seven times in MSU's final 11 games.
William, who is sixth in the SEC with 4.4 assists per game, said she has been "inconsistent" this season. She said her goal is to develop that consistency on both ends of the floor. William said she won't try to do too much, though, when she isn't shooting the ball well. She said she will continue to try to get her teammates involved by breaking down defenses off the dribble and finding her teammates for open shots.
"Mo is doing what she needs to do to help her team win," Schaefer said. "The most important statistic for Morgan William is the W. That's it. Her and Jazz(mun Holmes) that's the most important stat, and she is obviously doing a great job in that category."
Schaefer felt William played with a little more "juice" and had a "little swagger" about her against the Gators. He said that is the player the Bulldogs have grown accustomed to seeing, and is the one they look forward to seeing more of every game.
"With her having her confidence, she is very fun to play with," Vivians said.
More sellouts in the Hump
Schaefer laughed when he was asked if he was going to have to consult his financial advisor to discuss plans to withdraw $10,00 to honor his pledge to the Starkville Boys and Girls Club.
Schaefer made the pledge in the lead-up to MSU's game against No. 7 South Carolina last week. Schaefer said he would make the offer if MSU fans shattered the program record attendance mark of 92,914 in 2015-16.
With three home games remaining, MSU has 84,817, which is just off the pace of last season, when the Bulldogs drew 86,328 for 13 dates.
In addition to today's game being a sellout, MSU's game against Texas A&M at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, also is sold out.
"I wanted these seniors and these kids to play in front of a packed house," Schaefer said. "The Boys and Girls Club is very dear to our hearts, so it is a win-win for the Schaefers. I think it speaks well for our fan base. They just love these kids. They embrace them."
Limited tickets remain for the team's regular-season home finale against Auburn at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22.
This and that
Kentucky (12-13, 4-7) is the final team Schaefer hasn't defeated in his tenure as head coach at MSU. The Wildcats have won the last 11 meetings in the series, including three of the last five in overtime. ... With four steals against Florida, Victoria Vivians passed 200 for her career and moved into a tie with Alexis Rack for sixth place on the school's all-time list with 202. ... Following today's game, MSU will head to Nashville, Tennessee, to take on Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network).
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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