Mississippi State senior guard Blair Schaefer gets on the floor to collect a loose ball as Kentucky’s Maci Morris, left, and Amanda Paschal converge Sunday. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
February 12, 2018 10:44:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- Matthew Mitchell knows Mississippi State better than most coaches.
Growing up in Louisville, Mitchell recalls coming to Humphrey Coliseum plenty of times to watch basketball games. As a 1995 graduate of MSU, Mitchell also attended plenty of games as a college student.
Mitchell's visits to the Hump continued during coaching stints at Tennessee and Florida. After he took over as head coach at Kentucky in 2007,
Mitchell kept having fun on his visits to his alma mater.
The only rub was not a lot of people were there to see Mitchell's dominance of MSU.
In five previous matchups against MSU at the Hump -- all wins by Kentucky -- the largest crowd to see a game was 4,355 in 2016. His first two wins as Kentucky's coach at MSU in 2008 and 2010 came in front of a combined crowd of 2,646.
On Sunday, a sell-out crowd (announced attendance of 9,520) was on hand to see No. 2 MSU snap an 11-game losing streak in the series with a 74-55 victory.
Mitchell, whose teams have built a tradition with strong defense, praised MSU coach Vic Schaefer for his team's effort on that end of the floor. The Bulldogs (26-0, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) limited the Wildcats (12-14, 4-8) to 36.5 percent shooting from the field (19-for-52) to drop Mitchell to 12-2 against his alma mater.
"It is great," Mitchell said. "I am so proud of the community. Listen, Mississippi State people are special. I grew up all my life loving this university. I still love it a lot. I am not surprised, and Vic has done a great job of getting a great team together. I think Victoria has been instrumental that your center piece is a Mississippi kid. I think that has something to do with it.
"It was an awesome atmosphere today. I am so happy for the university."
Mitchell said MSU had "a lot of lean years" in a lot of sports when he was growing up, so he is proud to see the school have success. He just might not want to see the school's women's basketball program to have continued success against Kentucky.
"To see the evolution of the athletic program and to see everybody experiencing such great success, it makes an alum very proud," Mitchell said.
Setting the tone on defense
MSU establish controlled in the first quarter by holding Kentucky to 2-for-7 from the field (28.6 percent) in building a 22-8 lead.
Senior point guard Morgan William helped set the tone with strong ball pressure against point guard Taylor Murray, who had only seven points on 2-for-9 shooting in 29 minutes. Murray and shooting guard Maci Morris fouled out.
"Our scout was specific," William said. "I am not going to mention it because we have to play them again, but I feel like we took away some things they wanted to do and it really helped us."
Kentucky entered the game shooting 50.2 percent from the field in the last five games. The Wildcats shot 33.3 percent in the first half and had 13 of their 19 turnovers.
William said she tried to get back in transition and slow down Murray, who is one of the quickest guards in the SEC.
William also had strong floor performance with her seventh game of the season without a turnover. She added eight assists in 27 minutes.
"Morgan has embraced her role," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "She had eight assists and zero turnovers. That is an amazing stat. She is doing what the point guard position demands of her."
No. 11 Tennessee's victory against No. 18 Georgia on Sunday created a three-way tie for second place with South Carolina.
With four games remaining, MSU is inching closer to clinching its first SEC regular-season championship. The Bulldogs will clinch at least a share of the title with a win Thursday against Vanderbilt. MSU could win the title outright at 4 p.m. Sunday when it plays host to No. 14 Texas A&M.
This and that
Freshman forward Chloe Bibby didn't play Sunday. Schaefer said Bibby is fine and that he opted for different matchups against a Kentucky team that didn't go with a lot of size. "Chloe is fine," Schaefer said. "I am sure she is going to play on Thursday." ... Schaefer and his squad will host another installment of the Hail State Hoops Luncheon series at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. MSU baseball coach Andy Cannizaro will be the guest speaker. The cost for the event is $12 per person. Fans can RSVP for the luncheon by calling 662-325-0198 or by e-mailing [email protected] Later that night, Schaefer will be at DawgTalk at 7 p.m. at The Veranda in Starkville. ... MSU will return to action at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Vanderbilt. The SEC Network will broadcast the game live.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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