February 26, 2018 10:35:11 AM
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer circled many areas of the stat sheet to note how No. 2 MSU did the little things against Kentucky to achieve perfection.
The Bulldogs' next challenge is to keep it going as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Teaira McCowan had 20 points and 20 rebounds to match a career high, Victoria Vivians added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and MSU routed Kentucky 85-63 on Sunday to become the first SEC team to finish the regular season unbeaten in 20 years.
"It's impressive because we've never done it," Vivians said. "We didn't look ahead to more games, we just took every day one step at a time. Our focus wasn't on the 30-0 (record), it was winning the next game."
MSU just needed to shake off a slow start to finish with a flourish for their first win in Lexington since 2009. The victory enabled MSU to become the third team in SEC history to undefeated in league play in the regular season since the SEC went to a 16-game schedule.
MSU's winning streak also is the second-longest run in SEC history.
The Bulldogs (30-0, 16-0 SEC) matched Tennessee's milestone in 1997-98 after erasing a 9-3 deficit with a 14-4 run led by 3-point shooting. The 6-foot-7 McCowan then took control inside on both ends of the floor before Vivians warmed up offensively after halftime.
McCowan did most of her damage in the first half with 17 points and 13 rebounds for her 22nd double-double. She helped the Bulldogs dominate the boards 40-23 and paint scoring 38-20. MSU also posted 24 assists and was 10-for-18 from behind the arc. Blair Schaefer had four 3-pointers for 12 points. Chloe Bibby added 10.
"Our focus was to come in and keep them from running the plays they wanted and pushing them out," said McCowan, who also had all five blocked shots. "We did, and everything else went well."
The Bulldogs didn't celebrate wildly, probably because the toughest work is ahead. But they and Schaefer took heart in the achievement.
"I'm just extremely proud of our program, our players and my staff, getting through this gauntlet of a league and where we are today," he said.
"Our whole help mentality and our sharing the basketball, it's what we've done all year. We've been very, very consistent with that and today was no different."
Maci Morris scored 16 of her 22 points in the first half for the Wildcats (14-16, 6-10), who had won two of three coming in. Kentucky's losing mark in conference play was its first since 2008-09, coach Matthew Mitchell's second season with the program.
MSU earned a double bye for the league tournament, which begins Wednesday. MSU will play at noon Friday against the winner of the game Thursday between No. 8 seed Alabama and No. 9 seed Kentucky.
Kentucky will look to the SEC tournament to avoid the first losing season in Mitchell's 11 seasons in Lexington. Against MSU, the Wildcats' quest for an upset started well with good shots and tough defense. They just couldn't stop McCowan inside, a mission that became harder when senior forward Alyssa Rice (three rebounds, two points) picked up her third foul early in the second quarter.
"We just didn't have an answer for McCowan," Mitchell said, "and then Vivians got going in the second half."
NOTE: MSU will hold its final Hail State Hoops luncheon at 11:30 a.m. today at 11:30 a.m. Tonight, MSU associate head coach Johnnie Harris will be on the air for another episode of DawgTalk at 7 p.m. from The Veranda.
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