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Calm demeanor pushes Bulldogs through to tournament championship


Adam Minichino



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There wasn't any screaming or hollering. 


Vic Schaefer didn't think it was needed, even though he felt the Texas A&M women's basketball team dictated much of the first half and was the more aggressive squad rebounding the ball. 


Still, No. 1 Mississippi State trailed only 18-15 after one quarter. The fact that the Aggies grabbed six of their 11 first-half offensive rebounds in the first quarter didn't make for a festive huddle. 


"It was more our seniors had to answer," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "We were accountable. ... We talk about toughness all the time and try to pride ourselves on that. They just came out and really were punching and punching and punching and we were kind of staggering around. 


"Finally answered late and it was just from there on I really thought we competed and played like we're capable of playing." 


Texas A&M's 43-32 rebounding edge was the largest this season against MSU. It was the ninth time the Bulldogs have been outrebounded.  


"We came out playing very hard," said Texas A&M forward Anriel Howard, who had six offensive rebounds and a game-high 17. "We competed. I'm proud of my teammates. I'm proud of Danni (Williams). I'm proud of coach (Gary Blair). I'm proud of the coaching staff. It just shows how close we are, but we still have a lot more to give. I know we can even go harder than what we did tonight." 


Khaalia Hillsman also had 10 rebounds for the Aggies, but they only had a 9-8 edge in second-chance points. MSU had a 30-24 advantage in points in the paint. 




Taking care of the basketball 


In addition to scoring 15 points, senior point guard Morgan William had five assists and zero turnovers. Her floor leadership helped MSU finish with less than 10 turnovers in a game for the 11th time. MSU committed only five against Texas A&M, which matched its second-lowest total of the season.  


"We shared the ball (and had) pretty good offensive continuity in the second and third quarters, and good execution," Schaefer said. "We only had five turnovers. Morgan goes for 15 and five and no turnovers in 33 minutes. That is a great job by her." 


MSU committed four turnovers in a 111-69 victory against Arkansas on Jan. 4. 




Starters see extended minutes 


Entering the game, Victoria Vivians (30.4 per game) and Blair Schaefer (31.7) were the only players averaging more than 30 minutes per game. 


Against Texas A&M, all five of MSU's starters played 33 or more minutes for only the second time this season. The first time came Feb. 18 in a 76-55 victory against Texas A&M in Starkville. 


On Saturday, Teaira McCowan and Schaefer played a team-high 39 minutes, while Vivians logged 35, Johnson played 37, and William logged 33. 


When asked if he thought the starters playing so many minutes would have an effect at 3:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference tournament title game, Schaefer said his team is built for it. 


"I am not worried about it," Schaefer said. "If it doesn't work out it's not going to be because we're tired or we were sore or whatever. It ain't going to be that. 


"We are built for this. We have proven it over time. We have played in tournaments where you've played back to back to back and you had your toughest game." 




Inside the numbers 


Texas A&M matched its season-low point total of 55. After shooting 31.6 percent from the field in the first meeting against MSU, Texas A&M was 22-for-59 (37.3 percent). The Aggies were 5-for-18 (27.8 percent) in the second quarter and 4-for-15 in the third quarter (26.7). 


"I thought we controlled three quarters of the first half," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "We got outplayed pretty poorly the last five minutes when we got into foul trouble and they they're Mississippi State, but I loved our fight. The first 15 minutes we were doing some good things. We were sharing the ball. We were having a lot of people score. 


"In the second half, they started looking like the No. 2 team in the nation, particularly in the third quarter. They started running, getting the three." 




Vivians, McCowan on National Ballot for Wooden Award 


Senior Victoria Vivians and junior Teaira McCowan were two of 15 players named Saturday to the National Ballot for the John R. Wooden Award®. 


Selected by the Wooden Award&153; National Advisory Board, the list features candidates for the Wooden Award All American Team&153; and the Wooden Award Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding women's college basketball player in the United States. 


Connecticut's Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Gabby Williams lead the way. Vivians and McCowan make Mississippi State and UConn the only schools with multiple players on the list.  


UConn, which is ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press' latest poll, and MSU, which is No. 2, also are the only remaining undefeated teams in Division I women's college basketball. 


The SEC leads all conferences with four players on the National Ballot. South Carolina's A'ja Wilson and Missouri's Sophie Cunningham also were selected. 


Baylor's Kalani Brown, Duke's Lexie Brown, UCLA's Jordin Canada, Louisville's Asia Durr, Iowa's Megan Gustafson, Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu, Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell, and Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale round out the list. 


Voting will take place March 13-20. Voters, consisting of hundreds of members of the national college basketball media, take into consideration a player's entire season, as well as the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. 


The Wooden Award All American Team, which will feature the nation's top five players and the finalists for the Wooden Award, will be announced following the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament and will be the focus of a 30-minute show at 8 p.m. March 28 (ESPNU). 


The 42nd-annual presentation of the John R. Wooden Award to the men's and women's most outstanding college basketball player will be made Friday, April 6, on the ESPN College Basketball Awards show. The men's and women's John R. Wooden Award All American Teams will be honored during the ceremony. 




This and that 


MSU extended its winning streak to 32 games, which is the second-longest streak in the SEC. Tennessee's 46-game run from 1997-99 is the longest in league history. ... MSU held an opponent to less than 40-percent shooting from the field for the 18th time. It also held an opponent to less than 60 points for the 12th time in 18 SEC games. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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