Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians drives between Nicholls’ Marina Lilly, left, and Cassidy Barrios on Saturday in a 95-50 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
March 19, 2018 11:27:59 AM
STARKVILLE -- Balance and versatility have been keys to the Mississippi State women's basketball team's success in 2017-18.
Each game, any one of the Bulldogs' starting five could have emerged with a big game to carry the squad to a victory.
MSU's four-guard attack also has been doubly dangerous in its ability to connect from 3-point range and to attack the rim.
Coupled with 40 minutes of full-court defense, MSU coach Vic Schaefer and MSU have prided themselves in being able to punch first and to control the tempo in nearly every game.
Schaefer hopes to do it again at 8 tonight (ESPN2) when No. 1 seed MSU plays host to No. 9 seed Oklahoma State (21-10) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I think Oklahoma State likes to get it up and down, and I think they can do a great job," Schaefer said. "Their point guard (Loryn Goodwin) is second on the team in rebounding and does a great job. When she's down there getting rebounds, she's getting it and going. She's not looking for an outlet. She is the outlet. I think that's what has allowed them to be so successful."
With a win, MSU (33-1) will match the 2016-17 squad for most wins in a season. It also will advance to play No. 4 seed North Carolina State (26-8), which defeated No. 5 seed Maryland 74-60 on Sunday, in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Missouri. The two Sweet 16 games will be Friday at times to be determined.
To reach the Sweet 16 for the third-straight season, MSU will have to contend with Goodwin, who had a season-high 35 points in the first meeting, a 79-76 MSU victory in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Dec. 3 in Starkville. Goodwin pushed the tempo and attacked the rim en route to a 13-for-29 shooting effort.
"You're going against a veteran there, a six-year senior who's been to the wars, a really smart, heady player who's going to play at the next level," Schaefer said. "I think you've got to pick and choose your spots and in everything. (I'm not going to say you have to choose one pace or the other) you have to pick and choose your spots. We always want to dictate the pace of play, whatever it is, and I think we've done that in 33 ballgames. We didn't do it in one ball game (the SEC Championship game against South Carolina), and it cost us."
MSU lost that game 62-51 on March 4 in Nashville, Tennessee. It rebounded by defeating No. 16 seed Nicholls 95-50 in the first round. The margin of victory was MSU's largest in a NCAA tournament game.
Still, Schaefer lamented his team offensive execution. He said there was plenty of rust in the Bulldogs' game, as evidenced by 16 turnovers -- the most since a victory against Auburn on Feb. 22 -- even though the team shot 50 percent (31-for-62) from the field.
MSU gives the ball away just 10.7 times per game, which is the fewest in the Southeastern Conference and third lowest in the nation. The Bulldogs have committed fewer than 10 turnovers 12 times. For the season, MSU has only 365. Last season, MSU committed 499 turnovers in 39 games. The Bulldogs have never had less than 400 turnovers in a season.
Senior point guard Morgan William, who played only 15 minutes Saturday against Nicholls, had two assists and one turnover. She said the Bulldogs will be in good shape if they get out in transition, find shooters, and knock down shots.
MSU senior guard Blair Schaefer said the Bulldogs will try to play to a chemistry that has allowed them to move the ball and to play inside-out or outside-in depending on the opponent.
"I think our team's not one-dimensional, so we have a lot of options," Blair Schaefer said. "I think we can run and we can also play half court, so I just think we're going to have to do both if we're going to beat a really good Oklahoma State team."
Jaden Hobbs scored a career-high 27 points Saturday to lead Oklahoma State past Syracuse 84-57. Kaylee Jensen and Goodwin had 19 points as the Cowgirls had 18 assists and 14 turnovers. They shot 46.6 percent from the field and were 13-for-23 from 3-point range. Hobbs was 8-for-9 from 3-point range.
MSU enters the game 18th in scoring defense (55.6 points per game) and 10th in the nation in scoring (82.4 ppg.). The Bulldogs force opponents into turnovers 24.4 percent of the time, according to HerHoopStats.com. MSU has forced 15 or more turnovers 28 times and 20 turnovers 15 times. They score an average of 22.9 ppg. off those mistakes, which is why coach Schaefer knows the Bulldogs will have to pick their spots on defense and execute on offense to control the tempo.
"I thought (Goodwin) dominated the game (in December in Starkville)," Schaefer said. "I thought that Goodwin was spectacular that day. Victoria was spectacular for us. She had 30 (points) that day. Both of those guards really played well. Roshunda Johnson had a good ballgame for us. I think for them, Goodwin really dictates the flow of the game and kind of makes them go. On that particular day, she was really difficult to handle. We tried to press them, but we didn't do a very good job. Hopefully we'll make some adjustments with the press and not give up so many points in transition. We gave up eight. We gave up a bunch of points off the press. Sometimes we'll give up two or four points in a ballgame because we want to create the atmosphere and create the tempo that we want to play at. I looked at that film the other day and thought, 'Whoa, what was I thinking?' Because we gave up a lot of points. A lot of it came out of Goodwin's hands or was in her hands. We have to do a better job there. We have to make some adjustments."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.