Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians shoots over South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson in the Bulldogs’ 67-53 victory on Feb. 5, 2018, at Humphrey Coliseum. The teams will meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday in a battle of unbeaten teams in the Southeastern Conference. Photo by: Dispatch File Photo
January 17, 2019 10:25:22 AM
STARKVILLE -- The stack of papers adjacent to the left hand of Vic Schaefer indicated the Mississippi State women's basketball team wasn't preparing for just another opponent.
While Schaefer always has been known to carry plenty of homework on each opponent, the background he and his coaching staff have assembled for South Carolina stretches the limits of most manila folders. That was the case Wednesday when Schaefer laid his research and notes to the side and talked about the challenge his team was set to face.
"I am excited for women's basketball and what our two teams have been able to create for our great game," Schaefer said. "The atmosphere at both places has always been really special. (South Carolina coach) Dawn (Staley) has her team playing well."
No. 7 MSU hopes it will have another capacity crowd at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN) when it plays host to No. 15 South Carolina in a Southeastern Conference game at Humphrey Coliseum.
The media and the SEC coaches picked MSU (16-1, 4-0 SEC) and South Carolina (12-4, 4-0) first and second in the preseason polls. The Bulldogs and the Gamecocks are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the league. MSU is coming off an 85-59 victory against Auburn on Monday in Auburn, Alabama. It has won six games in a row. South Carolina, which moved up six spots in The Associated Press Top 25 this week, is coming off a 76-53 victory against LSU on Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Gamecocks are riding an eight-game winning streak.
Last season, MSU defeated South Carolina 67-53 on Feb. 5, 2018, before a Humphrey Coliseum record crowd of 10,794. The win was part of a 16-0 run through the SEC league schedule that helped the Bulldogs capture the program's first SEC crown. South Carolina defeated MSU 62-51 in the championship game of the SEC tournament on March 4, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee. The win marked the Gamecocks' third in a row against the Bulldogs in the SEC title game, and their fourth-straight tournament title.
All of those accomplishments and history adds to what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at the Hump, which will be awash in white for a white-out with white T-shirts. Schaefer said the challenge for his squad will be to throw the first punch against an opponent he said is comfortable playing a low-scoring game or picking up the tempo in a high-scoring affair.
Tennessee transfer Te'a Cooper (12.6 points per game) is the only South Carolina player averaging in double figures. Junior guard Tyasha Harris, who is averaging 9.6 ppg., is seventh in the SEC with 4.3 assists per game. Senior Alexis Jennings is second on the team in scoring (9.9 ppg.) and leads the team in rebounding (5.7 per game). Junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (9.3 ppg., 5.3 rebounds per game) is the other Gamecock who is hovering near double digits in points.
Redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, who missed three games with an injury earlier in the season, is averaging 6.2 ppg., and has been part of a bench that is outscoring the opponent's bench by 11.3 ppg., the highest margin in the league.
"They have gotten better each week," Schaefer said. "(I think their win in overtime against Purdue) was a turning point. They found a way to gut out a tough road victory. They had every opportunity not to do it. Just like tough teams, well-coached teams do, they found a way to win."
MSU will combat South Carolina's length, depth, and defense with the nation's second-best scoring offense (91.1 ppg.). It is allowing 55.7 ppg., which gives the Bulldogs the highest scoring margin (+35.4) in Division I.
MSU also leads the SEC in field goal percentage (50.5), rebounding (46.1 rpg.), assist/turnover ratio (1.3), assists (18.4 per game), rebound margin (+17.3), and scoring offense.
Schaefer said he asked the players if they wanted to take Tuesday off because the team played Monday night at Auburn. He said he liked the fact his players declined and were eager to begin preparations for South Carolina in a short week. Schaefer hopes that eagerness to start studying for South Carolina results in high focus and execution on Thursday night.
"It is so hard to get a clean look (against South Carolina)," Schaefer said. "Everything is hotly contested. Every rebound is hotly contested. For us, I think we have had enough experiences with them we know what is going to happen and we also know what could happen. ... We're really going to have to play at a high level."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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