December 21, 2013 7:18:41 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- As Southeastern Conference play looms with the start of the new year, one question is obvious for the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
Will the early-season offensive success carry over to the 16-game schedule in one on the nation's toughest conferences?
"We are anxious to find out," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I really like where we are offensively right now. I think we are all kind of nervous waiting to see how many of these things we can do inside the league."
MSU continued its run through non-conference play with a 109-57 rout of Southeastern Louisiana Friday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
With Santa Claus watching courtside, MSU won its fourth straight to move to 12-1 overall. The Bulldogs can match last season's win total with a victory over Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 30 in its final non-conference game before opening SEC play at Florida on Jan. 2.
"The thing is we have options," MSU junior guard Kendra Grant said. "It is a relief this year because we have more people who can score the basketball. It is going to be hard for the other team to totally shut this team down."
MSU topped the 100-point mark for the second time this season. The Bulldogs are averaging 79.1 points per game this season, after averaging 55.8 points per game last season.
"I really like the aggressive nature of this team," Schaefer said. "I like the fact that we really drive the ball in the paint and force the issue. We have played two really physical games in a row. In transition, we are trying to make a trainwreck. We have played more games than anybody else in the league so far, so I think we are a tired basketball team.
"However, after the first 10 minutes, we played really well."
The Bulldogs were sluggish on the defensive end and actually held only a 21-19 lead after a fast-paced stretch of minutes for both teams offensively.
MSU put together a 6-0 run for a 30-21 lead and later built a 58-31 halftime lead, thanks in part to a game-changing 17-1 run.
"I think we are taking advantage of playing players smaller than we are right now," MSU junior center Martha Alwal said. "We know we have an advantage and we are doing something about it."
The Bulldogs lead the nation in both free throws attempted and free throws made. Those numbers were only aided by a 36-of-44 night at the line Friday night. MSU also attempted 44 free throws earlier in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Bulldogs have made it to the foul line 29 or more times in 11 of 13 games played.
"We are a lot more physical this year," Grant said. "That was really an emphasis during the off-season. We had some teams in conference play last year that pushed us around little bit. The new players have been taught how we are going to do things around here now and they are fitting in really well."
Alwal had 24 points and 10 rebounds for her 23rd career double-double. That ties for the most in the league among active players.
"We all want to see what kind of team we are going to be in conference play but it starts with Martha," Schaefer said. "When she is aggressive and she is taking the ball to the rim, we are a much different team to defend. She has been dominant of late, but that has been against some teams lacking size. We know she is capable of going to that next level once league play starts. If she does that, we will be a force offensively."
Grant added 18 points, while freshman Dominique Dillingham added 17 points.
"She is out secret assassin," said Schaefer of Dillingham. "She has 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, with three rebounds, three assists and three steals in 20 minutes of play. That is a stat line for most 40-minute players. She did all of that in 20 minutes."
Fellow freshman Breanna Richardson added 14 points. Point guards Katia May and Jerica James also performed well, combing for 12 points, 12 assists and only two turnovers.
The blending of talented newcomers with blossoming scorers, such as Grant and Alwal, is why MSU is excited about league play. MSU was 5-11 in league play last season.
"We have some new faces," Grant said. "Even though we have one (non-conference) game left, we are excited about conference play. We feel like we can win some games and get on a roll."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter