December 31, 2013 10:42:19 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Keep it simple.
Sherise Williams' strategy to maximize her contributions to the Mississippi State women's basketball team easily could be the title of a guide to help people get through the holidays and how to prepare for a new year.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer hopes Williams can follow that approach in 2014 and deliver more tidings like the ones she displayed Monday.
The sophomore forward scored a season-high 15 points and matched her season- and career-high with nine rebounds to push MSU to a 98-58 victory against Mississippi Valley State before a season-high Fan Appreciation Night crowd of 2,764 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Martha Alwal had a game-high 22 points to lead six players in double figures for MSU, which won its sixth-straight game to close 2013 at 13-1. The 13 victories match the team's total from last season, Vic Schaefer's first as head coach at the school. The 13-1 start is the best in program history.
MSU achieved those marks by overcoming a lackluster first half in which it led 40-34 at halftime. The Bulldogs did plenty of things that left Schaefer sitting on his seat on the sideline and shaking his head. MVSU (1-10) beat MSU in transition, MSU failed to execute in its half-court sets, lost 3-point shooters in transition and in half-court sets, and was too slow in getting into its sets.
Still, Schaefer has reason to be pleased with a second half in which MSU shot 54.1 percent (20 of 37) from the field and forced MVSU into 19 of its 33 turnovers. Williams' play in the final 20 minutes also made Schaefer smile. The 6-foot-1 player from St. Louis scored 10 of her points and displayed an aggressiveness that was lacking from the team's overall performance.
"Sherise came in and played a great game," Schaefer said. "She had four blocks and four steals. She was super active, much more active than our starting four player (Alwal, a 6-foot-4 center, who had only four rebounds)."
The steals were a career-high, while the blocked shots matched Williams' career high. Entering MSU's final non-conference game, Williams had three double-digit scoring games (in the team's first three games of the season) and three games in which she scored zero points. She was matter of fact when asked what it will take for her to have more double-digit efforts the rest of the season.
"Come ready to play," Williams said.
Williams answered in a half-questioning manner and in a tone that was just above a whisper. That demeanor contrasts the aggressive, shot-swatting attitude Williams can play with when she is focused. The Bulldogs have seen Williams play with that mentality and have called her a "beast." Williams, though, is still trying to develop the consistency to know she can play with that intensity every game.
Williams, who called herself a "simple person" in self-deprecating fashion, believed she came with the intensity Schaefer wants from her and all of the Bulldogs on Monday. She said the answer -- because she wants to play -- was simple. The trick now is to duplicate what she did before the game to give MSU another consistent contributor off the bench.
"I have to have the right mind-set coming into the game," Williams said. "Preparation starts way before the game starts. If you are not prepared two or three days before, you are not prepared to play. I am trying to learn how to be mature."
Last season, Williams played in 25 games (six starts) and averaged 19.1 minutes. Despite shooting 36.7 percent from the field, she averaged 5.1 points and 4.5 minutes and showed flashes of potential -- particularly on defense -- that she could hold her own in the Southeastern Conference. MSU will need Williams to play an even bigger role this season. With freshman center Chinwe Okorie still not eligible and forward Carnecia Williams not with the team, Williams is the only front-court player Schaefer can use to spell Alwal if the team gets into foul trouble.
Against MVSU, Schaefer used Williams and Alwal together in stretches and they showed an ability to work together well in high-low situations. Williams played 28 minutes, which was one off her season-high, in part because of the absence of freshman forward Ketara Chapel. Schaefer said Chapel was cleared to play but he held her out of play because she was coming back from a bump to the head.
"Coach (Johnnie) Harris really has done a good job with the post players," Schaefer said. "A lot of it is mental for the post players. For Sherise, keeping it simple is catching, step, layup -- offensive rebound, stick-back. I thought she was really good defensively helping tonight. She had four blocks, so obviously she was helping. For her, she is right, keeping it simple is the best thing."
Williams more than made up for what Chapel typically brings to the table. Her effort was part of a statistically sound evening in which Kendra Grant (16 points), Dominique Dillingham (15 points, five rebounds, six steals), Savannah Carter (11 points, five assists, four steals), and Breanna Richardson (11 points, 10 rebounds) also scored in double figures.
Williams joked she is trying to learn how to be a "beast" like Alwal. The junior center responded that it was "sweet" of Williams to say that, which drew laughter from her, Williams, and Grant in the postgame interview room.
Alwal has seen Williams mature in her second season with the team. She said MSU will need Williams and everyone to play more aggressively at 6 p.m. Thursday when the team kicks off the Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule at Florida.
"I think she really takes what coach says her into consideration," Alwal said. "He tells her to come in and rebound, use a drop step (to get herself open for a) layup, and do all of that good stuff. She came in and she did that tonight.
Said Williams, "With me, it is all about keeping it simple."
"She kept it simple," Alwal said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.