February 2, 2019 10:37:55 PM
STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer must have been on to something Wednesday when he talked about preparation.
Whether it is hunting, fishing, or basketball, Schaefer is going to do his best to ensure he is ready for just about every imaginable scenario. If Schaefer plans to go fishing, he will study to make sure he comes back with a boat load of fish.
Schaefer has the same mind-set when he takes the court.
"I am trying to pitch a perfect game, and it ain't going to happen by the way," Schaefer said. "I'd like to beat somebody somethin'-to-nuthin'. I am trying to coach the perfect game, the perfect team every day. My staff has worked tirelessly in that same mentality. We talk about, 'Hey, let's practice perfect. Can we practice perfect? Can we play perfect?' No, you can't, but we want to try."
No. 6 MSU came pretty close Thursday night, scoring the first 21 points en route to a 68-35 victory against LSU in a Southeastern Conference game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The win helped MSU improve to 20-1 and 8-0 in the SEC and set a program record for fewest points allowed in a league game, which is why Schaefer said after the game, "it was as good as we have been in a long time."
MSU will try to duplicate that effort at noon Sunday (SEC Network) when it takes on Alabama at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
MSU enters the game riding a 24-game winning streak in SEC regular-season play. Andra Espinoza-Hunter tied a career high with 16 points, while Teaira McCowan had her 17th double-double (13 points, 20 rebounds) of the season.
Despite the fast start and the gaudy stats -- the Bulldogs held the Tigers to 21-percent shooting from the field -- there remains plenty of areas to improve. Schaefer said Wednesday he will continue to press, to prod, to cajole in an effort to get everything out of the 2018-19 team.
"Every day we just want to keep trying to do," Schaefer said Wednesday. "We want to practice perfect. We want to play perfect. You know what, maybe if you keep working toward that you can win that last game."
Jazzmun Holmes, McCowan, and Espinoza-Hunter touched on defense Friday as one place MSU can get better.
"I think we have room to improve (on defense) just because we do have a young team and they don't really get the point of help side yet," Holmes said.
Said McCowan, "Once we figure out help side and who's dropping and whose rotation it is we will be better."
Espinoza-Hunter, who is in her first season with MSU after transferring from Connecticut, equated understanding defensive rotations in Schaefer's system to grasping a new concept, like in a Stats class. Espinoza-Hunter said she had difficulty initially in her Stats class, which features displaying and describing data, the normal curve, regression, probability, statistical inference, confidence intervals, and hypothesis tests with applications in the real world. Once Espinoza-Hunter figured it out, though, she said she earned an 'A' in the class. She said she is working on developing a similar understanding of how Schaefer wants the Bulldogs to play defense.
"I guess it is sort of like coach's defense. Turning and running, I didn't understand it," Espinoza-Hunter said. "I finally, sort of, kind of got the grip of it, still learning it, but eventually I will fall in love with it."
Schaefer hopes all of the Bulldogs "fall in love" with playing defense his way. A team mind-set like that will allow him to develop a similar confidence he had in the players on the 2017-18 team because he said they were "consistent." Led by seniors Victoria Vivians, Morgan William, Blair Schaefer, and Roshunda Johnson, the Bulldogs were able to overcome nearly every obstacle en route to a program-best 37-win season. Coach Schaefer hopes the 2018-19 Bulldogs will get to that same position.
"I had gotten that confidence from those kids," Schaefer said of the 2017-18 team. "They earned that over the course of time. I felt good about them. They didn't let sour milk on their cereal or a bad test or something personal in their life take away from their pure joy of basketball.
"From a mental standpoint, they were just really mentally tough. ... With this group, like every other group I have had, pretty much for the most part, some things can, as my parents would say, upset the apple cart."
Schaefer said he and the members of his staff have to continue to work on that mental piece. He said the key is to try to get all of the Bulldogs "on the same page" for the last two months so they can make a run.
"We haven't scratched the surface on where we can be," Schaefer said. "I see so much potential in this group. ... I think we have so much room to grow."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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