Bulldogs cooking up a historic weekend at home

 

Mississippi State forward Anriel Howard shoots a basket during practice on Thursday, in preparation for the team’s NCAA Tournament first-round game at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU plays Southern University tonight at 8:30.

Mississippi State forward Anriel Howard shoots a basket during practice on Thursday, in preparation for the team’s NCAA Tournament first-round game at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU plays Southern University tonight at 8:30.
Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to the Dispatch

 

Mississippi State head women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer makes a point during a press conference on Thursday. He is trying to lead his team to a third-straight Final Four.

Mississippi State head women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer makes a point during a press conference on Thursday. He is trying to lead his team to a third-straight Final Four.
Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to the Dispatch

 

 

 

 

By Paul D. Bowker 

 

 

 

The atmosphere tonight at Humphrey Coliseum will be electric. 

 

No question about it. 

 

And that's if you're lucky enough to have a ticket. 

 

As the Mississippi State women's basketball team gets ready to begin its quest for a national championship, the Bulldogs arrive at their home arena with 30 wins, a No. 1 seeding in the Portland Regional, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and a senior point guard who is called the best in the country by her coach. 

 

The Bulldogs average 86.1 points per game and 6-foot-7 senior center Teaira McCowan, the SEC Player of the Year, has ripped through opposing defenses for double-double games most nights. Senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes broke an SEC record with 12 assists in the championship game. Her defense is smothering. 

 

Southern University, tonight's opponent in Round 1 of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament, has topped 80 points just twice this season and it hasn't happened in more than two months. 

 

This is how far MSU's program has come under head coach Vic Schaefer. The Bulldogs don't merely expect to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. They expect to win it. 

 

Leading up to this night at Humphrey, Schaefer has turned up the intensity even more, admitting earlier this week just how "jacked up" he was a practice session. Thursday afternoon, the Dawgs were back on the court with Schaefer again. 

 

Schaefer has had to watch his team lose national championship trophies in the national title game the last two years. The Bulldogs defeated Louisville in overtime in the semifinals last year, then lost to Notre Dame in the title game. In 2017, the Dawgs knocked off powerhouse Connecticut and their U.S. Olympic coach in the semifinals, then lost to South Carolina in the title game. 

 

"I want this so bad for them," Schaefer said. 

 

The Bulldogs have six games to win, and two of them would come at Humphrey Coliseum the next three days. Two wins this weekend sends them to the Sweet 16 next week in Portland, Oregon. After that, it would be off to Tampa, Florida, for the Final Four. 

 

Humphrey will be packed tonight and Sunday. It is already sold out. 

 

"Just seeing the crowd grow over the course of my freshman year to now has been quite a big jump," McCowan said. "Freshman year, we didn't have as many fans, but this year every game is almost sold out. Putting on a show each and every night is special." 

 

The Bulldogs are not only chasing after their first national title in women's basketball, but the first national title in any team sport at Mississippi State. 

 

"This arena is going to be spectacular and it's just going to be a really unique experience for everyone," Schaefer said. "I'm just excited to be a part of it and proud of my team. They've endured during games, gotten through a tremendous schedule." 

 

For Southern, tonight's game is a challenge. 

 

The Jaguars don't have a player who averages in double figures in scoring, and the Bulldogs have four of them. Southern runs a lineup heavy in guards and their tallest player, 6-foot-3 freshman center Ceundra McGhee, who is still giving away four inches to the powerful McCowan, hasn't started a game all year. 

 

But the Jaguars are here, making their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance, and being led by rookie head coach Carlos Funchess, a native Mississippian from Magee. 

 

"Just to play in the NCAA Tournament is a great honor," Funchess said on Friday. "With some of our kids being from Mississippi, it is going to be great for them to be able to play in front of their families." 

 

 

 

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