Another level desire: Schaefer looks to take State to another level

Teaira McCowan grabs a rebound against Auburn last season.

Staff Writer

Thursday night brought No. 6 Mississippi State its 29th-consecutive home win and 19th-straight Southeastern Conference regular season win, but it didn’t bring coach Vic Schaefer much comfort.

Schaefer and his players went through their post game routine of signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans, followed that up with a post game press conference where he voiced his grievances and gave a “Praise the Lord and go Dogs” and he went home.

That brought hours of restlessness for the head coach as he continues to find a way to take the Bulldogs to another level and improve on what was a scary 80-71 win over Georgia.

“I’m real critical of myself and my team," Schaefer said. "We hold ourselves to a real high standard. If we don’t attain the goals that we have set forth this year, it won’t be skill set. It will be the intangibles that hold us back. That’s how good this team can be and it’s the battles that we fight each day.”

That’s what made Schaefer especially frustrated with how the game played out on Thursday as MSU’s winning streak at Humphrey Coliseum was very much in jeopardy. In his eyes, it was a bit of a step back from where State has been the last few weeks since losing its first and only game of the year at Oregon.

Schaefer has spent enough time in the SEC to know that any team is capable of winning on any given night in the league and it’s what made the Bulldogs’ run to 16-0 and a title last year so remarkable. He knows MSU’s 6 p.m. tip Monday with Auburn is just as dangerous as it heads to the Plains to take on a 14-2 team with a 2-1 league mark after consecutive wins against Florida and Alabama.

The Tigers are averaging 79 points per game this season led by guard Janiah McKay, who had a big game in Starkville a season ago. McKay averages 14 points a game and leads coach Terri Williams-Flournoy to a much-improved season after Auburn won 14 games all of last year.

“Everybody knows their style of play and how they attack you,” Schaefer said. “Coach Flo does a tremendous job with them. Those kids play a system and it’s hard to go against sometimes. We’re going to have to play well and find a way to win on the road. It’s hard to win on the road.”

In order for MSU (15-1, 3-0) to continue pace at the top of the SEC landscape, it will need to keep the high production from the starters. The Bulldogs are among the nation’s leaders in points at 91.4, point differential at 35.9 and rebounds at 46.2.

They’ve been well-balanced in the starting lineup with 16.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game by All-American center Teaira McCowan, who is also leading the conference in field goal percentage at 66.3 percent.

McCowan has been dealing with the frustrations of being at the top of each team’s scouting report but still keeps her production high on the stat sheet.

“I know that I’m going to get everyone’s best shot and they’re probably going to double and triple-team me,” McCowan said. “I’ve got to have the mindset of not letting them limit me of what I can do and that what I’m supposed to be doing is the biggest thing I should be thinking about.”

Anriel Howard is right on McCowan’s heels with 16 points and 7.9 rebounds and Chloe Bibby is coming off a career-high 24 points against Georgia and averaging 13.3 points.

Jordan Danberry puts up 12.8 points a game and has scored double figures now in 11-straight contests. Additionally, Jazzmun Holmes has controlled the point with 7.9 points a game and 84 assists to just 20 turnovers and 36 steals.

While all of the starters are making their mark, most of the bench plays below 15 minutes a game and all five starters average 25 minutes or more. Schafer said it’s a thin line between helping and hurting his bench players and he’s trying to figure out how to utilize them best.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my seniors and obviously Chloe is playing well, (but) I need my bench to play more,” Schaefer said. “I’ve got to be careful with my young kids. I want to make sure that I don’t put them in a position where they can fail and I’m real protective of that. Confidence is a really big thing. I just don’t want to put them in a position where they can’t be successful.”

Those daily battles that Schaefer has to deal with in maintaining the standard he’s set is what keeps him up at night and why he had that restless Friday morning. The weekly grind continues at Auburn arena that can be seen on the SEC Network.

Fans can bet they’ll see their fiery coach pacing back and forth on the sidelines until the final horn sounds. Hopefully, he’ll sleep a little better Monday night when he returns to Starkville.

“You want it so badly for your kids, probably more than they do,” Schaefer said. “I want my whole team to continue to be so dominant and yet you have situations like last night where you almost feel helpless at times. This University has invested so much into women’s basketball that it’s important. My conscious won’t let me go home and just watch TV.

“Consequently, you’re up at 4:15 and Chicago PD is blaring on the TV after you feel asleep watching film and SportsCenter. It’s just my life. I can’t change it.”