Bulldogs host dangerous Lady Vols

Staff Writer

It’s an unfamiliar spot for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers to be in for women’s basketball, but they come to Starkville Sunday as a middle-of-the-pack Southeastern Conference team.  

Tennessee currently sits tied for ninth in a league that hasn’t been as prominent on the national scene this year as it has in the past. It’s made for some more than soft rumblings across the dedicated Lady Vols fan base for a change in leadership as Holly Warlick has struggled to get the most out of her talented roster. The former Tennessee player and assistant under legendary coach Pat Summitt had the unenviable position of following her and has three Elite Eight appearances in her six seasons but that hasn’t been good enough to reach the expectations of the proud program.  

“Holly is a great coach and she’s going to get them fixed," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "To me, she’s got them fixed. My message to my kids is you better be ready and have it in fifth gear from the jump because they will flat smack you in the mouth and make you like it.”  

It’s been quite the rollercoaster ride for the Lady Vols already this season after starting 12-1 and inside the top 10, but they really hit a wall when SEC play hit. Tennessee went on a six-game losing streak and five of those were SEC games. The Lady Vols lost the first three in that stretch to Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia all by four or less points and another against Arkansas by one point, then they put up a big fight against one of the nation’s top teams Notre Dame and held the lead for more than three quarters before ultimately succumbing to the Irish in the fourth. That seemed to spark Tennessee to regain some confidence and it has followed through with three-consecutive conference wins.  

Schaefer knows that the size and skill of a team full of high school All-Americans makes it as dangerous as anyone this weekend.  

“I’m extremely impressed with how hard they play, how physical they are and how they attack the boards,” Schaefer said of Tennessee. “It’s a real concern for me going into the game on Sunday. We’ll have to have all five of our kids doing a great job blocking out because they do a tremendous job of attacking the glass. They’re a really fine basketball team with a lot of young kids.”  

In order for MSU to keep extending what is already an impressive SEC winning streak of 25 games and the 11-game winning streak overall, it has to continue to stay healthy. The loss of sophomore Chloe Bibby for the year was a blow and the Bulldogs played last Sunday without Bre’Amber Scott, who had concussion-like symptoms and late-game reserve Nyah Tate with a foot injury.  

Jordan Danberry joined the list of injuries with her ankle tweak in the first half against Alabama and barely played in the second half of that game. MSU had a full week without a game and that included a day off and a day of just shooting. Scott was available on Monday after passing concussion tests and Danberry was back this week as well ready to go.  

There’s also All-American center Teaira McCowan who has been battling bumps and bruises. The rigors of playing teams that try to take her away from rebounds and scoring in the paint often lead to some hard falls.
“You can imagine two people hitting you from each side and every time you go up for a rebound people under-cutting you and you hitting the floor as hard as you can,” McCowan said. “It’s a hard toll.”  

McCowan is currently averaging 16.9 points per game with 13.7 rebounds and she has 58 blocked shots to go with it. MSU has always had consistent production from Anriel Howard, who has 15.5 points and 7.9 rebounds a game and Danberry with 13 points a game. Schaefer has been pleased with his point guard play as Jazzmun Holmes is averaging 7.9 points a game and 111 assists to just 25 turnovers.  

The challenge that Schaefer has issued to his team is to get them all on the same page at the same time. If that happens, this particular team can get right back to the same spot it has been the last two years.  

“We’ve  got some really talented kids," Schaefer said. "We’ve got great point guard play. We’ve got the inside piece. We’ve got a lot of things going for us.

"I don’t see us getting better. I see A&M, Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri getting better, but I don’t see us  getting better. That’s the challenge in coaching this team. I've got to find a way to get us better. They may be the best team that I’ve ever coached, but I don’t know if we’ll get to be that team. 

“I’m going to keep fighting. My staff is going to keep coaching. I believe so much in this team and I believe that we can get so much better.” 

Sunday’s game at Humphrey Coliseum against the Lady Vols is scheduled for 1 p.m. and is a “Pink Out” to bring awareness to breast cancer. The game can be viewed on ESPN.