Smith on Sports: Bulldogs close to perfect against Lady Vols

Danny P. Smith

Sports Editor

There was a time when the thought of a Mississippi State women’s basketball win over Tennessee was pretty much a fantasy.

After all, it took 37 attempts before the Bulldogs finally recorded a win over the Lady Volunteers in 2016.

Now, MSU not only beats Tennessee, but it’s not close.

On Sunday, the Bulldogs won for the fifth time in the last six meetings and had their most dominating victory in the history of the series with the Lady Vols 91-63.

It was a tight game in the third quarter as MSU only led 47-44 at the 6-minute mark, but it exploded for a big fourth quarter and outscored Tennessee 30-14 to take control.

The Bulldogs came at the Lady Vols from every direction and head coach Holly Warlick admitted in post game there was nothing Tennessee could do.

“Mississippi State is a great basketball team,” Warlick said. “They went on a run and we couldn’t answer.”

Teaira McCowan and Anriel Howard handled the inside for MSU, while Jordan Danberry and Jazzmun Holmes drove to the basket at will, and Andra Espinoza-Hunter dropped in an occasional 3-point field goal.

The Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the field (36-of-69), out-rebounded the Lady Vols 38-30 and only had eight turnovers. That’s just a few of the bright spots.

It may still not be the perfect game that MSU coach Vic Schaefer is looking for, but it’s getting closer.

When Schaefer was asked if the win over Tennessee was the most complete game of the season, he responded “maybe.”

There were still some shot clock situations he had wished his team would have handled better, but overall he called it “a pretty good day.”

Schaefer has the same mentality as Alabama head football coach Nick Saban. They both demand and expect the best out of their players and most of the time they deliver.

There’s a reason why Mississippi State stands No. 6 in the country with a 22-1 overall record and 10-0 SEC mark.

The Bulldogs have talent, but they have a coaching staff that cares and wants the best for them. Those ingredients lead to success and that’s why MSU has been in the national championship conversation the last three years.

It kind of seems that the Bulldogs have traded places with the Lady Vols in that respect. Not that long ago, Tennessee was the program that could be counted on to be in the running for a national title. That's not the case right now for the Lady Vols.

Sunday was the largest Southeastern Conference loss Tennessee history and it will be interesting to see where the Lady Vols go from here.

Warlick’s job at Tennessee is in very much jeopardy. It's hard to image that very many people in Knoxville are happy about the 15-8 overall and 4-6 SEC records. She sure can’t take many more beatings like the one she did Sunday and survive.

Times are changing and so has the landscape of women’s college basketball in the SEC with the decline of the Lady Vols and the rise of the Bulldogs.

Danny P. Smith is the sports editor and columnist for The Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SDN or its staff.