Mississippi State's Kendra Grant, right, drives the basketball up the floor against Ole Miss in the earlier meeting at Humphrey Coliseum. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
There's nothing like a little rivalry to juice up a Valentine's Day meeting on the basketball court.
That's what takes place in Oxford tonight when the Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the Ole Miss Rebels in Southeastern Conference women's action at 7 p.m.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer has been around the program long enough to know why beating Ole Miss is important, but he sees this game as an opportunity to pick up another victory in the league.
"For us, it's another game," Schaefer said. "It's another game we need to try and go win. The fans can have their fun and behave however they want to behave. I hope I have some fans going with me. We need to go and take care of business on the road."
The Bulldogs (11-12 overall, 3-7 SEC) have enjoyed some success in the past couple of weeks. Starting with a win over the Rebels on Jan. 27, MSU has defeated three out of the last four opponents.
Other than what he called a "hiccup" at Tennessee with a 88-45 loss, Schaefer was pleased with the last two games in beating Arkansas 47-44 and Missouri 61-56.
"We've bounced back to have two really good games against Arkansas and Missouri," Schaefer said. "In all three of our wins, defense has been the key and the cornerstone for what we've done. That will be important for the rest of the year, no matter who we're playing. We've got to bring a defensive mentality. Our formula on the road is defense, rebounding and having a strong inside game."
In the first meeting with the Rebels, center Martha Alwal scored 23 points for the Bulldogs and fellow sophomore Kendra Grant added 20 points. Alwal averages a double-double, the only player in the SEC to do so, with 12.5 points and 10 boards per outing.
Grant is a close second to Alwal for MSU's scoring lead with 12.3 points per game.
Even though the Bulldogs have proven they can win on the road at Missouri, Schaefer knows it's going to take another strong effort to get a second-consecutive triumph away from home.
"Those kids (at Ole Miss) play awfully hard over there and they play in their own gym," Schaefer said. "They shoot it very well and they are a difference team at home.
"Anytime you are at home, you feel you've got a chance. I know they are looking forward to that opportunity. When they rolled in here, our kids played pretty well defensively. I will be a big challenge for us."
The Rebels stand 8-15 overall and 1-9 in the conference. The lone SEC win for Ole Miss this season has been on the road at Florida and that was enough to catch Schaefer's interest.
"Going to Florida and winning is doing something," Schaefer said. "They have our full 110 percent attention and I'm anxious to see how our kids respond to a little bit of success we've had. We're still young. We're still inexperienced. We're still immature. I hope the immature factor doesn't pop itself up. I hope we're growing up and maturing a little bit. I think we are and I love what I'm seeing right now from our kids in being competitive."
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