Rivalry games continue for MSU women as they host Alabama

MSU's Victoria Vivians, right, drives against Alabama last season.
Staff Writer

Sleepless nights are aplenty for Mississippi State women's basketball head coach Vic Schaefer during this time of season.

A run to the national championship game a year ago was certainly challenging, but Schaefer and his team were prepared. The Bulldogs were prepared because of the brutal schedule that met them twice a week in the Southeastern Conference.

To make it out with a 13-3 record was accomplishment enough and was the reason MSU hosted in the first and seconds rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year.

This season the competition has grown. The No. 3 Bulldogs sit atop the SEC standings at 18-0 and 4-0 in league play, but there is a logjam behind them. Seven teams currently rest at 3-1 after two weeks of play. It makes for even more nights on the couch for Schaefer in his office.

“It’s a grind," Schaefer said. "It’s 16 rivalry games, as I’ve said many times. It’s a tough league with Hall of Fame coaches and players that are going to be in the WNBA at some point in their careers. It’s just one game at a time. I don’t know what we have after Sunday other than we have a bye week on Thursday.”

One of those 3-1 teams in conference play is an improved Alabama squad. The two teams meet Sunday is 3 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum and the contest can be seen on SEC Network.

Coach Kristy Curry has the Crimson Tide out to a 13-4 start in her fourth year riding the momentum from a 22-win season a year ago. They started the year 4-3 before winning nine of the last 10. That lone loss came against a top 15 Missouri team in game one of the conference slate by six points.

Bama rebounded from the early loss by going on the road and knocking off both Florida and Arkansas. The Tide then beat a pesky LSU squad by 14 points at home on Thursday so they have Schaefer’s attention.
“This is Kristy’s best team by far," Schaefer said. "It’s a very senior-heavy team so they’ve been through the wars. Kristy has done a great job building that program and they’re playing at a high level. Alabama is coming off of a great win over LSU at home so we’ll have to be ready and play really well. I think this is their year.”

One of the secrets to the surge this year for Bama is being a veteran team. It has one of the SEC’s most experienced groups with six seniors and three juniors leading the way. Seniors Ashley Williams and Hillary Cook average 11 points a game each with Cook bringing down 6.9 boards a contest.

MSU is pretty experienced as well, though.

The Bulldogs have four senior starters and a junior carrying the load and each person’s impact has been crucial as they stand as one of only three teams nationally without a loss. Teaira McCowan continues to be a force for MSU as the junior center averages 21 points and 12.7 rebounds a game and now has 37 blocks in 18 games this season.

Blair Schaefer has been key for State in her final year as the former Starkville High product is averaging 9.3 points and a team-high 30 minutes a game. She mentioned that McCowan has upped everyone’s game this season and opened up the entire offense.

“I think she has learned how to be coached more and go out and make effort in doing what the coaches tell her she can do,” Blair said of McCowan. “We’re giving her more confidence and she’s realizing how great she really is. I think her hard work is flourishing right now.”

MSU has been dominant to this point in the season and so far so good for Vic’s team. The 87 points per game are tops in the SEC and a 31-point average margin of victory is also the best in the conference.

That has been aided by the Bulldogs’ 10 home games this season that have been played in front of nearly 6,000 fans a game. The Humphrey Coliseum atmosphere has been a special one to coach Schaefer who wants more Sunday.

“The overall atmosphere in the Hump is really special and it’s really not like that most places,” Schaefer said. “I love our building. I love the acoustics. I love the atmosphere playing at home.”

It will be Superhero Sunday at Humphrey Coliseum as fans will have the opportunity to meet their favorite superheroes, and the best superhero costume can win a Bulldog Prize Pack.