Robbie Faulk Mug

Robbie Faulk 

To find a team and a coach that’s able to accomplish history each and every season can be a difficult thing to do, but here we are watching more history from Mississippi State women’s basketball.

During coach Vic Schaefer’s first year on campus back in 2012-13, the Bulldogs didn’t make much history. The crowds were small and the wins were few, but the team had the look of one with an upward trajectory despite the 40 and 50-point losses. There was the win against top 25 Georgia for one that showed progress.

By year two, the Bulldogs had added nine more wins to the record and made it all the way to the WNIT quarterfinals as the crowds began to grow. Year three saw MSU’s win total grow by three to 27. The Bulldogs had one more conference win than each of the previous two years combined as they went 11-5 and a top four team in the Southeastern Conference and they went back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

The fourth season under Schaefer saw even more progress. MSU continued to improve the wins getting to 28, made history for the first time by beating Tennessee and hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs earned their second SEC Tournament championship berth and made it to the round of 16.

By that point, MSU had arrived. It came into 2016-17 as a  perennial contender for the SEC championship and earned 30 wins for the first time ever. The Bulldogs went 13-3 and had a chance for a share of the SEC championship going into the final game but couldn’t finish. They had another trip to the SEC Tournament title game and made a run all the way to the Final Four where they ended a win streak of over 100 games by Connecticut before falling in the national title game.

How could MSU improve upon that year? It somehow did. The Bulldogs went from 34-5 to 37-2 and undefeated in the regular season last year earning the first SEC regular season championship in a women’s sport in school history. They again made the SEC Tournament title contest and again made a trip to the national championship before losing to Notre Dame.

After all of those things had been accomplished over the last seven years, there isn’t much left for Schaefer to do to make history, but he and his team did it again.

One of the things missing in those previously mentioned six years was a couple of title games. MSU had made three-straight SEC Tournament championship appearances prior to Sunday and it got a fourth one this year. Finally, Schaefer got a chance to cut down the nets in one of these games and grab a trophy that has eluded his teams for three years straight.

“It’s just hard to do and it’s really hard to do with four new starters and two new to your program," Schaefer said. "We’ve replaced four starters three years in a row. I’m constantly on this group about leadership. They haven’t shown the toughness that I think we can consistently.

“To see them get through (Sunday), I know they’re going to feel good about it because just about every day I’m reminding them about how tough we aren’t.” 

It got the Bulldogs to the 30-win mark for an unprecedented third year after never accomplishing the feat before Schaefer arrived. It also showed just how special this season has been for MSU after losing the four senior stars that it lost, and how difficult it is to make a run through this tournament and win it all.

The Bulldogs seed in the NCAA Tournament was not, and probably won’t, be changing as they appear to be locked in at a No. 2 barring any major changes, but this team doesn’t like to lose and that trophy is something that has driven players like Jazzmun Holmes and Teaira McCowan for the four years they’ve been on campus.

There’s not many more “firsts” for Schaefer’s program to accomplish. MSU knocked off South Carolina in the last week of the season capping a win now against every single team in the conference whether it's been home and away. The Bulldogs have got two Final Fours and two SEC regular season championships and they’ve now won the league tournament.

What’s left now? Win the whole thing, and MSU will go to work trying to do just that next week.

“We can do anything we put our minds to,” Holmes said. “This team is different from last year’s team and the year before. If we play together, execute the game plan and do what (Schaefer) says, I believe we can do it.”

Robbie Faulk is the Mississippi State women's basketball beat writer for The Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are Faulk's and not necessarily the views of the SDN or its staff.

 

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