With Tennessee out of the way, MSU's path through the SEC clears

MSU players huddle up during their 76-45 victory over Ole Miss earlier in January.

No. 3 Mississippi State University women’s basketball cemented their spot at the top of the SEC with a tough 71-52 win over the No. 6 University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers on Sunday afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The loss for UT brings their record to 16-3 overall, and 4-2 SEC record after an 84-70 loss on Thursday to No. 5 Notre Dame (18-2, 6-1 ACC). With the loss to MSU, Tennessee’s stretch of four straight games against top 20 opponents ended with a 1-3 record.

As for the Bulldogs, MSU extended their winning streak and overall record on the season to 20-0, tying last year’s program record for best start in school history. It also makes head coach Vic Schaefer’s record as MSU's coach 144-51 and gives him a 73.8 winning percentage. This is the highest percentage by any head coach in MSU women’s basketball history.

MSU's victory now maintains firm control of their own destiny in the SEC, with a one-game lead on the University of Georgia (17-2, 5-1 SEC) and the No. 11 University of Missouri (17-2, 5-1 SEC), who are tied for second place.

The Bulldogs are also one of only two teams in women’s basketball to remain undefeated on the season with the other being the No. 1 ranked University of Connecticut (18-0, 7-0 AAC).

In the NCAA’s first Top 16 Committee Rankings, MSU is ranked second behind UConn and would be the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament if the season ended today. However, while the NCAA ranked MSU No. 2, both the AP and Coach’s Poll placed State at #3 behind the University of Louisville (20-1, 6-1 ACC), who were defeated for the first time this season Sunday night with a 50-49 game against No. 12 Florida State University (18-2, 6-1 ACC). Louisville's loss will surely lead to MSU moving up in the rankings to fall in line with the NCAA.

With this in mind, many people are already looking forward to the national championship rematch in Starkville between the No. 10 University of South Carolina Gamecocks (16-3, 5-2 SEC) and MSU on Feb. 5. The game is already being promoted in Starkville, and with good reason.

MSU has lost eleven straight games to the team and their head coach Dawn Staley, including three games last season. However, all three of the losses were on the road, so a packed Humphrey Coliseum can only be seen as a positive advantage for the Bulldogs.

Though this rematch does not have the gravity of an SEC tournament title game or a national championship, it is an important game for pride and confidence moving forward.

MSU’s 20-game winning streak came to an end last year against South Carolina, along with its SEC tournament championship and national championship hopes later in the season. However, for the Bulldogs to maintain their top position headed into this game, MSU still must play three more times against top-tier SEC foes.

Most notably, MSU must travel to face Mizzou on Feb. 1, who will be looking for an upset and the opportunity to match conference records. Missouri had impressive wins over South Carolina and No. 21 California earlier in the season. It is a tough one-two punch for the Bulldogs in early February, but so far, the ladies have shown themselves more than up to the task.

Until then, MSU will face Florida on Jan. 25 and Ole Miss on Jan. 28. The game against Florida will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville and SEC Network will broadcast it.

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