Last second heroics, overtime semifinals and a championship around the corner, Mississippi State University women’s basketball finds themselves in a similar position to last season heading into the championship game against the University of Notre Dame.
Last year they slayed the giant, ending the University of Connecticut's 111-game win streak. It was the greatest upset in women’s college basketball history and one of the best in the history to sports. Problem was, much like the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic Hockey team, the gold medal game was around the corner. Unlike the hockey team, they fell short to the University of South Carolina 67-55 last year.
MSU left the job unfinished and head coach Vic Schaefer knew this after the game.
“We’ll be back,” Schaefer said after the loss last year.
This season culminates Sunday night. After every major milestone this season, Schaefer made it clear nothing mattered but the ultimate prize. Whether it was winning Coach of the Year awards, his players being named All-Americans and winning other accolades, or even winning the first SEC Regular Season Title in a women’s sport in school history, the theme was clear.
“We’re not done yet,” Schaefer said after capturing that regular season title.
This does not surprise anyone. Schaefer did not come to MSU to just make them good but to make them great.
“I wasn't hired at Mississippi State to bring them a top 25 basketball team,” Schaefer said on Friday night. “I was hired to bring them a top 10 program.”
The loss last season was the closest any MSU team has come to capturing a national title. Junior center Teaira McCowan, of Brenham, Texas, said the loss drove them all season long.
“It drives us because we didn't do all the small things that coach talks about,” McCowan said. “Sometimes as players, we blow coach off and say we'll do it in the game. Sometimes in the game you can't turn it off like that. So we focused on boxing out, rebounding, playing plays out, and that's gotten us to where we are today.”
In his sixth season, Schaefer brought his team and his program where he wants it. Now it is time for the program to take the final step and bring a National Title back to Starkville. Something senior guard Victoria Vivians, of Carthage, feels like they can do.
“This is our second time doing it, and we're still making history for our school,” Vivians said. “I just feel like this year, we're going to have to execute and finish it all out and be on top this time.”
Schaefer said there are multiple things already different from last season to this season. They played in the first Final Four game this year instead of the second last year. Schaefer said they got to their hotel at 1:45 a.m. last season. The team is not coming off an emotional victory over UConn, Notre Dame is. More importantly, MSU has experience on the biggest stage in women’s college basketball and that goes a long way.
This season was different than any other in Mississippi State sports history. For the first time in any sport at MSU, fans expected a championship game appearance. MSU was the giant to be slain, they were the team who felt like they could have had a title last season.
Just because it is Notre Dame on the other side and not the expected UConn, it does not mean the game will be any easier. MSU has a shot at history tomorrow. The game is set for 5 p.m. and ESPN will broadcast the game
“It's the best of the best,” Schaefer said. “So you'd better be ready.”