No. 2 Mississippi State University women’s basketball (21-0, 7-0 SEC) moved to 21-0 and broke last season’s record for the best start in school history on Thursday night with a 90-53 win over the University of Florida (10-11, 2-6 SEC).
Junior center Teaira McCowan led the team with 23 points, while senior guards Victoria Vivians and Blair Schaefer scored 17 and 15 points respectively.
MSU struggled after getting an early lead. In part, this was due to the Bulldog’s unusual struggles in rebounding. In both halves, they were out-rebounded by Florida both offensively and defensively.
Head coach Vic Schaefer said after the game he was, “really disappointed in our [offensive] rebounding effort. Especially coming after last week’s performance against Tennessee.”
On senior night for Victoria Vivians, she began the game by going 2-2 on jumpers and then proceeded to go on a five minute stretch where she missed two 3-pointers, a jumper and a layup in a row before finishing it up with a foul. The missed layup came after she stole the ball and went on a fast break for what should have been a simple score. After, she was visibly frustrated with herself, putting her head in her hands.
Instead of letting it bother her, she showed her maturity as a player when she was able to move past it and readjust. According to Vivians, in the huddle she thought, “We need to stop and go get a bucket.”
She also recognized how much she and the team have grown this year.
“In the past we probably would have just kept going back and forth and kept throwing it up, but I feel like the team just calmed down, slowed down, took good shots and got to the rim,” Vivians said.
This helps the team fight through bad shooting periods. This approach worked and Vivians was substituted back into the game during the second quarter, sparking the offense by going 4 for 5 with an assist to push the bulldogs to a 35-23 lead at halftime.
Blair Schaefer, however, was the crucial cog in keeping the Bulldogs ahead in the first half going 4 of 6 from three-point range for a total of 12 points in the half and 5 of 8 for the game. She also played the most minutes of anyone on the team, clocking in at 33. But Blair Schaefer said she is just enjoying the amount she has played as a senior and the players that she is surrounded with.
“I’m just having the most fun because I’m surrounded by awesome players,” Blair Schaefer said. “There (are) not many teams in the nation who have a Victoria, a Teaira, and a Morgan (William), a Ro (Johnson).”
In the second half, MSU began to fire on all cylinders, scoring 55 points, and “defense really turned into offense in the second half,” coach Schaefer said.
Florida head coach Cameron Newbauer, said after the game he felt as though his team played well, but MSU is ranked where they are for a reason. He believes MSU’s defense is really what beat them, “you have to work so hard to get good shots, and it just wears you down,” Newbauer said.
Like many opposing coaches, Newbauer also credited Teaira McCown as one of the main challenges with playing MSU.
“[Teaira]’s transformed her game,” Newbauer said. “She’s become the best center in the country in my mind.”
In the first half, McCown was held mostly out of the picture, but in the second, MSU made adjustments to move her to a different side of the court and get her the ball more. She then proceeded to explode for 17 points, reaching the 1,000 point milestone in her MSU career during the game.
But for now, MSU is looking ahead. They play the University of Mississippi (11-9,1-6 SEC) in Oxford on Sunday and coach Schaefer does not take it for granted.
Even though they beat Ole Miss on January 11 by 31 points, “They are a different team at home. We’ll have to go over there and play really well.” Schaefer said.
The game has a 1 p.m. tipoff time and ESPNU will broadcast it.