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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Bulldogs to battle SEC rival Gamecocks in National Championship

Alayna Stevens | Photographer

After the historic 66-64 overtime win over UConn, Mississippi State looks forward to the national championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday.

            Even with the buzzer beater that shocked the world, Coach Schaefer said it is understandably difficult to prepare for another game when the Bulldogs just beat the best team in history of women’s college basketball. It is a mandatory task to undergo in order to complete championship run in Dallas. Schaefer said the team knows the game against South Carolina is the most important one to look forward to.

“They had a really good understanding of there’s another one down the line that’s even bigger.” Coach Schaefer said. “It’s hard to say knowing you just beat UConn and their streak, but there’s another game bigger than that one that gives you a chance to win a national championship.”

South Carolina poses a problem for Mississippi State, as they have successfully stopped the Bulldogs’ success in previous meets this season. The Gamecocks have taken both games in the season series, handing Mississippi State two of their four losses in the 2016-17 season. On Jan. 23, South Carolina snapped Mississippi State’s 20 game win streak, their best start in school history, winning 64-61 in Columbia, SC. Their second win deemed the Gamecocks as the SEC division champions winning, 59-49 in Greenville, SC.

    Gamecock Head Coach Dawn Staley said that though this is their third meetup with Mississippi State, she knows Vic Schaefer wouldn’t bring the same dynamic for the Bulldogs. The national championship gives teams like Mississippi State a chance to redeem themselves and learn from their mistakes from the season.

    “For how the games played out, they could have gone either way,” Coach Staley said. “You’re playing for a national championship. You’ve got to throw all of that out the door.”

    The challenge ahead is nothing new from Mississippi State. Head Coach Vic Schaefer feels the team must match South Carolina’s success on the perimeter and also their dominant weapon in the paint, 6’5’ forward A’ja Wilson. Schaefer referred to Wilson as the best player in the nation. He knows the Bulldogs will have to rattle her shot and keep her from getting easy putbacks to uplift Carolina to their first title in program history.

    “She’s very active, she’s physical,” Schaefer said. “She’s a constant worker and a competitor. She wants to be in these moments.”

    A’ja Wilson has had success against Mississippi State before. She collected 26 points for the Gamecocks in January, but in March, Teaira McCowan and Chinwe Okorie showed their resistance against Wilson. Coach Staley said that Wilson will have to perform at the five position well to pull away from the Bulldogs.

“We know where we have areas of success in, so we don’t have to force anything,” Coach Staley said. “We need shots at the rim. We can efficiently score the basketball when that’s taking place.”

In the division title game, compared to Wilson’s nine rebounds, McCowan collected 12 in the loss to the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks doubled teamed McCowan which left shooters open for Mississippi State, allowing a window for points on the perimeter. McCowan said if she can enhance the same techniques as the championship game, she can hold Wilson off and help Mississippi State past South Carolina.

“We got the ball inside and I scored or I kicked the ball out,” McCowan said. “ I gave it to the open man when I was being double teamed. I have to find my open shooters.”

    With McCowan’s plan, the Bulldogs will have to shoot well against the Gamecocks. The Bulldogs averaged 37% in shooting in both previous games, compared to the Gamecocks averaging 47%.

    Mississippi State has had success at the guard positions with Victoria Vivians and Morgan William. Victoria Vivians has had double digits in the game since the tournament has started and said that consistency is needed to pull off the final game.

    “I have to continue executing on defense and offense.” Vivians said. “I feel like if I keep doing what I’ve been doing we should have a great outcome in the game.”

    With one of the Gamecocks’ offensive options answered for in the paint, it poses another threat for the Bulldogs on defense. Even with the usual team leader center senior Alaina Coates out with an ankle injury, South Carolina has had consistency amongst the perimeter with guards Kaela Davis and Tyasha Harris.

Coach Schaefer said the Gamecocks have adjusted without Coates and poses another problem now that she is injured and they were forced to find other answers. The Gamecocks depth on the roster are keeping them alive in the tournament.

“They’ve created a real interesting piece in space on the floor that maybe with Alaina they didn’t have,” Coach Schaefer said. “Obviously, Davis is just playing with so much confidence right now.”

Kaela Davis has been the saving grace for the Gamecocks late in the season.Though Kaela only scored 6 points in the 62-53 win against the Stanford Cardinals, Davis seems to find a rhythm against the Bulldogs collecting 23 points in the division title game. The Gamecocks offensively versatility will keep the Bulldogs on their toes.

South Carolina’s Allisha Gray blazed the floor against Stanford, scoring a team leading 18 points. Coach Staley refers to her as the ‘silent assassin’ as she keeps the Gamecocks in the game as teams focus to throw other players off of their game. It will be critical for the Bulldogs to stay intact with the diverse options the Gamecocks can choose from the make plays.

The consistent defensive answer for the Bulldogs, Dominique Dillingham, said that Mississippi State has learned from its mistake of paying too much attention in the paint and giving the Gamecocks a chance to find open answers on the floor.

“Sometimes, we put so much focus A’ja (Wilson), that we fall asleep on the outside,” Dillingham said. “I think we just have to try our best and we can’t forget about their perimeter players as well. We have to focus on the guards.”

The Bulldog’s defense pressure has to stay consistent against Coach Staley’s classic guard performance. Coach Schaefer said he is looking forward to the matchup of the game and knows the championship will not be easily won to avoid a 3-0 sweep from South Carolina in the season.

“They’re extremely tough,” Coach Schaefer said. “They’re physical. They play the way we do. If we’ll play how we typically play, we’ll have a chance in the ball game.”
    The Mississippi State Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks will meet for the 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship in Dallas, Texas on Sunday at 5 p.m. CT. This will be both team’s first shot at a program-first national title.

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Bulldogs to battle SEC rival Gamecocks in National Championship