The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Bulldogs take on Huskies in Sweet Sixteen

Around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the No. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs said goodbye to fans before traveling to Oklahoma City to face the No. 3 Washington Huskies on Friday. 

This is the first time the Bulldogs have gone to the Sweet Sixteen in back-to-back seasons, and although this is a mark of excellence to the program, Head Coach Vic Schaefer and the team expect nothing less than to complete more records as their time in March Madness continues. 

“This is the new norm at Mississippi State,” Schaefer said. “This is what we do. This is the way it’s supposed to be and what we had in mind. We wanted this toughness piece, the chemistry and this bond.” 

Coach Schaefer said the team’s maturity is showing, and having a heavy junior-senior roster is what is leading them so far. Compared to last year’s win against Michigan State to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, Schaefer sees a change in the team’s perspective about how far they’ve come and how far they can go. 

“I just think our kids are in that certain mode,” Coach Schaefer said. “I’ve watched games on TV and seen teams party like it was New Year’s Eve in the locker room. You walk into mine, and mine are saying ‘Okay what’s next?’ They’re going about their business and I give them a lot of credit.”

The further the Bulldogs get in the tournament, the harder the teams to beat become. It is something that Mississippi State expects and a challenge they have accepted coming off two big wins in the two rounds at home. Their next opponent is their most equally competitive, the Washington Huskies. 

The Huskies pose as the biggest threat to Mississippi State’s continuity in the tournament so far. Led by Head Coach Mike Neighbors, the Huskies finished the season with a 29-5 record and ranked No. 12 in the nation while Mississippi State finished 31-4 and No. 7 in the nation. 

Although this will be Coach Neighbors’ and Coach Schaefer’s first match up at their current schools, the honored coaches are no strangers to one another. The coaches both served under head coach Gary Blair’s staff at the University of  Arkansas. Blair currently serves as the Head Coach at Texas A&M. 

Both teams have depth throughout their roster. Schaefer started his usual bench players in the March Madness tournament, comfortable with their experiences and growth while the usual starters split up their minutes.

“Those kids coming off the bench, they’ve been ready.” Coach Schaefer said. “They’ve answered the call and helped us out all year. Every one of mine want to play. They’re bringing it everyday.”

The bench players of the team have had undeniable success during the tournament. Blair Schaefer scored a combined 39 points and had back-to-back stellar performances. Freshman Ameshya Williams and sophomore Jazzmun Holmes also showed their grit on the floor, exemplifying a bright future for MSU’s women’s basketball.

 The Huskies’ roster is filled with history makers and undeniable talent. The Huskies are led by Kelsey Plum, a dynamic player at the guard position.

 Plum is the all time leading scorer in the NCAA, averaging 31.8 points per game and shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Plum’s latest performance supports her historic career in the 108-82 win against No. 6 Oklahoma. She earned 11 assists and scored 38 points. Coach Schaefer said he won’t be reluctant to conjure up defensive traps for her, to force Plum into risky decision making, closing her shooting window to force bad shots for the shooter. 

“We’re going to try to do a good job defending her,” Coach Schaefer said. “She’s got a lot of things in her game that makes her hard to handle, it’s probably not going to be up to one person. At the end of the day- it’ll be about kids playing, defending and executing against her. You have to have more than one plan against her.”

 Plum is not the only great scorer for the Huskies as she successfully spreads the ball to her teammates. In the win against Oklahoma, the team collected 18 three pointers, showing the Bulldogs that they will have to find an answer in their defense to adapt to Washington’s versatile offensive strategies. The defensive answer is expected to be the one MSU has been relying on all year, Dominique Dillingham.

“Everybody was so worried about her and helping them off their man,” Dillingham said. “The other players are knocking down their shots but I want to play my best defense so I can help my team win. Plum’s a great player so I’ll have to be really focused on Friday.”

Plum’s dominance does create a problem for MSU’s usual defense. The Bulldogs have success on defense with double and triple teaming, leaving players open. This will create opportunities for Washington to score. 

Alongside Plum, senior Chanel Osahor tops the nation in rebounding. Osahor controls the paint, dominating with 15.4 rebounds per game and 15.8 points per game. Against Oklahoma, Osahor played 37 of the 40 minutes, collecting the per usual 15 rebounds, 16 points and seven assists. 

MSU has the height advantage coming into the game with Teaira McCowan at 6’7” and Chinwe Okorie at 6’5”. Osahor stands at 6’2”. McCowan said she will take her experiences as a freshman in the tournament and apply them to have a better outcome than last year’s team. 

“Last year, I was holding myself back,” McCowan said. “This year, I’ve been listening to my coaches and taking it in. I know it’s right so I’m buying in and it’s really brought me a long way.” 

McCowan said she believes her experience with battling other dominant centers will help her control Osahor and give her an advantage. She regarded her matchup with South Carolina forward All-SEC A’ja Wilson as a guide to help her persevere against Osahor. 

“We guarded A’ja, so it’s nothing more than guarding her,” McCowan said. “She can knock down a shot as much as A’ja can. We have to play like we’ve been playing at the five.” 

Although the Huskies pose as a dominant force, Coach Schaefer believes the Bulldogs will survive the challenge ahead.

“We’ve got our hands full no questions about it,” Schaefer said. “We’ll be up to the challenge and we’ll prepare this week. These kids will have great focus.” 

If the Bulldogs can beat the Huskies, it will be the furthest they have ventured into the NCAA tournament. Mississippi State looks to improve to 32-4 overall and achieve the 202nd win for Coach Schaefer. The Sweet Sixteen game’s tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday. It will be televised on ESPN2. 

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Reflector

Your donation will support the student journalists of Mississippi State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Reflector

Comments (0)

All The Reflector Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Bulldogs take on Huskies in Sweet Sixteen