When I was growing up, I used to go watch MSU women's basketball games from time to time with my grandfather. He was a season ticket holder for the longest, and he always enjoyed a nice courtside seat to watch Sharon Fanning's teams play. Because of that, I was fortunate enough to watch some of the greatest -- regardless of gender -- players to ever play at MSU like LaToya Thomas and Tan White. Those two had the ability to take over a game like I've never seen before, and with their help, Mississippi State reached heights it had never reached before in the sport.
Sadly, during those years there existed an immovable object known to some as Pat Summit's Tennessee teams, so Mississippi State's success was always impeded by the ridiculously good Volunteers. Nevertheless, those teams were so much fun to watch, and if what I saw last night is any indicator, Vic Schaefer might have brought that fun back to Starkville.
I had a feeling last spring when Victoria Vivians signed with Mississippi State that things could be special this year. Superstars like her typically go out of state -- I watched helplessly as April Sykes came to every MSU home game then attended Rutgers -- so getting her to stay in-state was a huge, huge win for Vic heading into his third season at State. Last night was the first time I've had the chance to watch her play since she reached college, and I was impressed. She can absolutely fill it up, and literally no shot inside of the half court line is out of range for her. It's hard to overstate how much a player like that can mean for a team; we're talking turning a 17-win team into a 22+ win team easily. Players like her can take over games by themselves, and they become literally unguardable, like you're playing NBA Jam and your player's on fire. That's what LaToya and Tan did for their teams back in the early 2000s, and that's what I believe Victoria can do for this year's team.
But for Mississippi State, Vivians is hardly it. Fellow freshman Morgan William had 29 to lead all scorers in the previous game, and MSU has had at least three players in double digits in scoring in every game so far. Which is good, because to win in the women's game you need three things to be successful: 1) a shooter (which they have); 2) size (seven players over 6'); and 3) defense, which MSU played in droves last night, and which Vic Schaefer is known for. Last night the Lady Dogs held the Lady 'Eers (a top 25 team, btw) to under 40% shooting from the field while forcing them into 24 turnovers. They frustrated them with length and tenacious defense, and they limited their opportunities on offense by out-rebounding them 48-44.
Oh, and they did all that without their best player from 2013 -- 6'4", preseason 1st-team All-SEC center Martha Alwal -- ever seeing the floor. So yeah, this team is good, and they'll only get better when Alwal and others come back.
This peek at the stat line from last night tells you how good Victoria is. In the first half at one point, she was 2-of-10 shooting. She finished 10-of-23, scoring 22 of her 26 points in the second half. Another peek at the stat line tells you how good the TEAM is, too: Points in the paint - WVU 28, MS 30. Points off turnovers - WVU 14, MS 26. 2nd chance points - WVU 10, MS 26. Fast break points - WVU 15, MS 8. They also trailed by as many as seven in the first half, yet they won going away, which shows that once the depth and talent takes over, they can play with anyone.
So while you are deservedly paying a lot of attention to MSU football, and while you may be excited for MSU men's basketball starting, I implore you to pay attention to what Vic Schaefer's team can do this year. I would hate for you to miss out on the best kept secret in MSU sports, and maybe in all of women's college basketball.