Mississippi State started their historic season 20-0, dominating every opponent that stepped in front of them. However, adversity struck towards the end of the season that resulted in State dropping three of their last five games heading into The Dance. The high expectations and hopeful goals were not looking as great as they once did a month ago.
So the man leading the charge made a bold move in hopes to redirect the season.
Vic Schaefer decided to pull some strings to create a spark going into the NCAA Tournament. Schaefer chose to go out on a limb and make a bold change to his starting line up - benching all but one regular starter for the tournament opener. Morgan William remained in the starting five, but Dominique Dillingham, Breanna RIchardson, Chinwe Okorie, and Victoria Vivians - one of the best players across the country - started the first game of March Madness on the bench.
The result? A weekend that consisted of an offense that did not break 50 in the SEC Tournament Championship Game scoring a combined 202 points in the first weekend dancing.
The spark pulled off in a big way.
The 2nd-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs are heading to their second consecutive Sweet Sixteen after defeating 7th-seeded DePaul by twenty one points Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of over six thousands fans to complete their two game weekend stretch.
The Bulldogs have all the talent in the world and the coach leading them to make a historic run to the Final Four, but it was obvious towards the end of the season that the same spark that was there during the first four months of the season was missing. At the wrong time.
The decision to bench all but one starter seems questionable to those outside the program; however, the team responded in dominant fashion this weekend.
On Friday afternoon, 15th-seeded Troy was simply no match for the high powered Bulldogs. The Trojans played it close in the first quarter, keeping it a six point game going into the second period, but it was all Maroon and White from there. Schaefer’s squad outscored their first round opponent 83-48 over the last three frames en route to a blowout victory.
Blair Schaefer made her presence felt. The coach’s daughter was inserted into the starting five and played big time, leading the home team with 21 points and 5 rebounds. Vivians and Richardson added 13 and 10, respectively, off the bench in their new role. The 100-69 victory was a complete team effort that the Bulldogs needed with better competition ahead.
After defeating Northern Iowa, 7th-seeded DePaul was set to take on the 2nd-seeded ‘Dogs on Sunday.
The game was back and forth early, as the teams went into the second quarter locked up at 17. The teams battled to a 38-37 halftime score, showing that Blue Demons were going to make State earn it.
The Bulldogs did exactly that.
Whether it was an amazing halftime speech, the energetic crowd, or just some much-needed confidence, the women started making their shots and blew the game open in the third quarter. State took advantage of a 14-0 run midway through the third quarter to gain control of the game. DePaul began to battle back towards the end of the third, but Mississippi State outscored the Demons by 20 points in the second half. Blair Schaefer continued her impressive play by dropping 18 points, Jazzmun Holmes added 14, and Vivians contributed 12 points off the bench to help State advance to Oklahoma City behind a dominating 92-71 victory.
This is the team the Maroon and White fan base recognized for most of the season - an elite team capable of knocking out anyone.
Mississippi State is heading to their second consecutive Sweet Sixteen.
Vic Schaefer has completely changed the entire Women’s Basketball program at Mississippi State. It was not that long ago that women’s hoops was an afterthought; however, it has turned into a hot ticket in town. The team has captured the heart of Mississippi State fans and is right up there with the three major sports in terms of fan interest and support. Schaefer has set expectations and standards in his program that has resulted in Mississippi State becoming one of the better women’s hoops programs in the land. Because of the standards Schaefer has set, Sunday’s victory did not feel any different than a February conference win. The fifth-year coach has brought excitement and confidence to a program looking to make more history this season.
The squad looks to be hitting their stride at the right time. The new rotation has seemingly given a fresh spark to a team that is one of the best in the nation when clicking.
Mississippi State will play the winner of Monday evening’s 3rd-seeded Washington/6th-seeded Oklahoma game Friday night in Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Get your tickets here!