Mississippi State improved to 23-0 with an important away win over no. 15 Missouri. In the final seconds Mizzou’s star scorer Sophie Cunningham drained a game-tying three. State came out of a timeout with 10 seconds to play. Victoria Vivians, also known as “Queen Victoria” in Starkville, would take the go-ahead shot. She drove the ball into the paint, but stepped back for a jump shot just ahead of the free throw line. She was double covered by the Mizzou defense, but made the eventual game winner look easy with 4 seconds left and two sets of defenders’ hands in her face. State got another stop, Teiara McCowan drained 2 free throws on the ensuing Mizzou foul, and State came out on top 57-53.
The game was perhaps the greatest test the bulldogs had faced all season, but winning close ones and executing in crunch time is nothing new for the squad. The bulldogs boast a battle hardened roster that has been constantly improving under Head coach Vic Schaefer. Big games are becoming a regular occurrence for this team.
The next challenge will be a sold out February 5 showdown with South Carolina at Humphrey Coliseum. The NCAA and SEC championship rematch has been circled on bulldog calendars since the end of last season, and there is full confidence amongst the team, coaches, and fans that this time the matchup will end wrapped in maroon in white.
Vic Schaefer’s team is full of hardened veterans who not only know the pain of a tough loss, they know how to transform that pain into motivation. The past few seasons have seen a remarkable turnaround for a basketball program that is not a traditional power. Fans no longer wonder how long can they win, they now wonder if there is any team capable of beating them.
This South Carolina team, led by their own star scorer, A’ja Wilson, have struggled to live up to the expectations set after last season. They’re coming off a bad 25-point home loss to no. 1 UCONN, and had already suffered 3 losses prior at the hands of Notre Dame, Mizzou, and Tennessee. Every loss has been to a ranked team, but there was a noticeable gap in quality in each of the losses. Each loss saw the gamecocks concede over 80 points to their opposition, a rare occurrence for a team with a normally efficient defense.
State has struggled in the past to effectively execute their suffocating high press defense against South Carolina, but they go into this game with the 15th ranked defense and 9th ranked offense in points per game. The Bulldogs are high on confidence and will jump at the opportunity to take down the team that has arguably been their kryptonite for the previous 2 seasons.
The 2016 SEC tournament run ended in the championship game against South Carolina, last year’s winning streak ended at South Carolina, the 2017 SEC tournament run ended in the championship game against South Carolina, and the 2017 NCAA tournament run ended in the championship game against, you guessed it, South Carolina. Dawn Staley and the defending national champion gamecocks may not be favored going into Humphrey Coliseum on Monday evening, but you can bet your cowbell that the bulldogs won’t care one bit. They know what this team is capable of.
State are out for revenge, and look to further strengthen their bid for the most feared team in the country. It’s only fitting that they must go through South Carolina to continue their journey to the top.