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NCAA Team of the Week: shorthanded Mississippi State women’s basketball sinks Vanderbilt 70-63

Bulldogs improve to 11-4.

Assistant coach Eddie Benton and senior guard Anastasia Hayes discuss strategy vs Vanderbilt on Jan. 9, 2022
Austin Perryman/MSU Athletics

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Mississippi State women’s basketball team won a second straight Southeastern Conference game, holding off the Vanderbilt Commodores on Sunday at home by a score of 70-63.

The Bulldogs were down two assistant coaches and only had seven available players for the game, which is the minimum number of scholarship players allowed to proceed with the game. SEC leading scorer and John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list nominee Rickea Jackson was unavailable for the second straight tilt, and graduate forward Raven Farley was also ruled out for the game.

MSU’s success during this dearth of player availability caught the eye of the NCAA, which recognized the Bulldogs squad as its team of the week. The Bulldogs (11-4) advanced their record to 11-4 (2-1 SEC), while the Commodores fell to 10-6 (1-1 SEC).

The first quarter was a defensive battle, with MSU turning the ball over to the Commodores’ full-court press. The Bulldogs also struggled to find seams in the Vandy’s zone defense, settling for outside shots and only shooting 1-for-6 from 3-point distance. The Commodores held a 15-11 advantage after the first frame and pushed their lead out to 10 points early in the second quarter.

Interim coach Doug Novak called a timeout to cool the Commodores down, and the Bulldogs seemed to get stronger and make better decisions from that point through each subsequent quarter in the game. MSU finished the first half on a 15-4 run to hold a 28-27 advantage at halftime, with redshirt senior guard Anastasia Hayes leading the charge with 11 points in the second quarter.

MSU edged out to a six-point advantage, but Vandy navigated its way back into the lead by the end of the frame by a slim 46-45 margin. Both teams battled in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, with each team taking the lead briefly. Novak called another timeout after the Commodores notched a 52-49 advantage. The Bulldogs responded with a 14-0 run sparked by four steals to take control of the game. Vandy was able to close the gap to within five points late in the game, but MSU cemented the victory with a 70-63 final score.

This win required a complete team effort. Redshirt senior guard Anastasia Hayes paced the Bulldogs with a season-high 31 points, while graduate guard Caterrion Thompson netted 10 points and grabbed three steals. Sophomore guard JerKaila Jordan filled up the stat line with 11 points, five rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals.

Junior guard Aislynn Hayes poured in three 3-pointers that came at key junctures in the game. Freshman center Denae Carter led the Bulldogs with seven rebounds and also added three points, two assists, two blocks and three steals. Carter’s efforts in the past two games earned her recognition as the SEC’s freshman of the week for the second time this season.

MSU outscored Vandy with a 31-11 margin in points off turnovers, but the Commodores held an 18-8 advantage in second chance points and a 15-7 margin in fast-break points. The Bulldogs improved their field goal percentage each quarter, rising from 33.3% in the first quarter to 64.3% in the fourth quarter. MSU also shot above its season averages for both 3-point shots and free throws.

This Bulldogs appear to be gelling at the right time to try to remain competitive in conference play. The team appears to be buying into the coaching staff’s system and the Bulldogs remain incredibly resilient so far in the face of coaching changes, injuries, COVID-19 scheduling, player impacts and other issues affecting player availability.

Vandy had two players in double figures in the game, led by freshman guard Iyana Moore’s 20 points and freshman forward Sacha Washington’s 14 points.