Bulldogs gear up for test from Oregon

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mississippi State has shown so far this season that there’s been little dropoff from last year’s run to the NCAA women’s basketball championship game.

It just hasn’t had a chance to fully prove it.

The Bulldogs (9-0) have only faced one ranked team this season, and they’ll only play one more before the Southeastern Conference schedule begins on New Year’s Eve.

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That one big test comes Wednesday night, when No. 9 Oregon visits Humphrey Coliseum for a Top 10 showdown. Oregon (8-1) has won five consecutive games and is coming off a 98-38 rout of Southern Utah.

“We’re going to find out Wednesday night, going against Oregon, how good we are. We’ve played well against some good teams. My message to our team is going to be, ‘Hey, Oregon won by 60 last time and scored 98 points,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said after his team beat Little Rock 86-48 on Sunday.

Schaefer said Oregon has a lot of similarities to Mississippi State’s 2016-17 squad, in that both have returned the majority of their roster following successful seasons.

Oregon reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last season, where it lost to top-seeded Connecticut.

“They’re similar to us a year ago. We were a Sweet 16 team with everybody back. They’re an Elite Eight team with everybody back, and the No. 1 player in the country in that recruiting class on their team,” Schaefer said. “If that doesn’t get your attention and ready to go, I don’t know what will.”

This year, the Ducks are third in the country in scoring at 90.3 points per game, sixth in field goal percentage (51.0) and fifth in three-point percentage (43.1). The only time they’ve scored less than 80 was in their only loss, a 74-61 defeat against No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 19. Oregon has scored more than 100 points twice already this season.

Four players, led by Sabrina Ionescu, are averaging in double figures in points. Ionescu is averaging 17.1 points per game, along with 8.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds. She has six career triple-doubles, one short of tying the NCAA record.

“Oregon is going to spread you out. All their players can shoot the 3,” said MSU center Teaira McCowan, who is averaging 15.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

Mississippi State counters with a defense that allows only 53.0 points per game. That ranks eighth in Division I. It is also scoring 82.9 points per game in its own right.

Schaefer said tough, hard-nosed defense and the attitude it brings is what he’s tried to base the program around during his time in Starkville. The Bulldogs have become one of the top teams in the country while working hard and staying humble, and he’d like to keep it that way.

“There’s just a way of life around here that we do things. It’s how we’ve been successful,” Schaefer said. “If we start getting into ourselves, or start thinking I’m this or I’m that, or I don’t have to do that, we’re not very good. We have to be that lunch pail, hard hat team that’s going to bring it every night and make people miserable.”

• Tuesday, 6 p.m.
• TV: SEC Network

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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