Bulldogs eye SEC Tournament title

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2019

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is looking for another first at the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament.

His fifth-ranked Bulldogs won at South Carolina for the first time in Schaefer’s seven seasons as coach this past Sunday to win a second consecutive SEC regular-season crown. He’s hoping Mississippi State can add the league tournament to its list of never-been-done accomplishments this week in Greenville, South Carolina.

The Bulldogs (27-2, 15-1) will probably have to go through the 12th-ranked Gamecocks (21-8, 14-2), the four-time defending tournament champs, to do it.

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“I hope we’re fortunate enough to be in that game on Sunday,” Schaefer said. “But we’ll have to beat two really good teams on Friday and Saturday.”

The tournament starts Wednesday with two games — Ole Miss vs. Florida at 10 a.m. and Alabama vs. Vanderbilt at 12:30 p.m. — although the top four seeds won’t start play until Friday.

The top four seeds are No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 South Carolina, No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 4 Kentucky.

Mississippi State has endured its share of disappointment against the Gamecocks in recent years. They’ve lost three straight SEC Tournament finals to South Carolina, including last year after going 16-0 in the league and winning 32 straight overall.

And, of course, there was that stinging loss to the Gamecocks in the 2017 national championship game after the Bulldogs had upset heavily favored Connecticut, which had won its past 111 in a row.

“There’s going to be some heartache,” Schaefer said. “I believe that just gets you tougher, gets you ready for the next opportunity.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is also itching for another chance. Her team started 4-4 in its first season without All-American A’ja Wilson, but has won 14 of its past 17 games and came within a late rebound of taking down Mississippi State a few days ago.

“We always think we’ve got a shot at winning,” Staley said. “No one’s running away with the SEC and no one’s running away with the SEC Tournament. We feel good about where we are.”
Leading into the tournament, the SEC announced its All-Conference team and awards, as selected by the league’s coaches.

Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan was named the league’s overall player of the year and defensive player of the year.

McCowan won the defensive player of the year award for the second consecutive season, and is the first Mississippi State player to claim SEC Player of the Year honors since LaToya Thomas in 2003.

She led the SEC in rebounding at 13.4 per game this season and was fifth in the league in scoring at 17.3 points per game. The Brenham, Texas, native has broken MSU’s career records for rebounds (1,404) and double-doubles (63) this year. She also holds State’s record with nine career SEC player of the week awards. Her 65.4 percent field goal percentage is fifth in the nation.

Defensively, she is eighth nationally in blocks per game (2.4 bpg) and was second in the league in defensive rebounds (7.6 per game).

Schaefer and Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell were named SEC coaches of the year.

Schaefer becomes just the fifth coach in SEC history to earn Coach of the Year honors three or more times in a career, joining Staley, Pat Summitt, Van Chancellor, Joe Ciampi and Andy Landers.

Coaches chose McCowan, Mississippi State’s Anriel Howard, Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard and Maci Morris, Georgia’s Caliya Robinson, LSU’s Ayana Mitchell, Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter as first-team all-SEC players.

The coaches’ second team included South Carolina’s Te’a Cooper, Tyasha Harris and Alexis Jennings, Arkansas’ Chelsea Dungee, Auburn’s Janiah McKay, Ole Miss’ Crystal Allen, Tennessee’s Rennia Davis and Vanderbilt’s Mariella Fasoula.

SEC coaches chose Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard as freshman of the year, Missouri’s Cierra Porter as sixth woman of the year and Kentucky’s Maci Morris as student-athlete of the year.