Vic Schaefer doesn’t have his Bulldogs rolling. He’s got them absolutely dominating. The head coach for Mississippi State women’s basketball, Schaefer’s team is winning games by an average of 56 points this season, filling out completely mismatched stat sheets on a daily basis.
MSU is out-shooting opponents 44 percent to 30, out-rebounding opponents 51-29, out-blocking opponents by a total of 34-10, and in only five games, the Bulldogs have racked up 65 steals and 117 assists. They don’t just look good, they look great.
On Wednesday, Schaefer’s ladies will get their first taste of greatness fighting back against them. With MSU ranked No. 9 in the country, they travel to Austin to play against No. 6 Texas, one of the nation’s most talented teams playing some of the country’s best basketball this year.
“I think everybody wants to know how good we are and I think we’re gonna get an opportunity to see on Wednesday,” Schaefer said after his team beat Savannah State 92-25 Sunday afternoon. “I’m excited to see our team and see how we compete in that environment.”
As he notes, it’s a challenge on two fronts, not only is Texas good, but it’s the first road game of the year for MSU and it will come in what promises to be a raucous environment. The game will be an entirely new set of challenges for this year’s team, but one they’ll have to get used to quickly. After what seemed to be a fairly easy November schedule, December holds more than a couple marquee matchups for MSU, both at home and on the road. Then, of course, will come the SEC schedule in the spring, a gauntlet through the best conference in the country.
It will be tough, sure, but in more cases than not, MSU will be the team with the target on its back, not the other way around as it was for so many years. The stakes are higher now, but just that’s how Schaefer wants it, even if it means a few lopsided wins at home along the way.
“I hope my fans are bored,” Schaefer half-joked Sunday. “I hope they’re bored and tired of the 50 and 60-point blowouts. But you know what, four years ago we sat here and were competing our tail off to win by 10. We’ve got a better team and we’ve got better players. Now it’s time to go see how we stack up against the big girls.”
For the most part, the stars of this team are known, led by a pair of sophomores coming off breakout freshman campaigns. Sophomore guard Victoria Vivians, unsurprisingly, leads the team in scoring at just over 18 points per game, while point guard Morgan William has an almost hard to believe 29-3 assist-to-turnover count after five games as a sophomore.
One of the newest stars, however, is 6’7” forward Teaira McCowan, a freshman with a frame rarely seen in women’s basketball. Coming off the bench for roughly 15 minutes per game so far, she’s second on the team 13.6 points per game and leads all Bulldogs in rebounds (9.4 per game) and blocked shots with a total of 12.
It’s performances like hers off the bench that will be vital to MSU’s continued success, as Schaefer has noted a change in what he has available beyond his five starters. The talent is there for him throughout the roster, but despite their Top-10 ranking, these Bulldogs are still quite young with six of their top eight scorers classified as freshmen or sophomores and only one senior on the entire roster.
“Last year, we brought three seniors off the bench,” Schaefer noted. “This year, we’re bringing two freshmen and two sophomores off the bench.”
It’s a change, and one Schaefer knew in the preseason his team would have to adjust to quickly, but to this point, he thinks they’ve done it, saying he’s seen what he needed to see and feels good about the group of reserves. That confidence is key as it allows those in the starting lineup to feel comfortable playing as hard as they can with the knowledge that they can take a breather on the bench without a drop-off on the court.
Ultimately, MSU’s season will be decided by what happens in conference play and into the postseason. But for now, the first big test comes in the form of the Longhorns and a big-time game between a pair of Top-10 teams Wednesday night.
“These are the matchups you’re looking for,” Schaefer said. “I feel really good about our team right now. We’ve got great chemistry. I think you can see that when you’re watching us play.”