The Arkansas women’s basketball team got to Starkville last weekend fresh off an upset of the No. 10 team in the country, riding a wave of strong play and growing momentum. In their game against Mississippi State, they practically shut down Bulldog star Victoria Vivians after the first quarter, relegating her to only 23 minutes of action on the court. Similarly, electric sophomore point guard Morgan William (who has been dealing with an injury) had only two total points in just 26 minutes of game play.
Razorbacks head coach Jimmy Dykes was asked after the game, if he had been told all of that beforehand, what kind of result would he have predicted? Surely, he would have picked his team to win knowing he held one of the country’s best players in check for the majority of the game.
“They’ve got more than just her,” Dykes quickly retorted, speaking about Vivians. ““I know she leads them in scoring. They’ve got other players than her. They stepped up today.”
And that’s why, despite what could have been good signs, MSU won in blowout fashion, taking down Arkansas 80-55.
Sunday’s performance was the perfect example of why Vic Schaefer’s Bulldogs are No. 6 in the country with a 16-1 record. It took some time to recruit and develop the talent, but MSU is far more than just one or two players now. Even as the season has gone along, that’s become more evident.
In fact, following that big win over Arkansas, Schaefer expressed a wish to play Texas again, the undefeated No. 4 team in the nation who gave MSU its only loss on December 2.
“I’d love to have that one back and do it again, because I think, right now, we certainly aren’t one or two-dimensional,” he said Sunday night. “I think we’re multi-dimensional and that’s what makes us so hard to defend.”
Of course, when those first and second dimensions are working well, MSU is hard to beat then, too. The Bulldogs need Vivians and William to play at their best if they want to beat the best, but Schaefer and the team have come to count on getting big performances from all over the roster.
On Sunday, it was juniors Ketara Chapel and Dominique Dillingham, with 19 and 16 points respectively, who stepped up. It was freshman point guard Jazzmun Holmes, too, who has stepped in for William when needed and has an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of just over 3:1 this season.
“It really takes some pressure off of Victoria and some of those others,” Schaefer said of the production he gets from his depth. “I don’t think there’s any question, we’re dependent on it … A lot of it has to do with how fearless they play. They’re confident. If we’re going to be as good as everybody thinks we are right now, this isn’t about one player.”
When Chapel had her big game against Arkansas, it was important for so many reasons. Not just because Vivians and William weren’t able to play as much, but because junior forward and typical starter Breanna Richardson was out with a concussion. When Chapel’s time came, when her production was needed, she delivered.
“I had to step up,” she said. “It shows that we have a lot of depth. People step up every night so we don’t have to depend on Victoria, even though we know she’s a great player.”
Chapel is very right, of course, that Vivians is a great player. Despite limited action, Sunday was still her 16th-straight game to score in double figures, tallying 13 total points. Her 16 points per game in SEC play leads MSU and is fourth overall in the conference.
Tonight, MSU is on the road against No. 24 Missouri, where the Bulldogs will once again depend on their stars as well as their depth. The target is on their back this year, but Schaefer feels comfortable with his team’s ability to handle the pressure.
“I’ve said it 100 times in here. You can go play bad on the road and if you get beat, you’re going to be embarrassed,” he said. “I think our kids understand that. I think for us it’s just one game at a time. You can’t look too far ahead. You just have to focus on one game at a time.”