I don’t know whether to call it old school because of the style or new school because of the way he used the roster, but this much I am confident saying: that was a classic Vic Schaefer win. Low scoring (for the most part), physical, and back-and-forth. Heated, emotional and in question until the final minutes. It was a team win, a true full-team effort by a group who has faced the best the country has to offer every week from November to now.
The matchup was billed as superstars versus super team, and in this instance, Mississippi State’s depth and determination proved to be the more dominant force as MSU took down Washington and their stars 75-64. The Huskies made their history in the regular season. The Bulldogs are making theirs in the postseason. But forget, for a second, the milestone that this win was. We’ll get to that in a moment. This game deserves to exist in its own vacuum for at least a little while.
MSU went up against the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, the leading rebounder in college basketball this season and a coach who came from the same Gary Blair coaching tree as Schaefer. And won. And they didn’t win on a lucky buzzer-beater, or a questionable call by a referee, or because one of UW’s best players got hurt or any odd happenstance that could be considered an excuse. There were no asterisks. There were no mitigating circumstances. There was nothing but State going out and being the best team on the court for 40-straight minutes of game play.
“I’m awfully proud of my kids tonight,” Schaefer said. “I was so proud of what they were able to take in three days from a defensive standpoint.”
It was game that required strong performances from MSU’s best players in their toughest matchups. Teaira McCowan, going against one of the best forwards college basketball has to offer, dropped 26 points and wrangled in 12 rebounds, notching a double-double of her own against the player with most double-doubles in the country this season. That’s not even mentioning McCowan’s six blocks and two assists. Victoria Vivians, MSU’s All-SEC leading scorer, took on the challenge of facing the NCAA’s leading scorer, producing both offensively and defensively as she came off the bench to score 13 points, notch four rebounds and accrue two assists.
Throughout the lineup, Bulldogs found ways to make plays and impact the game. Players like Morgan William, whose scoring output was minimal, found open teammate after open teammate as the game advanced, setting them up for success and racking up assists along the way. Blair Schaefer hit shots, Ketara Chapel pulled in rebounds, Dominique Dillingham defended the perimeter.
“It was just a team effort,” Dillingham said.
Remove any one person from the game, and MSU may not have won. They didn’t depend on one player; they depended on all the players. And by doing so, they proved themselves worthy of making history.
It’s been said by him, written by me, and remarked upon by all who follow the team. Schaefer can’t seem to go a day lately without setting some kind of record, be it a team, individual or even fan achievement. I’d be amazed if Schaefer could remember even a third of the records he’s responsible for if not given a heads up the question was coming. I certainly couldn’t and it’s my job to follow those things
But this one is different. This one is something he won’t forget, something all MSU fans can hold onto. By winning in Oklahoma City, the Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. In all the years that women’s basketball has been played at Mississippi State, never has any team achieved as much as this bunch. No one has won more games. When they started hugging and celebrating on the court as the final seconds ticked off the clock, they did so knowing that none had made it farther, that in only five years under Schaefer, they were in their third NCAA Tournament and moving on to a round that had never before included Mississippi State.
“I have so much pride in these girls because I know how hard they work,” Schaefer said. “I’m a little disappointed in the country right now that we’re not getting the respect we deserve … And you know what, that’s fine. We’ll fly under the radar all the way if we have to.”
On Sunday, they get the chance to make history again with the Final Four on the line.