STARKVILLE, Miss. – It was two years ago and mostly different staff on both sides. But Tennessee's last visit to the state of Mississippi has since haunted Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer. It was late February 2017 and the Bulldogs' regular season final was a chance to win in front of a packed house here at the Humphrey Coliseum for a share of the SEC's regular season title.
But Tennessee loaded them with, as Schaefer reminded, "the WNBA version of the Lady Vols", winning the 82-64 victory. The season went well for the Mississippi State with the program's first trip to the Final Four and an epic win there against UConn in the semifinal. But this loss to Tennessee still ate at Schaefer and the upper class players of the state of Mississippi who lived it.
Schaefer reminded his Bulldogs how good they could be if everyone was focused and on fire. And although it was not until the fourth quarter that everything was fully operational, the state of Mississippi became a roaring hell. The Bulldogs took the win 91-63 – leaving Tennessee in their worst loss to the SEC – and showed that they were part of the mix of teams that could head to Tampa, Florida in April.
This is not a new The Bulldogs are No. 6 in the country, 22-1 in total and 10-0 in the SEC. But with so much enthusiasm and upheaval in women's basketball, the state of Mississippi has been neglected, sitting just outside of a No. 1 seed, according to agrologist Charlie Creme.
The appearance of the Bulldogs Sunday, especially with their fourth quarter at 30 points, is clear that they can play with anyone.
"I see no reason why they can not compete for a [national] Holly Warlick, Tennessee coach, says, "These athletes are athletes who specialize in different fields. I think that they have an excellent chance. You can not make a lot of mistakes against them, as you see. "
Mr. Schaefer said, "It was a very good day. It's as good as we have been playing for a long time. And against a team that I respect a lot and that I think to be really talented. "
Tennessee had come back from a six-game loss to win its last three games before heading to the state of Mississippi. But Sunday, the Lady Flights did not have their best scorer, goalkeeper Evina Westbrook, who had to miss the game after missing a class. They earned 29 points from Rennia Davis and lost six points with two and a half minutes in the third quarter.
Then, led by their guards and their posts, the Bulldogs took off and left the Lady Flights in the dust. The 28-point margin is tied for the Tennessee's second worst-worst defeat in the history of the Tennessee program, after a 31-point loss without conference against Texas in 1984. The Lady Vols also lost 28 points against Notre Dame in 2012; Previously, they had been 27 victims of Georgia against Georgia in 2000.
This is how bad the state of Mississippi can be. this has gone from a tight match to a historic eruption in the last 12½ minutes.
This is only the fifth time the Bulldogs have defeated the Lady Vols. They did not do it until 2016, ending a wave of misery in a series that for nearly 30 years was as safe as in the SEC. Even against the best teams in Mississippi State – and there were good ones – Tennessee has always won.
The Lady Vols (15-8 total, 4-6 SEC) must now end the season in strength to not miss the NCAA tournament. They are the only team to play in every tournament since its debut in 1982.
The SEC's power structure in women's basketball has changed dramatically in recent years, and the state of Mississippi has played a big role. The Bulldogs won their first regular season title last season at 16-0 and made a comeback in the Final Four final. This time, they lost their hearts in front of Notre Dame in the NCAA finals.
They still have not won a SEC tournament title – they will try to do it in Greenville, South Carolina next month – and, of course, are still looking for their first national championship. But there were many happy faces in the Hump Sunday, while 10,021 fans celebrated with a team that, despite the loss of four starters for the second year in a row, aspires to be the best in the country.
The Teaira McCowan Center led the way with 24 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots. Striker Anriel Howard also proceeded to a double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Bulldogs' guard was also outstanding on Sunday. The former Jordan Danberry, who was transferred from Arkansas to Mississippi, averaged only 2.8 points and 9.6 minutes last season for the Bulldogs, while he was playing behind Former Victoria Vivians, Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer and Morgan William. This year, Danberry averages 13.3 points and 26.5 minutes. On Sunday, she scored 20 points on 10 shots out of 15.
His fellow countryman Jazzmun Holmes averaged 4.2 points and 14.8 minutes last season; this year, these figures are 7.8 and 28.4, plus 119 aids for 26 turnarounds. Holmes had seven points, eight assists and one turnover against the Lady Vols. Bre's Sophomores' Amber Scott, with 13 points, and Andra Espinoza-Hunter, a UConn transfer who had 11 points, also contributed to the perimeter attack.
The Bulldogs' second-goer, Chloe Bibby, was the point leader at 3 points before being lost for the season due to a knee injury suffered on Jan. 17. But they managed to catch up.
No. 3 Oregon is the only team to beat the Mississippi state this season; the Ducks pounded the 11th Stanford 88-48 on Sunday. The Bulldogs finish the regular season by hosting Missouri, Vanderbilt and LSU, then Texas A & M, Ole Miss and South Carolina. This match with the Gamecocks, March 3 in Columbia, South Carolina, could decide the title of the regular season.
There is still work to be done, but the state of Mississippi has made a statement against the Lady Vols. Of course, you could say that the Bulldogs have done it all year. But it was really noisy Sunday.
"I am very proud of my team," Schaefer said. "Dude, they were special today."