Vic Schaefer’s first words at his post-game press conference perfectly encapsulated the game that took place at Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t know about y’all, but I’m tired,” Schaefer said.
No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 15 Kentucky engaged in a physical Southeastern Conference tussle. Players constantly hit the floor. Sometimes a foul was called, sometimes it wasn’t. They tied each other up for jump-balls more than a handful of times.
Schaefer ripped his jacket off in frustration near the end of the first half after receiving a technical foul, and Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell had to call a few timeouts throughout the course of the game because of the same emotion.
Two of the top teams in the SEC were going at each other all day. When the ball stopped bouncing and the crowd of 8,830 at The Hump filed out of the arena, Mitchell was the one left frustrated. The Bulldogs beat his Wildcats, 86-71, to improve to 2-0 in SEC play.
“They are a potent team,” Mitchell said. “A powerful team.”
Senior forward Anriel Howard thrived in the competitive, chippy game. She scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds. Mitchell called her dynamic and unbelievable.
Senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes liked the intense playing style too. Holmes had six steals as she constantly hounded Kentucky’s ball-handlers.
Kentucky’s defenders played Holmes closely, too. Holmes turned it over four times, and Mississippi State had 24 as a team. Schaefer sees that as 24 times his team had an opportunity to get a bucket but didn’t.
“That’s 48 points we didn’t have a chance to score,” Schaefer said. “That’s how we look at it.”
The Bulldogs still managed to score 86 points in a game in which scoring didn’t come easily. Holmes said that’s a testament to Mississippi State’s (14-1, 2-0 SEC) versatility and firepower.
“We have a lot of weapons on our team,” Holmes said. “For us to score that many points, it’s a big jump for us. We can do a lot of things offensively.”
That firepower was on display right away. Mississippi State dropped 26 points in the opening quarter. The Bulldog defense held the Wildcats (14-2, 1-1 SEC) to 11 in the frame.
The 15-point margin State secured in the first 10 minutes ended up being the difference. Howard scored 11 points in the first quarter while displaying tenacious defense on Kentucky’s No. 1 scorer.
Due to the game’s physicality, senior center Teaira McCowan got into foul trouble and only played 22 minutes. She still managed a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but Howard had to step up.
“I’m more comfortable with the ball, full-court and half-court,” Howard said. “I think my range has extended. I shoot more threes now, and I’m comfortable shooting them.”
Kentucky simply tried to out-tough Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs barked back. They out-rebounded the Wildcats 48-24. Schaefer likes when his team gets out and runs. It did a little of that, scoring 12 fast-break points to Kentucky’s four.
Howard and sophomore forward Chloe Bibby often led the charge in that department, and the same duo dominated down low as well. They combined for 19 rebounds. Bibby only shot 1-of-7 from three, but she affected the game in different ways.
Mississippi State’s ability to get production from players in many areas of the game has Schaefer feeling confident that this team might be one of his best.
He said if the opponent wants to make it a track meet, it better be careful. Marquette was made aware of that on Dec. 6 when Mississippi State beat the Golden Eagles 87-82.
Mississippi State has a plethora of players who can make plays in the open court, and if an opponent wants to slow it down and play in the half-court, it better be wary as well. Texas learned that in State’s 67-49 victory on Dec. 2.
Howard can dominate on both sides of the floor, and everyone knows what McCowan is capable of when she stays out of foul trouble. Meanwhile MSU’s guards — most notably Holmes and senior Jordan Danberry — are like “Speedy Gonzalez” sccording to Schaefer.
Pick your posion with this version of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
“This team can play in a number of ways,” Schaefer said. “I’m proud of them tonight. It was just a really physical game.”