Mississippi State could have tough road to Sweet 16
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is concerned that the opening weekend of the women’s NCAA Tournament might be more difficult than many anticipate.
He’s not being paranoid: The past few months provide proof.
The No. 1 seed Bulldogs (32-1) will be an overwhelming favorite in Saturday’s opening round game against No. 16 Nicholls State (19-13), but the potential second-round matchups provide plenty of intrigue. No. 8 Syracuse (22-8) and No. 9 Oklahoma State (20-10) – which face each other on Saturday – both played close games against Mississippi State during nonconference play.
”If we’re fortunate enough to win tomorrow night, we’re going to have to play one of those teams,” Schaefer said. ”It will not be an easy task. It will be a very difficult opponent and it’s going to be someone our kids will have to be ready to play against.”
Mississippi State beat Oklahoma State 79-76 in Starkville on Dec. 3. That was the smallest margin of victory for the Bulldogs during their 32-game winning streak to start the season.
The Bulldogs beat Syracuse 76-65 in Las Vegas on Dec. 21. Syracuse made just six 3-pointers in that game, but has shown the ability to put points on the scoreboard in a hurry. The Orange hit 20 3-pointers against North Carolina last month.
Syracuse has won five of six games coming into the NCAA Tournament, including a 68-65 win over nationally-ranked Duke, and the Orange don’t sound much like a team that’s just happy to be in the Big Dance.
”A lot of people make these low-hanging fruit goals you know you can reach,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ”We don’t do that. My dreams scare me – they really do.”
Mississippi State is coming off its first loss of the season – a 62-51 setback to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.
Other things to watch during Saturday’s games:
MORE MANGAKAHIA: Syracuse is led by guard Tiana Mangakahia, who is averaging 17.8 points and 9.9 assists per game during her first season with the program. She scored a career-best 44 points against Georgia Tech and set the program record for assists in a single game with 17 against Vanderbilt. Said Hillsman: ”Tiana saved our season. We had to replace one of the best point guards in the country for the past two years and Tiana has come in right away and stabilized this program.”
COWGIRLS SLIDING: Oklahoma State has had a good season and at one point pushed up to No. 19 in the national rankings. But the Cowgirls have struggled over the past few weeks, losing four of their past six games. Said coach Jim Littell: ”I think it’s important this time of year to realize what your identity is. Our identity is balance, our identity is using our post player inside and letting our point guard play.”
MORGAN IN THE POSTSEASON: Mississippi State senior point guard Morgan William was the star of last year’s postseason after hitting a jumper at the buzzer to beat UConn during the Final Four last season. She also scored a career-high 41 points against Baylor earlier in the NCAA Tournament. William has once again been an important player for the Bulldogs this season, though her scoring average of 7.5 points per game is a career low. Her production has picked up in recent weeks – she’s scored at least 10 points in four of the past six games.
ROLLING COLONELS: Nicholls State will be a huge underdog on Saturday against Mississippi State, but there’s no doubt the Colonels are on a roll. The program has won 11 of its past 12 games, and won the Southland Conference Tournament by beating the No. 1 seed Lamar and the No. 2 seed Stephen F. Austin.
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