Start time: 7pm
TV: ESPN2 (Dave O’Brien, Doris Burke, Kara Lawson) | Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia (Brad Muller) | Live Audio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network
South Carolina and Mississippi State were expected to be at the top of the SEC standings before the season. Not many expected that the Lady Bulldogs would be undefeated this late in the season. But that’s the situation as the Gamecocks square off against Mississippi State in Carolina’s biggest home game of the year, and it could stand to reason that the winner of this one will go on to win the SEC regular season title (and possibly move on to win the conference tournament and set themselves up for a #1 seed in the Big Dance when it’s all said and done).
The Lady Bulldogs have been in the midst of a steady ascent under the leadership of fifth-year head man Vic Schaefer. This is actually Schaefer’s second stint at the helm of a Division 1 program; he had a less-than impressive stint with Sam Houston State in the early 1990s where he went 80-110 in seven seasons. After stops as an assistant at Arkansas and Texas A&M, he finally found his way back at the helm of his own program when he was hired to replace longtime coach Sharon Fanning in Starkville. The move paid off almost immediately: in Schaefer’s first season, the Lady Bulldogs went 13-17. They’ve gone on to four straight 20+ win seasons and advanced to the Sweet 16 last year for the second time in the program’s history.
The Bulldogs’ offense runs through junior guard Victoria Vivians. Vivians is third in the conference in scoring (17.1 ppg) and was a preseason all-SEC team pick along with Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson. She’s gotten help from Morgan William, tied for fourth in the league with 4.1 assists per game while adding 11 points an outing. But it’s the defense that has gotten the job done for Mississippi State; they have forced opponents into an average of just over 22 turnovers and allowed only 53.5 points a game, eighth best in the country in both departments. With the Gamecocks entering tonight’s game scoring 79.8 points a contest and allowing just 54.6 points (15th in the country in both stats), this looks like it will turn out to be a grind-it-out evening at Colonial Life Arena.
One thing that will be in question is the health of A’ja Wilson. Wilson saw the floor in the Gamecocks’ 65-46 win over Ole Miss last time out, but only scored six points in 15 minutes of action. That will mean that players like Coates, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray may need to carry the load if Wilson isn’t at full strength this evening. While Coates had a typical strong outing against the Rebels (15 and 15), Davis struggled from the field (3-11) despite 14 points, Gray managed 11 points on 4-8 shooting, and Cuevas Moore wasn’t a big factor (seven points).