Mississippi State shut the visiting Crimson Tide down and often out, with just 30% shooting allowed. It was a radical turn for the better after losses to Vanderbilt and LSU with too many shots made and points scored.
Not this time, guard Dominque Dillingham said.
“It’s been a big focus in practice, transition defense especially. And I think we did a much better job today talking to each other and trying to keep the ball in front of us.”
By cracking down on the defensive end Mississippi State (19-2, 4-2 SEC) got back on their opening SEC track when the Dogs won a record three-straight games to open the league schedule. Coach Vic Schaefer is still stung by the setbacks, especially the double-overtime home loss to the Tigers. But that’s life in the league, so…
“I’ll take where we are,” Schaefer said. “I’m disappointed we lost the other night, but I certainly will take it. It’s a whole lot better than being 3-3.” Alabama would certainly take either, as they left Humphrey Coliseum 11-9, 0-5.
Likely the Tide also left wondering what it would take to make a shot against State. They ended up 13-of-43 overall, missed six of seven three-point attempts, and didn’t even got off an attempt on something like 40% of their possessions. Forced or not, Alabama had many more turnovers than field goals.
Schaefer may be a task-master about such things but this time “Defensively I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “Hold somebody to 30% shooting, force 22 turnovers which is good.” The coach’s only real complaint was sending the Tide to the foul line 31 times. “That’s not good.” But it was about the only way Alabama was going to stay in the game, making 23 of those chances.
Mississippi State was no offensive machine either, shooting just 38%. If not for guard Kendra Grant’s contributions off the bench the home team might have been in bigger troubles. In substitution-stints, the senior was 6-of-8 and made both her trey-tries while scoring a game-best 17 points.
Grant also had a couple of steals, including picking off a Tide pass at 1:16 just after sticking a jumper which all-but-clinched the win. “I wasn’t thinking so much. I just let the game come to me and let it flow, whether stepping into my shot or looking for another player I let it come to me.”
“I’m glad KG brought her jump shot today,” Schaefer said. “We probably wouldn’t have won the game without it and her decision making in the second half.” Also off the bench, guard Morgan William had a dozen points with six of the squad’s 11 assists. The starting squad combined for just 23 points, and the lone member of that tipoff team to play significant minutes (35) was Dillingham.
With Dillingham directing the defense State turned enough Alabama mistakes into 23 of the points. She scored eight herself on very selective shooting, while starting forward Victoria Vivians had eight also. Alternate center Martha Alwal returned to active status Sunday and gave great effort with ten rebounds. But she had rough luck on the offense missing nine of 11 shots, balls that normally go good for the senior.
”We’re just trying to get the rust off Martha,” Schaefer said.
Some of State’s scoring issues arose from a Tide defense that put size atop the key against either of the Bulldog point guards. Corner passes often resulted in traps that limited those looks, too. It took treys from guard Morgan William and Vivians over the wide-set defense to spark State.
When the Dogs did get going they raced out in front by as much as 14 points, with Alabama going 1-of-11 in a stretch. The second half was a different matter. Both teams came out cold with nothing scored for five minutes, but ten combined fouls called which slowed everything down. And, which definitely favored Alabama.
Getting to the foul line was by far their best gameplan and enough were made to chip the lead steadily. By 10:15 it was just a three-point margin, before William made a pair of free throws and Grant hammered a trey that more or less turned the Tide back. Alabama did not get closer again than seven points with three minutes left.
Pretty, it wasn’t. “The score was indicative of the game,” Schaefer said. “They do some things that make you play differently.” On top of that the Bulldogs, now into the thick of SEC action, have found scoring points not nearly so easy as before. Vivians for one, as the true freshman has shot 8-of-26 in her last three games against better defensive teams.
Yet all the depth State has to work with usually produces a competitive combination. On top of that Schaefer can call on old hands like Grant and James, and now again Alwal, to usually settle everyone down. The coach has seen enough of the sophs and freshmen to think this team won’t get back on scoring track.
“We’ve got too many weapons to be this stagnant offensively,” he said. “From a coaching perspective we’ve got to figure that piece out.”
Mississippi State has a few days to figure out their next moves and matchups before a Thursday trip to Oxford. Game time is 8:00.