Vivians, Grant Shoot Down 'Dores 69-44

Certainly there were the obligatory five players on the floor at all times. It’s just that offensively the Lady Bulldogs spent most of their evening playing four-on-five. It worked out well, too, since one of those four was Victoria Vivians.

Vivians poured in five three-point baskets and scored 20 total as #18 Mississippi State took a 69-44 rout of visiting Vanderbilt. The sixth-largest crowd for a women’s game in Humphrey Coliseum saw their home team improve to 22-2, and 7-2 SEC to stay third in the league standings.

“I don’t think any of those 5,000 weren’t entertained,” Coach Vic Schaefer said. None other than those coming to watch Vanderbilt exit 12-9, 3-5 SEC.

The victory offset a Commodore home win three weeks ago, the first loss of State’s season and poorest performance. In that loss, Vivians missed two-thirds of her shots and scored just 12 points. This time, she was the phenomenal freshman of pre-SEC play. Vivians was 5-of-8 at the arc and 7-of-15 overall, and dominated the second half with 16 of her points and all her made-treys.

Going long was by necessity, too. Against a bigger Vanderbilt lineup, for Vivians to step a little farther back to take and make shots… “It was critical,” Vivians said. “If we don’t have offense you can’t win the game. Making those big shots really helped the team.”

The first made-three really stemmed Vanderbilt’s attempt to rally from a 30-19 halftime deficit. The Commodores stifled state scoring for the first three minutes while pulling with six points. The next trip down, Vivians was left loose out top and made the ‘Dores pay with a trey.

Two minutes later she used a screen on an inbounds pass to catch, shoot, and stick for three. The same play worked again at 10:34, on the other corner. Vivians struck twice more in the ninth and eighth minutes to blow the lead out to 17 points. “Once she got hot we wanted to try to go back to her,” Schaefer said.

“I just shoot it,” said Vivians. “If it goes in, it goes in. I just keep shooting the ball.”

That was utterly clear on Vivians’ most impressive and certainly impromptu shot. Out on the right wing, seeing the shot clock winding down and nobody open inside, Vivians leaned around defender Heather Bowe and somehow slung the ball at the rim. It went in, of course.

Vivians led the quartet which carried State for nearly three-quarters of the contest. Center Martha Alwal finished with 14 points, starting forward Breanna Richardson six and guard Kendra Grant 12 off the bench. They were the MSU offense most of the evening.

Not until forward Ketara Chapel popped a baseline jumper at 11:47 did anyone else join the scoring list. The other contributions lengthened MSU’s margin in a victory earned by selective scoring. And, hard-nosed defense.

The Bulldogs kept a long Commodore front line in-check with a series of post defenders, holding the starters to just seven shots and doing so without fouling. Relying on outside shots didn’t work well either. Vanderbilt was 1-of-10 at the arc.

“I thought defensively we were locked-in from the get-to,” Schaefer said. “I thought all night we were really good. And just playing with a lot of purpose, knowing the scouting report.” Vanderbilt finished shooting under 35% overall.

Even so State was struggling early to cope with Vanderbilt’s size, not just in the post but all around. Vivians and Richardson picked up some fast fouls and had to sit; guards could barely see the goal over tall defenders, and Alwal had some layups roll awry.

It was Grant coming off the bench to pop consecutive treys, not only pushing State into a lead but coaxing the Commodores out of their zone defense. “When you come off the bench you want to fix what’s broken,” Grant said. “The first shot felt good, and the next one I didn’t even think of it.”

“If we don’t have Kendra it’s an ugly game, a tied ball game probably at the half,” Schaefer said. In fact it was a beautifully-run set to get Grant the ball on the wing for a baseline jumper just before the horn that gave State the 11-point intermission margin.

Ironically Grant did not play a minute in the second half. By then though Vivians had taken over, Chapel was filling Richardson’s place in post-defense, and Vanderbilt was falling farther behind. So Schaefer saw little reason to shuffle the lineup until the final minutes when bench-Dogs gave the crowd more chances to cheer.

Alwal had six boards and two blocks, and became only the third SEC player ever with 1,000 points, 900 rebounds, and 300 blocks.

The coach was enjoying himself post-game too, after what he agreed was his team’s best SEC showing of the season. “I’m awfully proud of our kids tonight. A team that is starting to play really well.”

Well enough to have a four-win SEC streak going into February. Though, the coming month also brings the toughest tests of the regular season, starting Sunday at co-league leader Tennessee. The other unbeaten, #1 national-ranked South Carolina, is also on the schedule, along with Kentucky.

All the more reason to enjoy how January ended, it seems. “I can see us getting better and that’s real encouraging,” Schaefer said. “It’s a good time to get better, because the buzzsaw is ahead of us.”

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