“Just remember it’s a business trip, and we’re going there to win three games, not two or one,” guard Dominique Dillingham said. “We’re going to have fun but it’s a line between fun and business.”
That line is crossed, or the ball tipped, at 7:00ct as Mississippi State meets Oregon on opening day of the Rainbow Wahine Showdown. Both teams are unbeaten and 4-0, but the Bulldogs bring their top-ten ranking into the tournament. State checks in #7 Associated Press this week.
That’s three notches higher than Coach Vic Schaefer’s team was last week. But a beat-down of then-#8 Texas in Humphrey Coliseum pushed State up the ladder and farther into the national spotlight. Taking care of business will only improve the position.
“We’ve got a great opportunity for our kids,” Schaefer said. “It will be a great experience.”
The coach was talking partly about hitting Hawaiian beaches in this holiday season, as well as a tour of Pearl Harbor here in the 75th anniversary year. How active the coach can be is a question as Schaefer has been hit hard by gout. His team is healthy, and needs to be.
“We have to play three really good teams,” Schaefer said.
Oregon is coming off a blowout of #24 Michigan State, and playing their first non-home game. Ironically the only other meeting of the clubs came also in the Islands, with State winning in the 1997 Kona Classic.
“Oregon has the #1 high school player in the country on their team, and she’s lighting it up,” Schaefer said. Three Lady Ducks are averaging double-digits. “They’re well-coached and beat us in the NCAA Tournament a while back.”
In State’s case the last game had its own NCAA tourney feel as the Bulldogs took their top-ten throwdown in the Hump. Texas was the highest-ranked homecourt victim of Schaefer’s tenure. “And to see our kids really play at a high level, especially in the second quarter,” he said.
“I said we’re going to find out about our team and we did. We saw we’re able to compete in that environment. That we’re good, too.”
The Bulldogs are very, very good when junior guard Victoria Vivians (16.5ppg) is on her game. Her shooting has been erratic at times but when on, nobody pours in points faster. The difference this winter is State doesn’t entirely depend on their all-American to be at her best.
Point guard Morgan William (12.3ppg) had 22 points against Texas, 13 of those at the foul line. Off-guard Roshunda Johnson is coming off the bench for 11.8 points as well with Jazzmun Holmes spelling either William or Dillingham as needed. And the post trio of Chinwe Okorie, Teaira McGowan, Breanna Richardson are shooting a combined 53%.
“We wanted to get the pressure off ‘Tori,” Dillingham said. “So we’ve been working on our shot, and any given night anybody can help scoring.”
The weekend continues with a 7:00 Saturday game against San Jose State (1-3) and Sunday at 8:30 against host Hawaii (2-2). Live audio is available on hailstate.com for all three games with video of Sunday on hawaiiathletics.com.
November has been a very good month for Schaefer squads, with a 25-4 record so far and a 22-win streak going back to 2013.
“Three good, competitive days of basketball,” said Schaefer. “But a great way to spend Thanksgiving.”