(Dominique Dillingham) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Team’s Defensive Ace is Producing on Offense in Stretch Run

The coach was kidding. Sort of.

After watching Dominique Dillingham shoot-up Missouri, “I asked Dom if she needed ice for her shoulder,” Vic Schaefer quipped. Sort of. Because Dillingham was easily the hottest Dog in the house.

For that matter Mississippi State’s defensive ace has heated her game up on the offensive end for weeks now. And, just in time for a SEC stretch run as the #5-ranked Bulldogs chase a first-ever league championship. No, Dillingham doesn’t look to be lead Dog on the stat sheet.

Still “It’s taking my shot and having the confidence I can knock them down.”

D.D. is doing just that, most notably from long range. In the last four games Dillingham has knocked down 11 of 19 shots from beyond the arc. Now understand: eleven made-treys in two weeks would be routine for, say, Victoria Vivians or maybe Morgan William. They are supposed to take and make the longballs.

Dillingham? Quite likely the most popular player on the roster, her name has been made with defense that defines gritty. On a team taught to take charges and create turnovers, the 5-9 Dillingham has hit the hardwood more often and much harder.

“She does the dirty work you’ve got to have,” Schaefer said.

Scoring has been secondary, even tertiary to her gameplan. But with this senior season winding into crunch time and every Dog needing to peak for postseason, suddenly 00 is putting up points.

“Just getting reps and shooting extra after practice,” Dillingham said. “I’m taking what the defense gives me.”

There’s truth to that. SEC coaches have had three-plus seasons to scout much of Mississippi State’s offense. Vivians is first focus of course, and then Williams on the perimeter. The fast progress by posts Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan has rounded-out the attack with reliable inside options.

Dillingham by contrast has never averaged eight points for a season, and her career shooting is just 35%. So if somebody could be ignored, it was the defensive scrapper.

Not now. “I don’t think it’s smart not go guard Dominique Dillingham any more,” Schaefer said. Missouri tried it and saw Dillingham loft 17 shots, making nine including five treys. That ice idea wasn’t entirely a joke, sort of. “She’s had weeks in a row she hasn’t shot 17 times,” the coach noted.

None of this diminishes Dillingham’s calling-card. She still draws the toughest backcourt defensive assignment, and she will keep playing big minutes. She didn’t sub-out until the 39th minute Sunday for instance. This showed towards the end-game as Dillingham’s shot got even flatter than usual and missed more often than made.

“It’s tiring guarding the best player,” Dillingham said. “But I’m in good shape so it shouldn’t affect me.”

As if watching another Dog guard start popping points isn’t headache enough, watching forward Breanna Richardson get her own offense going Sunday has upcoming opponents asking for aspirin. Schaefer said he’d been looking for the same Richardson who played hard and well in the lone loss at South Carolina.

She’s back. “And Bre is confident in her shot. She’s such a physical presence. That’s the active kid we need.”

“I’ve been in the gym knocking down shots,” Richardson said. “So people are going to have to guard me and Dom.”

This stepping-up on offense doesn’t mean Dillingham and Richardson intend to set the points pace every game. Mississippi State has reached #4 in the polls and are playing for both a SEC title and NCAA top seeding by getting everyone’s best role going.

But as the pressures and risks rise, the old Dogs know their roles grow. “It’s a change in our mindset that people are coming after us,” Dillingham said. “So we have to prepare better.”

Meaning, prepare to shoot and score even if defenses finally show due respect. And if Dillingham can keep putting up these points? That’s sort-of special.

“It makes us unguardable in my opinion,” Schaefer said. “And I like her confidence.”

This confidence gets tested again Thursday as Mississippi State (23-1, 9-1 SEC) hosts league cellar-dweller Vanderbilt (11-12, 1-9). Tipoff is 8:00ct for the SEC Network. The Bulldogs are trying to keep pace with South Carolina, now 10-1 SEC and hosting Auburn in the earlier timeslot.

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