Victoria Vivians is playing defense. Real defense.
“It means a lot,” the Bulldog junior said. “It means I’m growing, my all-around game is growing.”
When one of the brightest lights in the league, make that the nation, says her game is growing here in year-three…that is news. Great news for Mississippi State. Not so welcome word to remaining SEC opponents and whoever draws the same NCAA Tournament track.
“I just think I’ve grown. I’m a growing player now.”
That does mean a lot for a Ladydog team with SEC championship ambitions in their regular schedule; and Final Four potential per the TV talkers. Fortunately Vivians & squad can keep focused on the shorter term with four contests left.
“You have to treat each game in the SEC like it’s a championship game,” Vivians said. “Just playing each team is like playing a championship game.” The next team in State’s path is Georgia, tonight visiting Humphrey Coliseum for a 7:00 tipoff.
To be clear, this Mississippi State team can keep contending with the old, no make that former, Vivians. The one that ran around the perimeter looking for open jumpers, or sometimes saw a lane and drove for shorter shots. It’s been a fine formula already.
She goes into tonight with 1,557 career points. That’s already enough for fifth place all-time at State and 120 out of fourth place. Critics look at the ratio of points to shots taken though, which in fairness Schaefer has addressed. He has set 45% as a realistic goal for the junior; Vivians at the moment is making 38% overall and 31% at the arc.
But. All misses are not the same lost chance. Fans and foes alike know Vivians not only can hit any shot from anywhere, but she’s always a threat to go on a tear and blow the game open. Plus this season with the maturing of Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan more misses end up as offensive rebounds and putbacks. Just call it an unintended assist, OK?
Point being, Schaefer will never ask his streak-shooter to turn down an open look. Maybe take a tiny bit more time to set up and get the body squared since she does have a tendency to fire off-balance or moving the wrong way. If it is there though, take it.
And, “Just her presence on the floor warrants the other team’s best defensive effort,” Schaefer said. Which in-turn leaves more room for Morgan William, Dominique Dillingham, Breanna Richardson and others to get their own higher-percentage opportunities. Another sort-of assist, if you will.
Back to the original theme… As far back as a November talk Vivians admitted Schaefer was pushing her to go get rebounds, and get as aggressive on defense as on the other end. This coach will never, ever be satisfied with any Dog’s defense.
But he loves the progress in this case.
“I can assure Victoria Vivians plays both ends of the floor,” Schaefer said. “And that’s the piece that can get lost. She’s playing pressure man to man, full court. She’s one of the top steals player in our league. She’s playing both ends of the floor, not to mention she’s a big centerpiece what we’re doing offensively.”
Oh but it is mentioned, with a 16.8-point average this year. Vivians probably can’t catch LaToya Thomas for the career points mark of 2,981, for the excellent reason there are teammates who can score in bunches now. Tan White’s 2,421 in second place ought be within range next winter.
What matters at the moment is, “My defense is helping me become a better player,” Vivians said. It certainly shows how much tougher a Dog she is. Vivians doesn’t use the end-to-end action as an excuse to loaf but goes full-speed much longer.
Also, about that toughness? Schaefer saw it at Oxford Sunday. “She took a shot to the midsection,” said the coach of what turned into a nasty first-half courtesy of the roused rivals. “And she was right back at it yesterday.”
Vivians will be right back at it tonight as well, showing her expanded repertoire. As Vivians said, “I don’t just play offense, I’m actually defending on the other end.”