“I don’t feel there’s a responsibility,” the senior guard said. “There’s a want-to.”
Now don’t get the idea this most popular player for the 2017 Bulldogs denies all the outside expectations. A central figure in Vic Schaefer’s transformative recruiting class of 2013, Dillingham hasn’t just seen Mississippi State explode from a basketball backwater to SEC and NCAA prominence.
She has been a driving force in the four-year process. Now Dillingham and senior classmates are on the verge of writing yet more Bulldog history. With a win over Washington (6:11ct, ESPN2) this team will advance to the ‘elite eight’ and farthest journey so far by a State squad.
Stress ‘so far’ since a year ago this time the ’16 Bulldogs were also in the round of 16. Then again ‘stress’ isn’t the right word for D-Squared.
“A motivation to go farther and do better than we did last year,” she explained it. “So we can take it one game at a time and go from there.”
Going on from here to a Sunday shot at the Oklahoma City Regional and beyond depends on taking care of an equally-hungry and evenly-matched Huskies squad. Though there really isn’t anyone exactly equal to Kelsey Plum. Not when this senior guard already ranks atop the NCAA career scoring chart.
In a season where, as usual, another Huskies team is the headliner of college basketball, Plum has become the individual face of the sport. While Schaefer isn’t giving away any gameplanning, no one doubts that Bulldog defensive ace Dillingham is going to draw this matchup more often than not.
“I’ve seen her play a lot, she’s really good,” Dillingham said. “All you need to know is she’s really good. She’s left-handed, she scores off the bounce, she has the post-up shot.” And on and on.
Now to be clear, no single Dog will be counted on to counter Plum. At same time Dillingham sees danger in doubling-up…because it leaves another quite capable Washington scorer alone, somewhere.
“It poses some problems just because our team likes to help a lot,” Dillingham said. “The thing we need to work on is helping the helper, getting our rotations right.”
For that matter it is no sure thing Dillingham will even start tonight. For last weekend’s two NCAA rounds Schaefer shook-up the lineup for intentionally-vague reasons. Obviously everything worked just fine with 202 total points scored in the wins.
Dillingham handled the changed status like a seasoned Dog should. She even shot better off the bench and had her best two-game output, 17 points, since early February.
Oh, and in the process Dillingham reached the career milestone. She now has exactly 1,000 points in her 135 Bulldog games. Being her of course Dillingham is likely prouder of the 230 assists and 206 steals for four seasons…and of course the 130 charges taken. No Dog is happier getting knocked flat to the floor for the toughest sort of forced turnover in the sport.
So for all the challenge tonight presents, this is exactly what Dillingham has prepared for. Besides, “I go to every game the same. I want to play the best defense I can. My mindset will be focused no matter what.”
So is the entire team’s mindset regarding this return trip to the round of 16. At times this season Schaefer has openly wondered if his players were taking time to enjoy the journey. Dillingham understands, but adds that while home fans cheered loudly and proudly this team’s last turn in Humphrey Coliseum, to the Bulldogs it was the next step.
“I think we just had higher expectations for ourselves this year. We felt we were a much better team. Last year it was a lot of emotions, we were on such a high. This year, we expected to win.”
And now? “It was like, it’s another win, and we have to keep going.”