MSU vs. Vanderbilt Preview

Mississippi State and Vanderbilt square off Thursday night in an important women's basketball game at Humphrey Coliseum. The loser will not have a credible chance at finishing as one of the top four teams in the conference standings in order to receive a first round bye for the SEC tournament, which starts in two weeks.

Vanderbilt brings a national ranking into Starkville (12th in the Associated Press poll and 13th in the WBCA Coaches poll) and a better overall and conference record (21-4, 7-3 SEC). Three of the Commodores' four losses on the year are to opponents who were ranked at the time of the game - Duke, Georgia and Tennessee. On the road this season, VU is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the league.

Mississippi State (16-9, 6-4 SEC) will try to break the Commodores four-game winning streak. To do that the Lady Bulldogs must rely on the things that got them to this point in the season, which is scoring and playing defense.

An interesting match-up will be at the three-point line. In league games only, the Lady Bulldogs have made 56 for 156 three-point shots (.352), which is second best in the conference. So who is number one? Yep, you guessed it - Vanderbilt, which is 50 for 121 (.413).

But it is not just shooting where that match-up becomes interesting. The Lady Bulldogs have the fourth-best defense against three-point shooting in the conference (.276). But Vanderbilt is the best (.243).

Marneshia Richard has the third best three-point average in the SEC making 8 of her 16 treys (.500). Merideth Marsh of Vandy has 8 treys in 13 tries (.615).

As for pure three-point shooting, freshman Alexis Rack leads the SEC in three-point production making 20 shots this season. Caroline Williams, the VU senior, is hot on her heels only one shot off the pace.

As Rack and Williams are dueling, the Lady Bulldogs have to find a way to defend the three-point shooting of Christina Wirth, a VU sophomore who has played string music 15 times this season.

The proficiency at the three-point line puts both teams among the SEC leaders in scoring. The Commodores average 70.6 points per SEC game, while State averages 69.9 points per SEC contest. That trails only Ole Miss and Tennessee in the conference.

Vanderbilt has the conference's best field goal percentage (.460), while MSU is not that far off the pace (.460) in fourth place. Both teams shoot free throws well. Vanderbilt is second only to Florida (.725), while MSU is in fourth place (.700).

If there is a Vanderbilt advantage, it is on defense. The 'Dores give up 64.8 points per game to their SEC opponents. That is fifth best in the conference, and over nine points a game better than the Lady Bulldogs scoring defense (73.9).

Watch Vanderbilt senior forward Carla Thomas, who brings a 15.4 point per SEC game average into Thursday's game, sixth best in the SEC. She ranks seventh all-time in scoring at Vanderbilt (1,632 career points) and is leading her team in scoring for the second straight year. She is looking for her 86th career double-scoring game on Thursday.

It is likely that MSU junior forward Imesia Jackson will defend Thomas. Jackson averages 12.8 points a game for the Lady Bulldogs against SEC competition, which warrants ranking among the conference's top scorers.

The point guard match-up will also provide some interest, with the Commodores winning the experience battle again. Vanderbilt leads the SEC in assists, with 16.5 average per SEC game. Dee Davis is VU's all-time leader in assists (690) and was named to four national preseason 'watch lists.' Davis averages nearly 5 assists per game, fourth best in the conference.

MSU sophomore point guard Marneshia Richard has 40 assists against SEC teams (4.13 average). Richard's production in the assist column is sixth best. While Davis has scored over 1,000 career points, Richard is having a better season in scoring, leading the MSU offensive attack with a 14.3 point per game average. It will be up to Davis to disrupt Richard's three-point shooting rhythm.

Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. He can be reached by email at

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