Preview: VU Women and Mississippi State

There are ties to be broken Thursday when No. 17/16 Vanderbilt (12-2, 1-0) takes on Mississippi State's Lady Bulldogs (10-4, 1-0). Both teams are in a five-way jam for first very early in the Southeastern Conference with MSU thumping Auburn 73-58 on Sunday, and at present, each team has won 9 times in the 18 games held in Starkville.

The tough environment was site of a 61-66 loss to MSU last season.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb expects this road game, the first of four in a five-game stretch that includes Kentucky on Sunday, and Tennessee and Auburn the following week, to be a scoring battle.

"Last year we just turned the ball over too much. They're very aggressive, very athletic. We started very poorly down there. We've been starting well at home and we need to get a good start on the road."

Alluding to the intensity this SEC opponent plays with regularly, Coach Balcomb added, "Mississippi State is known to be very physical because they're very athletic. They have strength and athleticism and we have to be able to handle that. And they're very aggressive. They go after it defensively and try to create offense with their defense. We'll have to change speeds and be strong with the basketball and handle that pressure and not get dictated. We need to stay calm emotionally."

The Lady Bulldogs are led in points by senior guard Alexis Rack, who averages 19.6 ppg. Armelie Lumanu (13.7 ppg) and Mary Kathryn Govero 11.1 ppg) join her in double digit scoring.

"Alexis Rack is an incredible player," Coach Balcomb said. "I think their team has shot over a hundred more threes than us. In fourteen games, that's tough to do. A lot of them are coming from Rack. We're known to be a 3-point shooting team but again we also are very good inside. We always have an inside threat. Again taking away the three specifically, we have to contain Rack. We can't let her have a 40-point game on us."

The Lady Bulldogs have strung nine consecutive wins together at home, going back to last season. Although teams are scouting Commodore scoring leaders Merideth Marsh, Jence Rhoads and Tiffany Clarke, strong post play from Hannah Tuomi and aggressive defensive effort from Jessica Mooney and three-point specialist Lauren Lueders are also producing success. Everyone has stepped up their game, Balcomb said, including freshmen Elan Brown and Gabby Smith.

"Tiff has done a lot early for us and I feel good about Elan. I feel she's given us better minutes. She's more productive every game and Gabby's close. She's improving every day. They're not as good as they're going to be bit they're working really hard. They have a great attitude."

Catch the game at 8 p.m. CST on Comcast Southeast Sports, one of Vandy's 14 televised games, or tune in to 560-AM WNSR radio.

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