After strong showings in the opening rounds of the Preseason WNIT, the Mississippi State Bulldogs used Vic Shaefer’s pressure defense to spark a 15-0 run to upset the 16th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers in the semifinal round.
Humphrey Coliseum will play host to the Preseason WNIT championship round, featuring the 3-0 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky. The Bulldogs played the role of underdog in defeating the 16th-ranked Mountaineers of West Virginia in the semifinal round. Vic Shaefer’s 20-ranked recruiting class has had a major impact on its start to the season, led by Mississippi Gatorade player of the year Victoria Vivians. The 5-star recruit Scott Central currently sits 8th in the SEC, averaging 17.5 points per game in the Bulldogs opening four game slate. Another freshman, Morgan William, a 5’5 freshman who led Shades Valley (Birmingham) to its first state title after averaging 16.6 points and creating 210 steals, leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 24 points per outing, good for first in the SEC. Shaefer’s crew has turned up the pressure defensively, much like his Texas A&M;teams in College Station, forcing opposing teams into 22.3 turnovers per night. In knocking off the Mountaineers, Bria Holmes and Averee Fields scored 41 of WVU’s 61 points but the Mountaineers were only able to manufacture 7 field goals from the rest of their lineup.
What Shaefer’s team has done is remarkable, considering that even during it’s best days Mississippi State has struggled against the top-tier teams n the SEC and annually finds themselves bringing up the rear in terms of regular season performance. However, Vic and squad should be excited about the opportunity this season presents as they have gotten solid performances while playing without All-SEC Center 6’4 Martha Alwal and senior guard Kendra Grant. That represents 52 starts, 26.3 points, 10.5 boards and 245 made free throws from a season ago. Considering this, the foundation has been laid for the Bulldogs to make some noise. Outside of the freshmen, senior point guard Jerica James has done a fantastic job running the team and being a threat from the point guard spot. Chinwe Okorie, a 6’5 sophomore center has shown that she can defend and rebound at a high level. The climb remains steep for Okorie in terms of offensive ability but she’s capable of taking a team out of what it wants to do on the interior. While sophomore guard, Dominique Dillingham is disruptive on the perimeter defensively and leads the team in terms of minutes played.
In Western Kentucky, the Bulldogs face a team that has received votes in the top 25 poll and was picked to finish second in the C-USA behind Middle Tennessee State. The Hilltoppers had three players named to the Preseason All C-USA team, led by All-America candidate Chastity Gooch, a senior forward checking in at 6’0. Gooch averaged 18.4 and 9.0 rebounds per game. Senior guard Alexis Govan is the second key to WKU’s attack, the 5’10 player missed all of the conference season with a stress fracture in her left tibia, but left the team without her 16.5 points per game and played just under 28 minutes a night. The third player honored by the C-USA in the preseason was last year’s Frosh of the Year, Kendall Noble, a 5’11 guard that shot 37% from three en route to 11 points per night.
Needless to say, these teams will be battling it out to grab this early season title. WKU is familiar with it’s destination, as it dropped a first round tilt with Baylor last season while the Bulldogs from Starkville fought their way into the WNIT quarterfinals with wins over Tulane, Southern Mississippi and Auburn before falling to South Florida. Tip-off is at 2 pm in Starkville and needless to say, if you can find means of tuning in, I would definitely recommend doing so.