Womens Basketball: Mississippi State vs Nicholls - D1SportsNet


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Womens basketball

Mississippi State vs Nicholls

Mississippi State begins its quest to return to the Final Four when the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs play host to Nicholls State on Saturday in a first-round Kansas City Region game in Starkville, Miss.

The Colonels won their first Southland Conference championship by beating the first, second and fifth seeds to land their first berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"This was a complete buy-in from this team," Nicholls coach DoBee Plaisance said. "They're my warriors."

Nicholls State (19-13) has won seven straight. And even though the No. 16-seeded Colonels face a daunting and unlikely chance of making it eight in a row, Plaisance promises the Colonels will give it their best shot.

"At the end of the day, I am blessed to have these players," she told the Daily Comet. "They are incredible, and I wouldn't want to go with any other group of women. They are resilient. We are going to go there and take on them Bulldogs."

"Them Bulldogs" are as impressive as their 32-1 record indicates. The Bulldogs, who ended Connecticut's 111-game win streak before losing in last season's title game to South Carolina, are 16-0 at home.

Ranked No. 4 in the country, the Bulldogs average 83.4 points per game (seventh in the nation) and give up only 55.5 points per game (19th). Coach Vic Schaefer's squad has depth, can score from anywhere on the floor and dominates on defense and the glass.

Perhaps the only question the Bulldogs need to answer is how will they deal with the pressure of being a No. 1 seed for the first time.

"It's so difficult to be a No. 1 seed, and we have a chance to do something special," Schaefer told the Clarion Ledger. "You get a conference champion in Nicholls and if you win that, Syracuse and Oklahoma State have played really well this year, and we had two really good ballgames with them so I think that's the committee's way of having some fun.

"I'm excited to play on Saturday instead of Friday so I don't have to write any excuses this time for people to get out of work."

The Bulldogs do have some work to do after losing to South Carolina (the only blemish on their record) in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game.

"I'm always anxious to see how we respond after our first loss," Schaefer said. "We had some time off and now we'll get ready to play."

Schaefer has the luxury of having Victoria Vivians, who will be the best player on the court Saturday. The senior guard shoots nearly 50 percent from the field while averaging 19.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

But Vivians is far from the Bulldogs' only weapon.

Teaira McCown averages a double-double at 17.7 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. Sharpshooters Roshunda Johnson and Blair Schaefer are crucial in keeping defenses honest.

While much is expected of the Bulldogs, the Colonels were still pinching themselves as they prepared for the big stage.

"I was sweating it out and I didn't know why because I knew we already made it," guard Cassidy Barrios, the Southland Conference's Player of the Year, told the Daily Comet. "There was some intensity because we didn't know who we were playing. It all played out and now it is in God's hands."

Barrios, a junior guard, averages 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Tykeria Williams is also a threat, averaging 13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

Colonels senior center Marina Lilly said making the NCAA Tournament was surreal.

"I just looked at it and thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is really happening,'" Lilly said. "You sit at home and visualize this happening one day, and now it is coming true. We just have to go there and stay true to who we are. We just need to play our hearts out as a team."

The winner of Saturday's game will play the Oklahoma State-Syracuse winner on Monday.