Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Rick Cleveland: Slump or were Lady Bulldogs exposed?

Every basketball team – including the remarkable Golden State Warriors — goes through a slump.

But back to the original point: Nearly all basketball teams, at every level, go through a streak when your shoes feel heavy, shots go all the way in and come back out, every rebound seems just out of reach, every call seems to go the other way, and when your opponent just can't miss.

Golden State lost by 22 the other night against Denver, a team that is seven games under .500.

It happens to the best of them. It has happened at the wrong time for Mississippi State's women, who lost two straight games to end the regular season and enter the Southeastern Conference Women's Tournament this week with a 27-3 record.

The first of those two losses – 78-75 in overtime to a good Kentucky team on the road – was no major cause for concern. It was the second State loss of the season at the time and both were in overtime and both on the road to ranked teams.

The second straight loss this past Sunday, however, was alarming. Tennessee thrashed State 82-64 on Senior Day in Starkville. Unranked Tennessee out-hustled, out-worked, out-shot, out-played State. You kept waiting for State to make that run, but the run never came. Defensively, the Bulldogs couldn't get enough stops. Offensively, they couldn't get any rhythm.

State was out-rebounded 39-26, and you know what rebounding is all about, right? That's right: effort.

“I was disappointed in our effort,” Vic Schaefer said. “... We were beaten in all the toughness categories.”

Schaefer said a lot more, but you get the gist. The coach seemed dumbfounded that his team could play so poorly in such a situation: that is, with the SEC regular season title at stake and before the biggest home crowd in program history.

There is a danger here in overlooking the big picture, which is that State enters the SEC Tournament with a 27-3 record, the best in school history and still in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They did draw 10,500 to The Hump for a women's basketball game. The seniors who were celebrated Sunday have now won 104 games – and counting – in their careers. So much has been achieved.

And all that success combined makes the two straight losses seem all the worse.

"I wish I could shake the hands of all 10,500 people who were here today,” Schaefer said. “They did their part and deserved better."

So now, it's Schaefer's job to try to flip the switch, and get his team to play “hungry” again, to play with the passion and purpose that enabled them to win 27 of 28 before last week.

“I’m very concerned, but I also know what the answer is,” Schaefer told reporters. “I know how to fix it. We’ve all got to be responsible.”

When State is at its best offensively, the Bulldogs play the game inside out. They look inside to the two post players, Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan, for point-blank baskets. That, in turn, opens things on the perimeter. Sunday, against Tennessee, Okorie took just three shots. McCowan took just four. Neither one of them made a bucket, which really is shocking. Okorie had just one rebound in 15 minutes, McCowan just five in 25.

State, which usually gets 16 points and 12 rebounds from the post position, got zero points and six rebounds. There were other problems but that's a big one there, a good place to start.

A silver lining? Well there is this: South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee – the three teams to beat State – are all on the other side of the SEC bracket. State wouldn't have to play any of the three until the finals.

Of course, there won't be any finals if the Bulldogs don't play better than they did Sunday.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anonymous said...

Hate to play Debbie Downer on this one, but if it weren't for Geno Auriemma and his Untouchables - this would be one of hell of a story for Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

This is the time of year when toughness "down low" determines success and failure. "Down low" MSU is a good team, but not great. While beating so many weaker teams in the regular season, their priority should have been developing depth in the middle, so that their big girls could bang away with reckless abandon and not worry about fouls. If they don't get ugly tough quick, they'll learn a hard lesson in the post- season.

Anonymous said...

It's not too complicated. MSU has tons of shooters and a solid inside presence, but they've never had great ball movement. They don't do a great job of --for example-- beating their defender off the dribble, drawing the help defense, then kicking to the open player for a layup. They're also not particularly strong in transition.

That means the recipe for beating them is pretty simple: Put some long, athletic girls in a 3-2 zone, harass them on threes, and dare them to beat you by dumping it down to their two bigs, neither of which has a very polished offensive game.

Unfortunately, now that everyone has seen how the formula works, it would be surprising for MSU to make it past the Sweet 16. They probably can still win their pod in Starkville, likely as a 2 seed, but past that will be tough.

Anonymous said...

I was gonna say, good story but all a moot point as long as uconn women are still playing basketball.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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