Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer used a baseball analogy of what wins between good pitching versus good hitting to describe his NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament second round showdown with Michigan State.
That proverbial question will be answered as the 15th-ranked Bulldogs’ battle-tested defense squares off against the high-scoring offense of the No. 16 Spartans today at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“There’s all kinds of philosophies on which one of those wins,” Schaefer said. “I don’t know which one is going to win (today), good offense or good defense. But we’re going to try to have both.”
Fourth-seeded Michigan State enters the game averaging 76 points per game while fifth-seeded Mississippi State plays a stingy brand of defense that is only allowing opponents to score 54.2 points.
The winner between those contrasting styles will advance ahead to the Sweet 16 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“Mississippi State does a great job being physical, denying and pressuring,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “Their style is a challenge to play against. We haven’t played anyone like them.”
Schaefer has his share of anxiety over the Spartans’ fast-paced offense as well.
“I’m concerned about pace of play and transition defense,” Schaefer said. “They’re averaging 76 points per game in conference and non-conference. They scored 107 in a ballgame. They are explosive in so many different ways.”
Michigan State (27-7) advanced to the second round with a 74-60 victory over No. 13 seed Belmont on Friday. The Spartans feature four starters scoring in double figures led by Aerial Powers averaging 22 points per game. The 6-foot forward is already the school’s all-time leading scorer as only a junior.
“Not only do you have to go against a great team but also one of the top 20 players in the country,” Schaefer said. “If you’re not careful and you take your eye off the other three players averaging double figures, any of them can go get 20. That’s your fear.”
Mississippi State has an outstanding scorer of its own in Victoria Vivians. The sophomore guard is putting up 17.2 points per game and led the Bulldogs with 19 in their 60-50 first round win over 12th-seeded Chattanooga on Friday.
The Bulldogs (27-7) are hoping find more balance in their scoring in the second round. The team’s second and third leading scorers – Morgan William and Dominique Dillingham – combined for just nine points against Chattanooga.
“(Michigan State) sat there and watched our game and they’re definitely going to key in on Victoria,” Dillingham said. “Somebody has to step up.”
Mississippi State won the only meetings between the two teams 63-53 in Atlanta as part of the 1987 Georgia State Classic.