Mississippi State has shown improvement each season Vic Schaefer has been at the helm.
The Bulldogs missed the postseason in his initial year in 2012-13, reached the quarterfinals of the WNIT in year two, and the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Now MSU has an opportunity to measure just how far the program has come over the last four years as it meets No. 1 national seed and top-ranked Connecticut in the Sweet 16 Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The game will be televised by ESPN.
“We’re playing No. 1 so however you want to measure us against No. 1, you’re going to get that opportunity on Saturday,” Schaefer said. “If one game is the measuring stick, then that game is going to be played Saturday.”
The Huskies have won 71 straight games and back-to-back-back national championships. UConn features two-time Naismith Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, who is averaging 19.2 points per game, and are led by seven-time AP Coach of the Year Geno Auriemma.
“They’ve always been good,” said MSU guard Dominique Dillingham. “They get the best players. They’re a really good team but to me, it’s just another basketball game whenever we get out there to play.”
The Huskies have reached the Sweet 16 in each of the last 23 years and have 10 national titles over that span. State is making just its second ever Sweet 16 appearance having lost 74-71 to Florida State in 2010 in Dayton, Ohio under Sharon Fanning.
The Bulldogs finished as the runner-up at the SEC Tournament this year and established a new program record by going 28-7.
“When you are playing UConn, you have to realize that there is a reason why they have won as many games as they have in a row,” Schaefer said. “At the same time, we have to realize that we are here for a reason and that we are pretty good too. So we have to go in and be who we are, execute, and put ourselves in a position to be successful while also keeping ourselves out of situations that can hinder us from being successful.”
No. 5 seed Mississippi State advanced to the Sweet 16 after defeating 12th-seeded Chattanooga 60-50 and No. 4 seed Michigan State 74-72 in front of its home crowd in Starkville last weekend.
It will be far from a home court advantage for the Bulldogs in Bridgeport on Saturday. Webster Bank Arena is located only 79 miles from UConn’s campus.
“Obviously it’s not their home court, but it will certainly be their home state and their home crowd,” Schaefer said. “Any time you play on the road and have people hollering against you, it can test you.”
The Bulldogs are 12-5 away from Humphrey Coliseum this season.