By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – It is tough to beat a team twice in the same season, let alone three times.
Mississippi State hopes that holds true tonight. The Bulldogs host Auburn at 7 p.m. in the Sweet 16 of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament after the Tigers swept both contests during the regular season.
“I guess for us it’s the third time’s a charm,” said MSU freshman Breanna Richardson. “We’ve played them two times already so we should know what to expect. Our main thing will be handling the press. I think if we can handle their press then everything should come together offensively and defensively and we could possibly come out with the win.”
Auburn downed MSU 82-74 in Starkville on Jan. 5 and won again on the plains 51-43 on Feb. 9. Martha Alwal led the Bulldogs 32 total points in those games (18 and 14) but was no match for Tyrese Tanner of the Tigers who scored 24 and 21 points in those outings.
“I watched the film and we really were smart and did a tremendous job defensively in the second game over (at Auburn),” said MSU coach Vic Schaefer. “We should’ve won the game. We were up eight at the half and were in control and I felt good about what we were doing. We just couldn’t grind out enough points.”
A full-court press caused State to turn the ball over 53 times combined in the first two meetings against Auburn, including 21 from the Bulldog point guards.
Mississippi State (21-13) reached the third round of the WNIT for the first time since 2001 with a 77-68 victory over Tulane and 74-66 double overtime win against Southern Miss. The Bulldogs two home victories in the tournament bump its record to 4-1 all-time inside Humphrey Coliseum in the WNIT.
Schaefer’s squad is getting most of its production inside with Richardson averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds and Alwal adding 16 points, 10 boards and 4.5 blocks during the WNIT.
Auburn is 19-14 on the year and advanced to the WNIT Sweet 16 with home wins against Furman (78-64) and Old Dominion (82-59).
Tanner, a 6-foot-1 senior wing, continues to lead the Tigers with 17.2 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
The victor of tonight’s game will meet the winner between South Florida and George Washington in the quarterfinals.