Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is looking for another first at the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament.
His fifth-ranked Bulldogs won at South Carolina for the first time in Schaefer’s seven seasons as coach this past Sunday to claim a second consecutive SEC regular-season crown. He’s hoping Mississippi State can add the league tournament to its list of never-been-done accomplishments this week in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Bulldogs (27-2, 15-1) will probably have to go through the 12th-ranked Gamecocks (21-8, 14-2), the four-time tournament defending champs, to do it.
“I hope we’re fortunate enough to be in that game on Sunday,” Schaefer said. “But we’ll have to beat two really good teams on Friday and Saturday.”
The tournament started Wednesday with two games, although the top four seeds — No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 South Carolina, No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 4 Kentucky — won’t start play until Friday.
Mississippi State has endured its share of disappointment against the Gamecocks in recent years.
They’ve lost three straight SEC Tournament finals to South Carolina, including last year after going 16-0 in the league and winning 32 straight overall.
And, of course, there was that stinging loss to the Gamecocks in the 2017 national championship game after the Bulldogs had upset heavily favored UConn, which had won its past 111 in a row.
“There’s going to be some heartache,” Schaefer said. “I believe that just gets you tougher, gets you ready for the next opportunity.”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is also itching for another chance . Her team started 4-4 in its first season without All-American A’ja Wilson, but has won 14 of its past 17 games and came within a late rebound of taking down Mississippi State a few days ago.
“We always think we’ve got a shot at winning,” Staley said.
“No one’s running away with the SEC and no one’s running away with the SEC Tournament. We feel good about where we are.”