Anriel Howard

Mississippi State forward Anriel Howard has been a huge addition for the Bulldogs this season. She is one of the reasons Mississippi State is back in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight year.

Nobody could see this coming, not even Vic Schaefer himself.  

A 58-year-old married father of two, Schaefer is a self-acknowledged workaholic with an obvious plan for success.

His Bulldogs are making a fourth straight trip to the NCAA round of 16. But just reaching the Sweet 16 is not the name of the game for Schaefer and his program. They have made national championship appearances the last two years so reaching the Sweet 16 has simply become expected in Starkville.

“I don’t think anybody understands how hard it is,” Schaefer said. “It’s so hard. When we lose a game, it’s like the sky’s falling around here. I would rather have it that way than the other. I think, again, it’s what makes it special here.”

Just as they have the three previous seasons, the Bulldogs breezed through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament while hosting inside the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum. State surged past Southern 103-46 on Friday and downed Clemson 85-61 in the second round on Sunday.

The top-seeded Bulldogs will play No. 5 seed Arizona State at the Sweet 16 in Portland, Oregon, on Friday.

In his seven seasons as head coach, Schaefer has guided State to five NCAA Tournaments, two Final Fours, two SEC regular season championships and one SEC Tournament title. He has posted a 193-55 record over that span, including an impressive 103-9 mark the past three years.

And the coach was handsomely rewarded for his success last summer with a new four-year contract that earns him $1.584 million this season and peaks at $1.65 million by 2020-21, making him the highest paid women’s basketball coach in the SEC.

“I feel the obligation and the pressure because I know the investment that they make here at Mississippi State,” Schaefer said. “It’s important to me to continue to live this life that we’ve created. I didn’t come here to not win championships. That’s what I came here to do. I’m just trying to live up to my end of the bargain.”

After making 4 NCAA tournaments and going to two straight national title games, Schaefer has landed top recruits and transfers in order to put Starkville on the women’s basketball map.  

Obviously, Anriel Howard has been a key component to this year’s team. MSU was good without her but really good with her.

Howard’s versatility was on full display last Sunday in Mississippi State’s win over Clemson to reach the Sweet 16.

It is the second consecutive season for Howard to make the Sweet 16. It’s just with a different team.

At this time last season, Howard was helping the Texas A&M Aggies to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. She pulled down a Texas A&M single-season record 439 rebounds as it finished with a 26-10 record.

Howard left the Aggies and searched for another opportunity for success as a graduate transfer.

MSU was able to gain Howard’s services for one season and she has not disappointed. She joined center Teaira McCowan to form one of the best post duos in the country.

If MSU can continue to get that kind of production from Howard and Teaira McCowan over the next couple of weeks, then another deep finish in the NCAA Tournament could be in the immediate future for MSU.

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