June 20, 2024

Pilkey: Making a case for Mississippi State to win the women’s NCAA tournament

Connecticut looks poised to win its fourth straight nation title. Do the Mississippi State Bulldogs have a chance to stop them?

Logo by Rob Heller.

Submitted Photo.
TNJN assistant sports editor Quinn Pilkey.

The field of 64 teams has been trimmed to just eight, and though Connecticut remains the heavy favorite, every team remaining has some reason to be confident in its ability to put an end to the Huskies’ reign. Mississippi State is one of those teams, and the Bulldogs have to be considered one of the favorites to find the exhaust vent and explode the Death Star that Geno Auriemma has constructed in Storrs, Connecticut.

Mississippi State is one of those teams, and they have to be considered one of the favorites to find the exhaust vent and explode the Death Star that Geno Auriemma has constructed in Storrs, Connecticut.

The Bulldogs finished second in the SEC in both the regular season and conference tournament, showing their ability to compete and win in one of the nation’s toughest conferences. Their 29-4 record on the season was enough to earn them a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament field, where they rolled over Troy and DePaul in the first two rounds before winning a tougher 75-64 battle with Washington in the Sweet 16. Those victories set Mississippi State up for a battle with the Baylor Bears in Oklahoma City on Sunday. The winner of that matchup will travel to Dallas for the Final Four, where it will presumably take on Connecticut with a trip to the national championship game on the line.

It’s not easy to keep competing this late in the season, and the Bulldogs have managed to do it with a well-balanced team that can compete on both ends of the floor. Mississippi State ranks No. 22 in both points per game (76.3) and points allowed per game (56.4). That offense is led by All-SEC first-teamer Victoria Vivians, who averages 16.1 points per game. Vivians receives help from junior guard Morgan Williams’ 10.1 points and a team-high 4.56 assists per game.

The defense is anchored by senior guard Dominique Dillingham, who was named to the SEC All-Defensive team for the second straight year. Dillingham’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but she is elite when guarding opposing guards and does well at the point of attack.

The Bulldogs also boast plenty of depth, with seven players averaging at least 15 minutes per game and three others hitting the 10-minute mark. The highlight of that deep bench unit is sophomore center Teaira McCowan, who comes off the bench to contribute 8.7 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds per game. For her season efforts, McCowan was named the conference’s 6th Woman of the Year.

Mississippi State isn’t just a collection of inexperienced players with talent, either. Of those 10 rotation players, four are seniors, four are juniors and two are sophomores. There are only two true freshmen on the roster, and they combine to play just 10.8 minutes per game. The Bulldogs have plenty of experience, and none of their players will shy away from the big moment.

Between its balanced-but-deadly offense, solid defense, a deep bench and the experience its many stars can provide, Mississippi State has a legitimate chance to not only beat Baylor on Sunday, but to make it all the way and end Connecticut’s four-year streak of championships.

Edited by Nathan Odom

Logo by Rob Heller

Quinn is an assistant sports editor for TNJN and a sophomore majoring in Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennesse. When he's not writing, he's probably doing something else. You can follow him on Twitter (@QuinnNotCook) or e-mail him at qpilkey@vols.utk.edu.