Bulldogs advance to finals for fifth straight year
GREENVILLE, S.C. - For the fifth year in a row, Mississippi State will compete for an SEC Tournament title after defeating Kentucky, 77-59, in the semifinals at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Saturday night.
"First of all, just so proud of my team tonight," head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I just thought we were really competitive and tough tonight. We showed tremendous toughness. I thought the game would come down to that. We weren't tough in the first meeting. It's something that we've really tried to talk about a lot. We've talked about it more than we've been it.
"It's nice to be able to have another opportunity, this will be five years in a row, the fourth time we'll have to play South Carolina here at home tomorrow. We're going to have a lot of people in the same, similar colors tomorrow in the arena. They'll be in their garnet, and we'll be in our maroon. The arena ought to look similar. Should be a great atmosphere for women's college basketball."
The Bulldogs (27-5) tied the SEC Tournament record for consecutive championship game appearances, matching Tennessee, who had also advanced to five-straight title games from 1988-92. State will be looking to defend its title from last year, taking on top-seeded South Carolina in the championship game at 1 p.m. CT. The matchup will be broadcasted on ESPN2 and the MSU Radio Network.
Kentucky held the early momentum with a 7-2 run to begin the game and a 12-2 run in the middle of the first quarter to take a 22-12 lead at the end of the frame. Howard had 11 points to fuel Kentucky's offense, which shot 45 percent from the floor. On the other end of the court, State struggled to get any offense going, connecting on just 29 percent of its shots to start the game.
The Bulldogs had the hot hand in the second stanza, beginning with an 8-0 run to pull with two points early in the period. State would continue to keep the pressure on until take the lead with 1:43 left in the half. Kentucky would end the frame on a 5-0 run, though, to take a 35-32 advantage into halftime.
MSU shot 73 percent from the field to erase the double-digit deficit. Jackson had a dominant half, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight boards to pace Mississippi State. Yemiyah Morris provides some good minutes off the bench in the second quarter, knocking down three big baskets for six points during State's run.
Both teams battled hard in the third quarter, but it was Mississippi State that grabbed the lead, 52-47, going into the final frame. Matharu had nine points in the period, capped by a big three with two seconds left. Jackson added seven points, including five straight during one stretch to fuel the offense.
State opened the fourth quarter with a quick 6-0 run to go up 58-47 and forcing Kentucky to call a timeout. The Wildcats wouldn't give up without a fight, but the Bulldogs would not be denied, earning a spot in the title game.