STARKVILLE • For the past two seasons, Mississippi State has finished atop the Southeastern Conference standings.
But for the Bulldogs to achieve a three-peat as SEC champs, their young team must continue to mature over the next three months. MSU has only two members of both conference championships remaining on its roster, Jordan Danberry and Chloe Bibby.
“We just have to show them to go hard every possession and every play because in the SEC, we can’t take plays off,” Danberry said. “The mistakes we make, in SEC games they’ll capitalize off of that. We have to teach them that it’s a small margin for error.”
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs will begin their title defense tonight at 7:10 p.m. as they host Florida.
State posted an impressive 28-4 mark in league play the last two years but has six newcomers on the team this year including four freshmen. Still, the Bulldogs have managed to go 12-2 during the non-conference portion of the schedule and are riding a four-game winning streak.
“I think we’re a long way from where we might be in the next six weeks,” said MSU coach Vic Schaefer. “We’re going to be so much better, hopefully. That’s not to say that we’re not good right now but I just think the more this team plays and practices, the better they’re gonna get.”
One of those freshmen, Rickea Jackson, is making an instant impact. Jackson has scored in double figures in eight of the last 10 games and is averaging a team-high 14.2 points over the past five contests.
First-year starter Jessika Carter is also providing Mississippi State with 13.8 points and 10.9 rebounds this season as she attempts to fill the shoes of SEC Player of the Year Teaira McCowan in the post.
However, Carter has already logged more minutes than any other player and is averaging 28.8 per game. Schaefer would love to be able to rest his 6-foot-5 sophomore more if he can increase production from her back-ups Yemiyah Morris and Promise Taylor.
Morris, a 6-foot-6 juco transfer, is averaging 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 7.5 minutes off the bench while Taylor, a 6-foot-5 Ole Miss transfer, chips in two points and 1.6 boards in 6.7 minutes a game.
“One of the biggest keys to our team is developing some depth at five with Promise and Yemiyah and not playing Jessika so many minutes,” Schaefer said. “The bottom line is that you win with guard play in the SEC but if you’re going to win championships, you’ve got to have those bigs. That continues to be a work in progress for us.”
Florida went 9-4 through non-conference play and is coming off a 55-50 home win over Davidson on Sunday.
Freshman guard Lavender Briggs leads the Gators, scoring 13.8 points and has reached double figures in 11 of her first 12 games.
MSU is seeking its seventh-straight win over Florida and beat the Gators 90-42 in Gainesville last season. Florida holds a 25-24 edge in the overall series.