nikki mccray-penson

After coming over from South Carolina, Nikki McCray-Penson is set to launch her head coaching career next week.

STARKVILLE First-year Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson is a defensive-minded coach, but speed and transition offense have been a focus this preseason.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 in the NCAA’s preseason Power 10 rankings, started practice last week. Mississippi State lost two starters from last season’s team, Jordan Danberry and Chloe Bibby, and have a lot of young talent and transfers on the team this year.

“Really excited to be able to finally get the first official practice,” McCray- Penson said. “We’ve been doing some stuff, but for it to be officially the first practice was really exciting. I think there were some jitters and nerves. It was very fast paced. It was almost like a track meet.”

McCray-Penson’s goal for the first few days of practice was to get the players used to the pace of play that they will see in the Southeastern Conference. She mentioned the players telling her that they had never practiced that fast before.

McCray-Penson wants the Bulldogs to play fast. She has worked a lot with the team on transition offense and defense, and said she normally expects a team to be in transition for 63% of the time in any given game.

“63% of the time, defensively, shots are missed and we are going to be in transition,” McCray-Penson said. “So we want to be very good in transition on defense and on offense. We want to be very dangerous in transition so what we are working is multiple people handling the ball for us and that requires a lot of decision making.”

Edge for offense?

She believes that the offense, much like it is in college football right now, could be steps ahead of the defense when the season starts. With COVID-19, no practice has been allowed since the spring.

The little practice the team could do, mostly individual drills, were all offensively based since COVID rules did not allow the players to make contact with each other.

The team mostly worked on shooting drills, and McCray-Penson said her team will shoot a lot of 3-pointers this season.

“I’m a defensive minded coach, and I can definitely see the offense being ahead,” McCray-Penson said. “A lot time when we had individuals, we couldn’t have contact so we did a lot of shooting. We did a lot of breakdowns and footwork. Our starts and our stops are really key for us in our offense so we really broke that down. …”

“Now, we are just getting them acclimated to defense. I had to kind of do both because I’m new and because that’s just how I am. We will see where we are, but for us, it’s about tempo and pace of play.”

dalton.middleton@journalinc.com

Twitter: @DLMiddleton8

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