Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer has a pretty straightforward message for his players ahead of Friday’s showdown against juggernaut UConn: Don’t get caught up in the excitement of reaching the program’s first Final Four. Remain focused.
His players seem to have taken the message to heart.
MSU sophomore reserve Jazzmun Holmes, a former Harrison Central standout, said last year’s embarrassing 98-38 loss to the Huskies (36-0) in the Sweet 16 still stings. Holmes isn’t promising anything except a better effort at 8:30 p.m. Friday when the Bulldogs (33-4) get a shot at revenge.
“It’s still in the back of our minds,” said Holmes, who recorded three assists and a steal in 11 minutes during last year’s loss to UConn. “We haven’t just said forget it. We still talk about it sometimes. We have been preparing all year for this matchup. I think for us to be playing in this big game is a great opportunity for us.
“Everybody is pretty relaxed and ready to play. I think we’re ready to be in that moment.”
Holmes and former West Harrison standout Ameshya Williams have embraced their roles this season. They combine for less than 20 minutes a night but have made the most of their opportunities. In MSU’s NCAA Tournament opener, a 110-69 beatdown of Troy, Williams scored a career-high 15 points with five rebounds and three blocks. In MSU’s second-round game, a 92-71 win over DePaul, Holmes scored 14 points with two steals, six assists and two rebounds.
If MSU is going to pull off the upset, the Bulldogs need to stay true to what got them this far.
“We have to go out there and play our game. We can’t let them shoot 3s all night. We have to go play with an edge,” Holmes said. “I definitely think that’s what got us this far, playing aggressive and as a team, having chemistry and getting stops on the defensive end.
“We’re going to have to play tough defense and take them out of the things they want to do.”
Making a team uncomfortable that hasn’t lost in 111 straight is likely easier said than done, but the Bulldogs are going to try.
“Coach always says if you come in and something’s broken then fix it; if it’s not, keep it going,” Holmes said. “That’s what I try to do when my number is called.”
Added the soft-spoken Williams: “If my number is called, I’m going to be ready.”
The winner of Friday’s game plays the winner of Stanford (32-5) and South Carolina (31-4).
Who: Mississippi State women vs. UConn
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday