Tulane-Mississippi St. Preview
It's been a breakthrough season for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs will try to add to their accomplishments Friday when they face Tulane in a first-round game at Durham, North Carolina.
Vic Schaefer's team set school records for overall wins (26) and SEC victories (11) en route to claiming the fifth seed - its highest since being a No. 3 in 2003. Mississippi State, ranked 12th, is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
''This season has been very special for us,'' Schaefer said. ''Obviously, it's a very special team.''
The Bulldogs (26-6) are led by freshman forward Victoria Vivians, averaging a team-high 15.1 points despite shooting only 37.8 percent. Mississippi State also has balance behind Vivians - three other players average between 8.3 and 9.9 points, and another four contribute between 5.0 and 5.8 points per contest.
Vivians has averaged 18.8 points in her last six games, highlighted by a 39-point effort in a loss to Kentucky on Feb. 12.
Mississippi State, which allowed a Division I-low 78 3-pointers, also has won its last five first-round games in the NCAA Tournament dating to 1999.
Tulane (22-10), seeded 12th, was one of the final at-large teams selected to the field of 64 after finishing sixth in the American Athletic Conference. The Green Wave, also making their first tournament appearance since 2010, won their two conference tournament games by a combined 43 points before losing to South Florida in the semifinals.
Freshman guard Kolby Morgan paces the team with 12.0 points per game, but she went 0 for 6 and finished with a season-low two points in the loss to the Bulls. Tulane is 18-1 when Morgan reaches double figures, though the only loss came when she scored a season-best 25 against Western Kentucky on Nov. 28.
The Green Wave's remaining starters are an all-senior quartet - Danielle Blagg, Tiffany Dale, Adesuqa Ebomwonyi and Jamie Kaplan have combined for 3,909 points and 89 victories.
Tulane is 3-10 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, with coach Lisa Stockton guiding the school to 10 of its 11 all-time appearances.
Mississippi State has won both meetings between the teams, including a 77-68 home victory in the first round of the WNIT last season. Senior center Martha Alwal had 15 points for the Bulldogs, while Kaplan scored a team-high 17 for the Green Wave.
The winner of this game will play fourth-seeded Duke or No. 13 seed Albany on Sunday.