No. 2 Mississippi State goes to 31-0, topping Kentucky 81-58
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The No. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs trailed 23-22 after one quarter, and coach Vic Schaefer let them know how he felt about it.
A 19-2 run to start the second quarter showed they listened well.
Roshunda Johnson finished with 20 points and the Bulldogs remained undefeated by routing Kentucky 81-58 Friday to advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Bulldogs are 31-0, the nation’s longest winning streak. They are trying to add their first tournament title to the regular-season championship and will play No. 15 Texas A&M, a 75-69 winner over No. 24 LSU, for a third consecutive spot in the final.
“He said we weren’t playing hard enough and that’s not how we wanted to come out,” Johnson said of Schaefer’s message after the first quarter. “And I just felt like we had to come harder. And he said it, we, some people weren’t playing hard, so we had to keep going and get ourself together.”
Teaira McCowan had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Mississippi State. Victoria Vivians added 17 points and Blair Schaefer had 15, tying her career-high with five 3-pointers.
Kentucky (15-17) ended the SEC’s longest active streak of trips to the semifinals at eight straight. Coach Matthew Mitchell said he wished his Wildcats had played better in this tournament. The Bulldogs used their experience and strength to make life tough on Kentucky.
“They’re an incredible shooting team and they’re shooting the ball really well,” Mitchell said. “So they’re awfully tough.”
Taylor Murray led the Wildcats with 15 points. Maci Morris and Amanda Paschal each added 13.
Kentucky took a 23-22 lead at the end of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Paschal with 8 seconds left. That was the best it would get for the Wildcats.
Mississippi State scored the first 10 points of the second quarter, and the SEC’s best 3-point shooters put on a show. Schaefer hit a 3 with 6:43 left with Johnson hitting the next 3 — all outside the arc. She hit one, then stole the inbound pass from Morris and quickly knocked down a 3 for her third in the span of 67 seconds.
Schaefer then added a 3 for a 41-25 lead to cap the 19-2 spurt, and Mississippi State led 45-32 at half.
“When you got Ro and Blair out there making 3s, you better find them,” Schaefer said. “And the thing that Ro can do so well is she will just take you off the bounce if you go get her. She’s really good outside and in.”
The Bulldogs outscored Kentucky 23-12 in the third quarter, taking a 68-44 lead into the fourth. They led by as much as 70-44 on a pair of free throws by Vivians seconds into the fourth quarter.
Kentucky: The Wildcats lead the all-time series with Mississippi State 27-20, but the Bulldogs swept them adding a tournament win for a third victory this season. They hurt themselves with too many turnovers (13) that were turned into 21 points.
Mississippi State: The SEC’s best 3-point shooters hit 10 of 21 outside the arc. The Bulldogs made 8 of 12 in the first half. ... They also had a big advantage at the free throw line (15 of 17) compared with Kentucky (5 of 7). ... McCown notched her 23rd double-double of the season.
“I kind of hope she keeps flying under the radar, personally. I hope nobody pays any attention to her because she’s going to keep lighting people up,” Schaefer said of Johnson. The senior has scored double digits since being limited to two points by South Carolina in a win on Feb. 5. Johnson was 7 of 7 at the foul line against Kentucky.
Kentucky: Hope for a berth in the women’s NIT or other postseason tournament.
Mississippi State: SEC semifinal Saturday against Texas A&M.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker