STARKVILLE, Ms -- Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer has spent the majority of his coaching career sharing the bench with Gary Blair. Thursday, however, the two will be on opposite benches as Schaefer's Mississippi State squad hosts 16th-ranked Texas A&M at 7 p.m. inside Humphrey Coliseum.
Despite the long-standing relationship between Schaefer and Blair that encompasses 15 seasons at Texas A&M and Arkansas, State's first-year head coach is looking at the contest as another challenge in what he calls the "monster" that is the SEC.
"I had the opportunity to work alongside a Hall of Famer in Coach Blair for 15 seasons. It's going to be unique in that Coach Blair will be on the other bench instead of us being together like we were the last 15 years, but I'm looking at Thursday as a game against what I consider to be another Top 10 basketball team in the SEC," Schaefer said. "I'm going to coach my kids the best I can, and he's going to coach his kids the best he can. Once it's tipped up, it's not Gary against Vic, it's Texas A&M against Mississippi State. At the end of the day, it's about the kids."
Mississippi State and the Aggies will be meeting for the second time overall, and the first inside the Hump. Tickets for the contest are $5 for adults and free for youth high school age and under.
Thursday's game will be the 7th meeting all time between Blair and Schaefer on opposing benches. The six previous meetings were when Blair was at Stephen F. Austin(85-93) and Schaefer was at Sam Houston State (91-97). Blair won all six of the head to head contest (91-93) between good coaching friends and golfing buddies.
The SEC match up will be broadcast on the radio in Bryan/College Station on 1150AM KZNE with KBTX General Manager Mike Wright handling the play-by-play and Steve Miller, Texas A&M Assistant Athletic Director, Events & External Services handling the color commentary duties.
The Dawgs return home following a tough two-game road trip that saw them drop decisions to LSU and No. 5 Kentucky. The pair of setbacks put MSU at 8-10 overall, 0-5 in SEC play.
In the two road contests, a -13.5 rebounding margin and -10.0 differential in turnovers hampered the Bulldogs.
"Rebounding and taking care of the ball are where it starts," Schaefer said. "We took care of the ball really well against Florida, but we had 35 turnovers at Kentucky, which is 70 points you don't have a chance to score. We have to take care of the ball, and we have to rebound and keep them (Texas A&M) off the boards."
State was paced in Lexington by sophomore Kendra Grant. The Richland, Miss., native tallied her 13th double-digit scoring game of the season as she netted a team-high 11 points.
Grant tops the Dawgs with a 12.7 scoring average this season. A starter in all 48 games of her MSU career, she rates third among SEC sophomores in points per game this year.
Sophomore Carnecia Williams also recorded double figures against Kentucky, scoring 10 points in a career-high 36 minutes. Williams, a Memphis, Tenn., native, is averaging 8.3 points and 5.1 rebounds on the year.
The SEC's top two rebounders will meet Thursday night as Mississippi State's Martha Alwal squares off against Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone.
Alwal, who is averaging 11.6 ppg on the year, is the league's second-leading rebounder with 9.5 per game. The Worthington, Minn., native is also blocking 2.2 shots per game, the third-highest average in the conference.
Bone, who leads the SEC with 10.2 rpg, has scored at a 17.9 clip to lead Texas A&M to a 14-5 overall record and 4-1 league mark.
Bone scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Aggies' 64-46 win against then-No. 12 Georgia last Sunday.
Freshman Courtney Walker, part of a No. 2 national signing class that Schaefer and MSU associate head coach Johnnie Harris helped ink, led the way in the contest, scoring 12 points to raise her season average to 10.2 ppg.
"Johnnie and I know everyone on that team and were involved in recruiting all of them. The thing that stands out right now is they have three fourth-year players in Bone, (Kristi) Bellock and (Adrienne) Pratcher that are playing at an incredibly high level, and their freshmen are playing like the No. 2 class in the country," Schaefer said. "They are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They had a really rough schedule early, and they got through it, learned from it and are really playing well right now."
Mississippi State remains at home Sunday for a 2 p.m. showdown against in-state rival Ole Miss. At the conclusion of the contest, the Bulldogs will host a courtside meet and greet for fans.
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