By JOEL COLEMAN
The road to the NCAA Women’s Final Four will come through Starkville. Mississippi State learned on Monday night it will host first and second-round games in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament beginning Friday at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Bulldogs learned their fate at a selection show gathering in their home arena and immediately reacted with shouts of joy.
“Seeing Starkville (on the screen), it just made me excited,” junior guard Dominque Dillingham said. “I’m just happy we get to play in front of our fans.”
Mississippi State, a five-seed, will begin its tourney run on Friday at 1:30 p.m. against 12th-seeded Chattanooga. Four-seed Michigan State will battle 13th-seeded Belmont earlier in the day at 11 a.m. Friday’s two winners will then play each other on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.
Though seeded higher than Mississippi State, Michigan State was unable to host first and second round games on its home floor due to a scheduling conflict with high school state championships held at its facility.
“It’s a tough break for them,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said of how things worked out for Michigan State. “They’re a great team though that is well-coached. They are going to come on the road and probably have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. It is what it is. We’re excited about our opportunity to host.”
Michigan State’s misfortune is Mississippi State’s gain. The Bulldogs have set all-time attendance records this season at Humphrey Coliseum and hope to again be backed by their dedicated fan base beginning with Friday’s tournament opener.
“I think we’re going to have a great crowd,” Schaefer said. “People just need to cut their spring break a little short and get back here and we need to pack the Hump. This is our opportunity. We’ve been given an opportunity. People have heard about the environment that we have here at Mississippi State for women’s basketball. Now it’s our time to shine. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t shine as bright as ever.”
Sophomore guard Victoria Vivians is already imagining the electricity that will be in the air for the event. Having seen fans jam into the Humphrey Coliseum for regular season action, Vivians believes everything will be amplified when she steps on the floor Friday.
“It’s going to be an amazing feeling,” Vivians said. “I think we are going to make history again. I think there are going to be more than 10,000 people here Friday. We’ll have a lot of fans and a great atmosphere for Mississippi State and Starkville.”
As one of the most decorated high school players to ever play in the state of Mississippi, Vivians could have decided to play basketball virtually anywhere when her prep career concluded two years ago. Instead, she decided to stay in her home state and don the maroon and white, she says, for chances like the one her and her teammates are about to have.
“This is what I came here for,” Vivians said. “This is why (Schaefer) signed all of us, to make history and to change things and to make this a better place to play basketball.”