STARKVILLE, Miss. — Victoria Vivians was back to her high-scoring ways on Friday night, pouring in 22 points to help No. 7 Mississippi State to a season-opening 68-53 win over Virginia.
But the most impressive part of her game might have been the shots she didn’t take.
Vivians was an efficient 8 of 15 from the field, scoring her points within the flow of the offense. The 6-foot-1 senior has always been a gifted scorer, but her tendency to take heavily-guarded shots or extremely long 3-pointers has occasionally drawn the ire of coach Vic Schaeffer.
There was none of that on Friday. Vivians acknowledged it’s still a work in progress.
“I was really concentrating on that,” Vivians said. “We’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve got good chemistry so there’s no point in taking bad shots. It’s like coach always says ‘Make a good shot a great shot.'”
Schaeffer was also complimentary of Vivians’ all-around game, including her defense. She had seven rebounds, two assists, one block, one steal and was constantly a pain for Virginia’s offense by slapping balls away.
“The only reason we won the game is because we defended,” Schaeffer said. “When we made our run in the third quarter, (Vivians) was knocking balls away, getting into the passing lanes. We really got interested in our defense.”
Roshunda Johnson scored 18 points — knocking down four 3-pointers — and freshman Chloe Bibby added 13.
It was an emotional night for Mississippi State, which raised its national finalist banner to the Humphrey Coliseum rafters during a pregame ceremony. The Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament Final Four for the first time in school history last year and went on to upset No. 1 UConn in the semifinals before losing to South Carolina in the national championship game.
“It brought back some chills,” Johnson said. “But we just had to get back out there.”
Virginia kept things close for a while, tying the game at 18 midway through the second quarter. But Mississippi State methodically pulled away from that point, pushing ahead 33-23 at halftime and 54-37 after the third quarter.
Virginia was led by Dominique Toussaint, who scored 17 points. The Cavaliers had 23 turnovers and Mississippi State turned those into 26 points.
“We just got disheveled,” Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said. “We were out of sorts and not together so that was disappointing. But I wouldn’t trade anything coming down here and playing in this environment. We needed to get tested.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers were competitive for much of the first half, but couldn’t score enough to keep pace with Mississippi State. Virginia returns most of its team from last season, when it finished 20-13 overall, including 7-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a solid opener despite losing their shooting touch for much of the first half. A flurry of 3-pointers during the third quarter helped them pull away. Mississippi State is trying to build some post depth after losing several players from last year’s team, so Bibby’s 13 points were encouraging.
Virginia will host Central Connecticut on Sunday.
Mississippi State will host Georgia State on Thursday.