STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer was hired at Mississippi State six years ago and believed then he had the blueprint to turn the Bulldogs into a perennial power in women's basketball.
Schaefer was coming off a national championship as an assistant coach at Texas A&M in 2012 and set out to bring that same level of success with him to Starkville.
"I didn't believe I was brought here to build a top 25 team," Schaefer said. "As I told my then athletic director Scott Stricklin, I wanted to come here and build a top 10 program. There's a difference in a top 25 teams and top 10 programs. I envisioned us building a top 10 program here. I believed we could do it."But that success was certainly not immediate. Schaefer's first Bulldog team in 2012-13 finished 12th in the Southeastern Conference and were blown out by an average of 27.1 points in their league losses.
"We didn't panic that first year when we went 13-17," Schaefer said. "That might be the best job of coaching I've ever done because I didn't think we'd even win three games."
Schaefer's second season saw marginal success going 22-14 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT. By the third year, the Bulldogs were 27-7 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Season on the brink
Year 4 saw State go 28-8 and tied for second in SEC play but it had not yet arrived. The Bulldogs ran into a buzzsaw in the Sweet 16, losing to eventual champion Connecticut by 60 points.
That lopsided loss kept Schaefer's squad humbled and motivated. The Bulldogs responded last season with a 34-5 mark and got their revenge on the Huskies in the Final Four with a 66-64 overtime upset and finished as the national runners-up.
Mississippi State is currently enjoying its best season ever. The Bulldogs went undefeated through the regular season and won the first SEC championship in program history. MSU is now 36-1 and making its second straight Final Four appearance.
"It's hard to do what they've been able to do this year," Schaefer said. "They've had a target on their back from Day 1 after last year and what they were able to accomplish. As the year went on this year and being undefeated for 32 games was a big challenge and they handled that like pros all year long."
Schaefer and his staff have built the program from the ground up without the luxury of many blue-chip prospects.
"Our recipe is recruit, retain and develop and I think we've done that," Schaefer said. "We don't have any McDonald's All-Americans but we've got kids that fit into our system and play extremely hard and are committed."
That style of play eventually endured itself to the Bulldogs' fan base, which has risen attendance in each of Schaefer's six seasons.
"We've built a fan base here based on how hard we play, our toughness and our competitive spirit," Schaefer said. "I don't think we'd have the fan base we have right now if we were standing around in a 2-3 zone.
"I'm not knocking that and it may be great for someone else but it's not what we've hung our hat on around here. I don't think we'd have 10,000 come to see us every night if that's what we were doing."
This article is written by Logan Lowery from Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.