As senior forward Haley Lorenzen pulled down her final rebound Sunday afternoon against Ole Miss, there were no opponents around her. Her boxout created enough space to take one step to her right, elevate and bank home the eventual game-winning score with 27 seconds left on the clock.
The Florida women’s basketball team (10-10, 2-5 SEC) may need a similar run of play from Lorenzen when they take on No. 2 Mississippi State on Thursday night at 7 in Starkville.
As a result of her 11th double-double on the year and her lights-out fourth quarter (seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks), Lorenzen earned SEC Player of the Week honors for the first time in her career. Her week included helping her team earn its first two SEC wins by going a combined 11 of 21 from the field for 34 points and bringing down 23 rebounds against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
“It’s such a huge honor,” Lorenzen said. “I have so many people that I wanna thank. It’s all about my teammates.”
Lorenzen and her teammates will have their hands full trying to defend Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (20-0, 7-0 SEC) have won their first 20 games for the second consecutive season.
MSU is scorching opponents with the top-scoring duo in the SEC in junior Teaira McCowan and senior Victoria Vivians. The two have combined to average 40 points per game between them on the way to helping their team top the SEC in scoring.
Vivians, the 6-foot-1 guard from Carthage, Mississippi, heads the explosive Bulldog offense. The All-American is shooting 52.7 percent from the field, second on her team only to McCowan’s whopping 64.2-percent mark.
At 6-foot-7, McCowan is a solid four inches taller than both Gators starting forwards. She presides over a defense that is allowing only 56.1 points per game, good for 20th in the NCAA. Her 13.1 rebounds per game also ranks highest in the SEC, while her two blocks per game put her at fifth in the conference.
At Tuesday’s practice, with coach Cameron Newbauer recruiting out of town, assistant coach Laura Harper said there may not be a way to put a stop to McCowan’s inside presence.
“When you have a player like Teaira McCowan… she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do,” Harper said. “I think everyone in the country’s trying to figure out how to guard Teaira McCowan.”
For Florida, the Bulldogs’ offense might present the most overwhelming challenge on its schedule. The Gators’ defense has allowed 67.1 points per game, coming in at 221st in the nation. However, the unit has done well against conference foes so far, holding opponents to 65.4 points per game, including a double-overtime outlier in which Ole Miss put up 78 with an extra 10 minutes of play.
As for how she sees the inside matchup, Lorenzen said facing off against McCowan isn’t anything new to her.
“It’s not something that I’m necessarily quite so like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ like the wow factor,” Lorenzen said, “but it’ll be interesting to help our freshmen go through that first big SEC girl challenge.”