Mississippi State Basketball: Nikki McCray-Penson Leads a Talented Team in Year One

New Mississippi State women's basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson spoke of the importance of relationships and championships during her introductory press conference Tuesday.Nikki McCray-Penson
New Mississippi State women's basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson spoke of the importance of relationships and championships during her introductory press conference Tuesday.Nikki McCray-Penson /

Mississippi State Basketball: Nikki McCray-Penson Looks to Continue Lady Bulldog Success in Year One

The Mississippi State Basketball Lady Bulldogs enter into new territory for the 20-21 season. The shock of Vic Shaeffer departing is an afterthought as McCray-Penson is ready to lead her Lady Bulldogs in her first game later this month.

One advantage that McCray-Penson has going into the season is the cupboard is not bare. Shaeffer recruited very well and McCray-Penson added two signees and a graduate transfer.

The Lady Bulldogs will also be without Andra Epinsosa-Hunter, as she has opted out due to Covid-19 concerns. Let’s take a look at the Lady Bulldogs roster as they get ready for the season.

Key Returning Players

The Lady Bulldogs averaged 79.2 points a game last year. The Lady Bulldogs return 54.5 points of that average, led by Rickea Jackson (15.1) and Jessika Carter (13). Jackson and Carter are deserving of every preseason honor they have earned. They were both named Lindy’s Preseason 3rd team All-Americans.

The Lady Bulldogs have a full supporting cast of role players that can easily take over a game if Jackson and Carter have an off game. Aliyah Matharu and JaMya Mingo-Young are young players that show no fear when they are on the court.

Matharu is a scoring machine as evidenced by her career-high of 24 points. She was the team’s second-leading three-point scorer and had six games with at least 15 points. Mingo-Young’s career-high is 14 points and she scored double figures in four games.

Xaria Wiggins is one of my favorite players and she raised all of her statistics across the board. Wiggins will be counted on to provide three-point shooting and defense as a reserve.

Yemiyah Morris is back for her senior season and looks to provide a continued defensive presence with her 6-6 frame. I am eager to see how coach McCray-Penson will utilize her compared to Vic Shaeffer.

I saved the best for last, as I feel like Myah Taylor is due for a breakout season. The former 5 Star recruit has yet to reach her potential. Vic Shaefer utilized her in a game manager role.  I am ready to see her become the offensive juggernaut I know she can be.


Sidney Cooks practiced with the team last year and now she will finally take the court for Mississippi State. Former Bulldog Coach Shaeffer raved about Cooks’s ability in practice as an almost unguardable player. She will give Mississippi State another dependable scoring threat, and she can shoot the three.

Coach McCray-Penson added graduate transfer Caterrion Thompson from Bowling Green. She was the Falcons second-leading scorer and she is a three-point specialist. Adding these two experienced players to a young but very talented team will definitely provide some extra leadership.


When Vic Shaefer left for Texas, he took one of the Lady Bulldogs signees with him. One of the first wins for Coach McCray-Penson was keeping 5-Star Madison Hayes in the Lady Bulldog house. She is the ultimate competitor, has tremendous confidence, and most importantly, she is humble.

When I talked with Hayes over the Summer, her mind was focused fully on winning a starting position. Whether she starts or comes off the bench, she will be utilized greatly in her true freshman season.

Mississippi State also signed 6-5 post player Charlotte Kohl from Germany. Kohl is a very talented player and she was a member of several German national teams. Her length alone is necessary as she is one of four Lady Bulldogs over 6 feet and 4 inches tall.

Award Lists, Top 10 NCAA Ranking, and SEC Preseason Media Poll

The Lady Bulldogs will be an intriguing team to watch as all Bulldog fans want to see the team continue their winning ways and the championship-caliber play they enjoyed under Shaefer. Several Lady Bulldogs were added to preseason award lists.

Rickea Jackson was named to the Cheryl Miller Award Watch List. Jessika Carter was named to the Katrina McClain Award Watch List. Myah Taylor was added to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List. Sidney Cooks (#28) and Madison Hayes (#38 )were named to the ESPN Top 50 Newcomers List by Graham Hays.

The Lady Bulldogs were also given a freshly minted #6 ranking to start the season. The SEC has not released its preseason media poll yet. I can safely assume since the Lady Bulldogs are the second highest-ranked conference team in the country behind South Carolina, they will be picked 2nd in the league.

The rivalry with South Carolina, former boss, and friend Dawn Staley will be fun to watch. I hope the Lady Bulldogs get the best of the Lady Gamecocks this year and all of the years going forward.