- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - It’s all about the preparation for Chinwe Okorie and it paid off nicely for her Sunday.

Okorie scored 12 of her season-high 18 points in the first half as No. 7 Mississippi State pulled away from Hawaii 66-41 on the final day of the Rainbow Wahine Showdown.

The 6-foot-5 senior center shot 8 of 10 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds.

“Honestly, even before today we prepared really, really hard for games up front and just being in this championship game was an opportunity for us to see how much we need to grow,” said Okorie, who averaged 12 points and 7.3 rebounds in Mississippi State’s three games in Honolulu.

Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer praised the play of the Lagos, Nigeria native

“Chinwe had a monster game, so I was proud of her,” Schaefer said. “She’s come a long way. If you could have seen her three years ago, she couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so she’s really made big strides.”

Victoria Vivians, the tournament’s most outstanding player, scored 10 points for the Bulldogs (7-0).

It was the lowing scoring output of the season for Hawaii, which shot just 32 percent from the field and 17 percent (2 of 12) on 3-pointers.

Mississippi State opened the game with an 11-0 run and led by as many as 24 points.

Sarah Toeaina and Briana Harris had 11 points apiece for the Rainbow Wahine (2-5).

Mississippi State held a 33-19 lead at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs, who returned all five starters and 90 percent of their scoring from a season ago, did well to build depth in their three games in Honolulu. All 13 players that saw court time scored in an 88-51 win over San Jose State Saturday and all 13 played at least two minutes against Hawaii Sunday.

“I wanted to work on building our depth and building some of the kids’ confidence and we were able to do that and obviously that’s going to pay off for us down the line,” Schaefer said.

Hawaii: The Rainbow Wahine, who have dropped three straight games, posted a 21-win season and went to their first NCAA Tournament since 1998 last year, but returned just two starters from that team. Against the veteran-laden Bulldogs, they started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.

“I’m not worried about the three (losses) in a row,” Hawaii coach Laura Beeman said. “It’s about our overall record, it’s about us getting better, which we did tonight.”

TURNING POINT

Hawaii took its only lead at 15-13 on Julissa Tago’s layup with 8:44 left in the second quarter. However, Dominique Dillingham answered with a 3-pointer from the left wing that ignited a 17-0 Mississippi State run that gave them a commanding 30-15 lead with 2:02 left in the half.

STAT OF THE NIGHT

The teams combined for 50 turnovers, 30 of them by the Rainbow Wahine, who had 18 by halftime.

“We knew we were going to turn the ball over, but 30 times is excessive by any standard,” Beeman said. “A lot of those were unforced errors, offensive fouls that we need to get under control. Against the number seven team in the country you have to have composure.”

HE SAID IT

“We do have tremendous depth, especially at guard, but it is nice to have two aircraft carriers in there that you can use as well,” Schaefer said of his center duo of 6-foot-5 Okorie and 6-7 Teaira McCowan.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State, which is off to its best start to a season since it opened the 2014-15 season with 18 straight wins, will next play at Iowa State Saturday.

Hawaii, which is off to its worst start since it opened the 2012-13 season 2-6, will play at No. 9 UCLA Sunday.

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