February 23, 2013 11:17:12 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Thursday was an effort in redemption for Martha Alwal.
Coming off her second scoreless game of the season, the 6-foot-4 sophomore center wanted to make a statement against the University of Alabama. Alwal delivered with an 18-point, 15-rebound performance in a 75-51 victory at Humphrey Coliseum that helped the Bulldogs snap a two-game losing streak.
MSU (12-14, 4-9 Southeastern Conference) will try to build on that effort at 2 p.m. today when it takes on No. 15 University of South Carolina (21-5, 9-4) in Columbia, S.C.
For Alwal, it will be an opportunity to build on a performance that helped erase the disappointment of a loss at the University of Mississippi and a home loss to LSU in which she didn't score and had only one rebound in 19 minutes. She wasn't in foul trouble against LSU and didn't play for most of the second half after a lackluster showing.
"My biggest thing was I was trying to redeem myself from LSU, being scoreless and having only one rebound," Alwal said. "That really bugged me, so I just tried really hard to come out today and get that double-double."
Alwal regrouped with her league-leading 14th double-double of the season. She is tied for the team lead in scoring with sophomore guard Kendra Grant (12.2 points per game). She also leads the team and is second in the SEC in rebounding (9.8 per game). Her season-high eight blocked shots against Alabama pushed her season total to 67. She is second in the league in blocks (2.6) and 15th nationally.
Alwal said she didn't suffer from a hangover after the Ole Miss loss against LSU. After the Ole Miss game in Oxford, Alwal slumped in a chair in the postgame media session and looked forlorn. She had an upbeat posture and a smile on her face after the Alabama game.
"It is my mind-set and how I come in," Alwal said. "When I come in like just with the flow I normally tend not to have good games. I need to come out with the right mind-set."
Alwal's energy level helped her block shots on the perimeter and match her career-high with three steals in 35 minutes. She said a talk earlier in the day with MSU coach Vic Schaefer and teammates Grant, Katia May, and Carnecia Williams helped highlight the importance of her contributions. Schaefer stressed to Alwal, Grant, May, and Williams that MSU needs them to perform every game and that it can't afford them to have any more off nights or bad games.
"I think we took that into consideration and we just came out and we played," Alwal said.
Williams responded with a 25-point, eight-rebound effort that enabled MSU to control the paint to the tune of a 15-for-30 shooting performance from the field. The Bulldogs worked their high-low, fed the post from the wings, and committed to scoring in the paint against an opponent that didn't have any post players taller than 6-2. The result was a 38-18 edge in points in the paint and a 28-13 bulge in second-chance points. The 28 second-chance points matched the most allowed by the Crimson Tide this season.
MSU also held a 55-40 rebounding edge, which snapped a string of 12 games in which it had been outrebounded. The 15-rebound edge was the fourth-biggest of the season, and the sixth time MSU has won that statistical category.
With Alwal and Williams, who is 6-3, MSU has relied on the post presence as its strength this season. Alwal credited Williams for being a "beast" after the Alabama game. She said Williams is the team's most consistent post player and that she is going to be one of the Bulldogs' go-to players every game.
Williams thanked Alwal for her praise and said Alwal has to potential to earn similar kind words provided she has the right mind-set every game. She said Alwal is "different" and that she doesn't respond to the songs you would think pump players up before games. Instead, she said Alwal responds better to songs by artists like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber.
"With Martha, I feel like it is a mind-set thing, like she stated," Williams said. "When she is in there and when she is feeling good and feeding off the rest of the team, that's when it is Martha's show. Inside, I think we have the best chemistry because our high-low, it really can't be stopped right now."
Schaefer has said all season Alwal has the capabilities to get 20 points and 20 rebounds every night. He called the production from Alwal and Williams "outstanding" against Alabama and said Alwal was "outstanding" cutting down driving lanes and helping teammates on defense. In the second half, Schaefer said Alwal found her groove on the offensive end.
After a night of redemption, Alwal will try to deliver a similar effort this afternoon to help MSU inch closer to .500.
"You never know with Martha what you're going to get," Schaefer said. "She is young. I did sit down and talk to her, Carnecia, Kendra, and Katia today after shootaround. We had a little heart-to-heart with those four. Those four have got to finish out every day and bring it. There are no more bad days. Those four have an obligation and a responsibility and need to be accountable for this team to be successful. If you look at the games we have won, we have had good point guard play, they have all played well, they have all scored, and they all have played good defense."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.