November 23, 2009 12:08:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Alexis Rack was in attack mode from the opening minute.
Layups, 3-pointers, jump shots, free throws -- the points came from everywhere and anywhere so quickly that the University of Maryland women''s basketball team didn''t have time to react.
The result was a career-high 43-point effort from Rack that helped propel No. 25 Mississippi State to an 84-55 victory against Maryland before a crowd of 3,042 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Rack''s 14-for-21 (7-for-14 from 3-point range) shooting performance tied for the fourth-highest single-game scoring effort in program history and helped the Lady Bulldogs (4-0) make a statement against a program with a national reputation.
"I definitely felt in the zone," Rack said. "Sometimes I was just letting it go. It was just a hot night tonight. Like I said before, any of our players can have a night like that. I feel when it is that night for that person, we are all loving it."
Rack''s previous career-high was 32 points against the University of Tennessee on Feb. 7, 2008. She was 10-for-18 from the field and 7-for-13 from 3-point range in that game.
The Terrapins (3-1) brought out the best in Rack, too, as she scored 12 of the Lady Bulldogs'' first 14 points. The fast start helped MSU build a 14-3 lead less than four minutes into the game.
The advantage, which was many as 24 in the first half, grew and grew thanks to a 51.4-percent shooting effort (19-for-37) and 16 Maryland turnovers that helped MSU take a 48-25 halftime lead.
Rack had 22 by then on 8-for-11 shooting, and she cooled off only slightly in the second half, when the lead grew to as many as 35 on a "broken" play. She didn''t even allow a tumble into the seats that line the side of the court after a made 3-pointer with 14 minutes, 24 seconds slow her down.
The chair, though, was left in need of repair.
"I thought she had great focus and great intensity," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "It was a statement for her. We need that kind of effort and that kind of focus because it was great leadership."
Maryland, which finished with 28 turnovers, shot only 30.8 percent from the field and didn''t have a player score in double figures. The Terrapins entered the game also receiving votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. MSU was also receiving votes in the coaches poll.
Last year, No. 24 Pittsburgh beat Maryland 86-57 on Dec. 7. That Maryland team had experience, led by All-Americans Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman. Four games later, Maryland beat MSU 80-73 in College Park, Md., to end the Lady Bulldogs'' 11-0 start.
This year, Maryland has nine freshmen and sophomores on its 11-player roster, and coach Brenda Frese''s team is learning to adjust without Toliver and Coleman. She said MSU made that transition even tougher.
"All of the credit goes to Mississippi State," Frese said. "I thought they came out inspired and ready to play. I thought the momentum from the first 10 minutes we buried ourselves in such a big hole."
Frese said the Terrapins didn''t have an answer for Rack, who "played like an All-American." Rack earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors last season, and is a preseason first-team All-SEC pick this season.
"She gave us fits in terms of her ability to shoot the ball and to get the ball to the rim," said Frese, who called the game "a great way to learn some lessons" for the rest of the season.
Fanning-Otis hopes the Lady Bulldogs take some teaching points from the victory, too. She said the victory is a fantastic way to prepare MSU for its next challenge: three games in three days starting Thursday at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. MSU will face Texas, which was No. 10 in last week''s AP Top 25, Rutgers, and Southern California in tests Fanning-Otis knows will be even bigger coming off an impressive victory.
"If you get ranked, you want to know how to move up," Fanning-Otis said. "You don''t want to just get in and out for a week or let your play go down. This was a test we had to step up to, and I felt the team responded."
Rack, who had six rebounds, six assists, and two steals in 33 minutes, is ready to help lead the Lady Bulldogs against anyone and everyone. She said the Lady Bulldogs have something to prove to themselves and that every game is going to get tougher, so they''re going to have to react accordingly.
"We''re going to make a statement to whoever we''re playing against," Rack said. "We really don''t look at the polls, but we just want to make a statement and look on the other side that you better come ready if you''re facing it."
Mary Kathryn Govero (12 points) was the only other MSU player in double figures.
n NOTES: Rack''s 43-point effort was the 11th time a MSU player has scored 40 or more points in the program''s history. ... The crowd was the eighth best in school history. It is the second-best crowd to watch a non-SEC game at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU drew 5,112 for a 76-56 victory against Arkansas State on Jan. 9, 1996. ... MSU, which had 21 assists and 15 turnovers, had a 30-6 edge in points off turnovers.
"That zone is what you want her in every time, whether it is 43 points or not," Fanning-Otis said. "You want her in that zone where she was making great decisions and working exceptionally hard on both ends of the floor. When you have that, we''re going to win a lot of ballgames."
"When Alexis is shooting like that I told her, ''You keep doing what you''re doing and we''re going to go rebound if you miss,'' " Govero said. "It is good to have someone who has the hot hand, but you also know she is going to find you when you''re open and that isn''t going to force a shot."
Rack said she didn''t speak to former MSU All-American Latoya Thomas, who watched the game from the sidelines, before the game to receive any special motivation. Still, she said the presence of the school''s all-time leading scorer helped make the day even more special.
"We are just focused on trying to get to the 40 minutes," Rack said. "Tonight, I still feel we got 35, but we''re still trying to get to the 40."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.