January 17, 2010 12:39:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Chanel Mokango hopes to find the energy again today.
On Thursday, the 6-foot-5 senior center had one of her best games of the season to help lift the Mississippi State women''s basketball team to an impressive victory at the University of Arkansas.
At 2 p.m. today, Mokango will try to deliver a repeat performance when MSU (12-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Florida (9-8, 2-2) at Humphrey Coliseum.
Mokango matched a career-high with 19 points, grabbed a career-best 13 rebounds, and blocked six shots to help MSU rally in the second half en route to a 78-60 victory against Arkansas. The six blocked shots were the second most by a player in the SEC this season.
"I thought it was her best game," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "I thought she was more active and going to things and bouncy. She had a pep in her step. It made a difference, and, hopefully, gave her some confidence and expectations."
Mokango is averaging 9.5 points and 7.1 rebounds this season. The numbers (she is fifth on the team in scoring) are close to what she averaged last season as a junior in her first season after transferring from Southeastern Illinois (10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds per game).
Against Arkansas, Mokango hit 7 of 13 shots from the field and all five of her free throws in a 32-minute effort. She admitted she felt a difference in her play from Sunday when she seven points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes in a 75-48 loss to No. 4 Tennessee in Starkville.
"I got some energy and I need more for the next game," Mokango said. "I need to bring more energy so we can win more games."
Mokango said she needs to focus more on what she has to do to have games like she did Thursday. She said she is learning how to convince herself she isn''t tired or hurt and that she can push herself to have more of an impact on the game.
Mokango said she didn''t "play her game," or have the energy she showed Thursday against Tennessee. She knows she needs to play at that level because it adds a dimension to the team.
"When I bring my game I think it helps everybody play good," Mokango said. "Every time I play a game I just need to do my job, which is to block shots, rebound, and score."
Senior guard Alexis Rack, the team''s leading scorer at 20 ppg., said the team receives a lift when Mokango plays well. Even though Mokango isn''t a low-post banger, Mokango''s ability to shoot facing the basket, which extends out to 3-point range, gives the Lady Bulldogs another scoring option. She said she will do whatever she can to make sure Mokango plays today with the same energy she had Thursday.
"It is a huge effect because once you get her going and her confidence up she is another unstoppable person," Rack said. "It helps us a lot."
Rack said she could sense Mokango was going to have a big game because she said she "had a different look in her eyes." She said the Lady Bulldogs will do their best today to look for Mokango or anybody else who has the hot hand if they are shooting well.
"We want everybody to step up, and that''s what we have to do," Rack said.
Fanning-Otis said the fact that Mokango attempted a season-high 13 shots was due in part to the matchups she faced against Arkansas. She said Mokango''s looks at the basket will change depending on the opponent, but she hopes Mokango will build on Thursday''s effort the rest of the season.
"Usually if the players step up and play hard it gives everybody energy," Fanning-Otis said. "That''s what we need as a team. I think they''re going to feed off each other.
"I think she has been practicing harder as the season has progressed. She wants to do well, and it is important for her to step up. It looks she is wanting the ball and is becoming more comfortable with what we''re doing and more comfortable with her teammates. Hopefully, that will lead to more double-doubles, and six blocks as well."
Florida is coming off a 66-64 loss to No. Tennessee in Gainesville, Fla. Fanning-Otis said Florida is coming off two strong efforts against Georgia and Tennessee. She said the Lady Bulldogs will need Mokango and everybody to play with a pep in their step to protect the home court.
"(Florida) plays hard," Fanning-Otis said. "They shoot a lot of 3-pointers, they run so hard, and they just keep going. They have a lot of energy. They lost a couple of key players, but they have a lot of people returning. They have some ready shooters and they have some good size inside."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.