January 21, 2010 7:11:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Alexis Rack tells it like it is.
The Mississippi State senior guard doesn''t mind direct questions because she will be very honest with her feelings about her play and the team''s performance.
That''s why it wasn''t surprising to hear Rack''s answer when she was asked how many times the Lady Bulldogs have played to their potential this season.
"None in the SEC," Rack said. "We haven''t played to our potential, but we have found ways to get it done."
But time is running out for Rack and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs. With 11 regular-season games remaining, MSU (12-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) has work to do if it is going to secure a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.
MSU will try to get back on track at 7 tonight when it plays the University of Mississippi (12-5, 3-1) at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Last season, MSU swept two regular-season games against Ole Miss en route to a 23-11 season. The victories helped the Lady Bulldogs finish sixth in the SEC at 8-6. A sixth-place finish or better likely will be needed if MSU wants to get back to the NCAAs and Rack said she will try to do her part from here on out to ensure the Lady Bulldogs are playing to their potential.
"I feel I have to step up more and take more on, especially with Ty(sheka Grimes) being out," Rack said.
Grimes (foot injury) last played Dec. 30 in a victory against Alcorn State. Without the senior forward, who was leading the team in rebounding through 13 games, the Lady Bulldogs have struggled to play a complete game. Second-half efforts against at Auburn, at home against Vanderbilt, and at Arkansas were keys in league victories.
MSU wasn''t so lucky Sunday, when Rack was 5 of 19 from the field (4 of 13 3-pointers) in a disappointing 55-52 loss to Florida at Humphrey Coliseum. She hit two 3-pointers in the final 8.7 seconds to make the final result a little closer.
"I think we played a little sluggish," said Rack, who leads the team in scoring at 19.8 points per game. "We want to get back to playing like we know how to play, and we know how we can play."
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis also wants to see that kind of effort from her team. She said improved communication on both ends of the floor is essential if the Lady Bulldogs want to have success against Ole Miss.
"I think the biggest thing we have emphasized to them that we need to improve on is playing every possession as though it is your last, and the communication aspect," Fanning-Otis said.
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs have lost focus when one or two things haven''t gone their way in the course of a game. That was evident Sunday as MSU inexplicably lost control of the basketball several times and committed unforced turnovers in the final few minutes against Florida.
But Fanning-Otis cautioned about putting too much pressure on Rack, the only senior who has played a significant role the past four years, or making wholesale changes because the team lost one home game.
Last season, MSU regrouped from a disappointing home loss to Arkansas and a loss at Georgia to beat Vanderbilt and LSU at home before it traveled to Oxford to beat Ole Miss.
This season, Fanning-Otis said the players will have to find a way to get reconnected to each other.
"Other teams are going to try to make it ugly," Fanning-Otis said. "You have to be able to handle that and communicate through it.
"I saw focus in practice (Wednesday) and I saw focus (Tuesday), but the game is (at 7 p.m. today)."
NOTE: Sophomore guard Diamber Johnson didn''t practice Wednesday. Johnson has been ill the past few days, but the coaches expect her to play tonight. ... The matchup is Ole Miss'' "Pack the Pad" game. The first 1,000 fans in attendance will receive free T-shirts. In addition, all Ole Miss faculty and staff will receive free tickets, and children in a youth league jersey and their families will also earn free admission.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.