February 5, 2010 10:12:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Some nights you just have to try something else.
As shooters go, Alexis Rack has the right mind-set. She takes the court with a swagger and hands at ready to launch daggers from any spot on the court.
Usually, the Mississippi State senior prefers to fire away from 3-point range, and those attempts often spark the Lady Bulldogs.
But nights like Thursday -- when even the easiest look at the basket proves frustrating -- have come few and far between this season.
This time, though, Rack and her teammates did more than enough to make up for it.
Mary Kathryn Govero tied a career-high with 22 points, Armelie Lumanu had her fourth double-double of the season, and Rack matched her season-high for assists in a 77-44 victory against Alabama before a crowd of 1,188 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I don''t think we needed it, but we wanted one like this," Rack said. "We should have had 100 to 30, but it was all right."
The victory pushed MSU (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) into a tie for third place in the league with Georgia and Vanderbilt. Losses by Ole Miss and Florida on Thursday moved MSU into an unfamiliar position. The Lady Bulldogs have finished in the top four in the SEC only twice (2001-02, 2002-03) in the program''s history.
With six regular-season games remaining, the Lady Bulldogs have work to do to hold on to that position, which would secure them a first-round bye in the SEC tournament on March 4-7 in Duluth, Ga.
Balanced performances like the one MSU had against Alabama will help that cause. Govero was 4 of 9 from 3-point range and grabbed seven rebounds and had three steals, Lumanu had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and three steals, and Rack overcame a 3-for-15 shooting night (10 points) to hand out nine assists, haul in five rebounds, and make four steals.
That wasn''t all. Senior center Rima Kalonda tied a career-high with eight points and had a career-high 12 rebounds, Chanel Mokango made up for a six-point night with eight rebounds and three blocked shots, and Bethany Washington had a season-high six points in an active 15 minutes.
Wrap it all together and the Lady Bulldogs had a welcome evening against the Crimson Tide (9-14, 1-9), the SEC''s last-place team.
"They''re one of the better teams in the league," said Alabama coach Wendell Hudson, whose team had a season-low 14 points in the first half. "They have the right combination. I think Mississippi State is one of the most talented teams in the league as far as athletically."
Nearly every MSU player had a solid all-around night except for Rack, who had her second sub-par shooting game in a row. Coming off a 4-for-24 game Sunday in a loss to Kentucky, Rack didn''t reach double figures until the 2-minute, 28-second mark of the second half. Rack''s second 3-pointer of the game helped her hit double figures for the 37th consecutive game. The trey came after Govero missed an open 3-pointer off a pass that would have given Rack her ninth assist and following an offensive rebound and assist by Mokango.
Rack had numerous quality looks at the basket, but one miss in the first half epitomized her evening. With less than nine minutes to play, Rack lined up a 3-pointer from the left wing that went in and out. She bent at the waist and turned with a look on her face that said, "What? I missed?"
That feeling continued, so Rack knew she had to improvise.
"If my shot is not falling, and like I said, anybody can have a big game on our team, and if somebody else is hitting you have to do something else," Rack said.
To her credit, Rack, the team''s leading scorer coming in (19.9 points per game), also leads the team with 106 assists. She said she always tries to look for teammates when they have open shots. She said a conversation she had with coach Sharon Fanning-Otis earlier in the week helped her bounce back from the Kentucky game.
"It still stuck in my head because tonight was another off night," Rack said. "I still could have had a little better shot selection, but I still found some people."
Fanning-Otis was pleased to see Rack not allow the Kentucky game to affect her.
"She is being a woman about things. She is being a leader," Fanning-Otis said. "She is listening, and I think she is ready to make this team better in every way."
n NOTES: The margin of victory was the most in a SEC game since a 110-74 victory against Alabama on Nov. 15, 1977. ... Fanning-Otis said MSU would have to wait a little longer to welcome Tysheka Grimes back to the lineup. The senior forward, who was expected back soon, didn''t dress out. Fanning-Otis said she wasn''t sure if Grimes would practice Saturday with the team, leaving her availability for MSU''s game Sunday at Florida in question. ... Govero carried sophomore guard Diamber Johnson from the court with 12:28 to go in the second half. Fanning-Otis said Johnson was a little dehydrated and likely was feeling the effects of that. ... MSU had a season-best 20 offensive rebounds in a SEC game. The effort helped the Lady Bulldogs to a 55-44 rebounding edge, which was only the third time this season they have won that battle in a league game.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.