March 5, 2010 10:00:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The time is now for the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
The Lady Bulldogs have had four days to regroup and to reflect on a disappointing loss at LSU.
Fortunately, the other results Sunday in the Southeastern Conference worked in MSU''s favor and allowed the Lady Bulldogs to earn a No. 3 seed, the highest in program history, and a first-round bye for the SEC Tournament.
At 8 tonight, MSU (18-11) will get a chance to live up to that lofty seeding when it takes on sixth-seeded Georgia at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Georgia (23-7) advanced with a 73-66 victory against 11th-seeded Alabama on Thursday.
MSU and Georgia finished the regular season tied with Vanderbilt and LSU at 9-7. But MSU won the tiebreaker thanks to its two victories against Vanderbilt and its 74-66 win against Georgia on Jan. 28 in Starkville.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis hopes her team responds after four days of practice and delivers some of the "connected toughness" it lacked Sunday in a 76-47 loss at LSU.
"I think our mind-set is positive. We just have to step up," Fanning-Otis said. "We have talked all year about how crazy the league is and how anybody can win on any given day. We have to play our best ball."
Injuries to Alexis Rack and the return to the lineup of Tysheka Grimes, who missed 10 games with a foot injury, have forced MSU to alter its lineups down the stretch. The Lady Bulldogs have played extremely well (without Rack in a 73-54 victory against the University of Mississippi) and uninspired (in a 50-36 loss to Auburn on Senior Day in Starkville).
Fanning-Otis has refused to make excuses or to look back at past games. She said the team has tried to focus on what it can learn from those games and to improve its weaknesses.
Despite the inconsistent play, MSU remains a dangerous team. On Tuesday, Rack was named First Team All-SEC for the second consecutive season and Armelie Lumanu was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Center Chanel Mokango joined Lumanu on the league''s All-Defensive team.
"We''re proud of those accomplishments (because) for every player to achieve individual things it takes the whole team chipping in and being around them," Fanning-Otis said.
MSU will need a more complete effort because Rack has scored three, nine, and seven points in three games back in the lineup after missing the Ole Miss game. Against LSU, MSU trailed by as many as 28 in the first half and 36 in the second half, shot only 29.3 percent, and committed 18 turnovers.
"LSU is the No. 1 defensive team in the league," Fanning-Otis said. "They guard so hard inside 3-point range and they are long and so quick to the ball. They just did a great job defensively, and we''re going to have to make extra passes and get balance in paint."
Fanning-Otis said LSU capitalized on her team''s decision-making and its turnovers, and played with an urgency her team will need to rediscover in time for tonight.
"We have to do a better job with our work ethic and playing together," Fanning-Otis said.
MSU will face a Georgia team that should be healthier. Georgia played without senior center Angel Robinson in the first meeting in Starkville. Senior point guard Ashley Houts also was at less than 100 percent with an ankle injury. Georgia coach Andy Landers said Houts still isn''t completely healthy, but he said she is better than 80 percent.
"The thing she missed was the explosiveness off that foot. It was totally gone for a month," Landers said. "She was still quick. But she is back to exploding by you. She didn''t have that in the half-court or in a full-court set vs. pressure. She has that back."
Houts had only eight points on 2-of-15 shooting against MSU on Jan. 28. She didn''t play the final five-plus minutes because she re-aggravated the ankle injury.
Meanwhile, Rack had 34 points on 9-of-17 shooting (7 of 10 from 3-point range) to lead MSU to one of its best victories of the season.
Landers feels Georgia, which started the season 16-0 and was ranked as high as No. 6 in the country, has played better in the past few weeks and is healthier than is has been in more than a month.
Fanning-Otis hopes the extra day of rest puts her team in the right frame of mind. She said the players want to improve and are eager to do their best to help the program avoid a one-and-done showing.
"We''re seeded third, so there is something along the way that we have done well," Fanning-Otis said. "We have to understand it is a new season and a new opportunity and that we have to take those fundamentals that we''re talking about, the toughness, the execution, and being patient, and do it together."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.