February 12, 2011 11:19:00 PM
OXFORD -- The building blocks are coming more regularly and for longer stretches of time for the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
The nagging problem, though, remains how to shake the scoring lulls from the team''s system.
MSU delivered one of its finest segments of a game at the start of Thursday''s game against the University of Mississippi. The Lady Bulldogs hit 6 of 8 shots and outscored the Rebels 15-2 in the first 4 minutes, 18 seconds before the initial media timeout.
From there, MSU had its share of lapses on both ends of the floor, but they weren''t enough to derail what turned out to be a 59-43 victory.
The win was the second in a row in the Southeastern Conference for MSU (10-13, 2-9 SEC). It will try to stretch that streak to three at 1 p.m. today (SEC Network) when it plays host the University of South Carolina (14-10, 6-5) at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I felt like we were playing pretty hard, pretty smart and playing together," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said of her team''s start against Ole Miss. "As we got into some substitutions, there were couple of turnovers and there were people not guarding. We have to continue to work not to have lapses. When you have that lapse, you give it up and you give the other team''s confidence kicks in and it is back on the line as a game.
"We were up and down. I thought as the game progressed we got better. I thought down the stretch we made some key shots when we had to have them and we have some key defensive stops that we had to have. We progressed, but we''re still looking for that 40-minute progression, that 40-minute intensity."
MSU overcame a scoring lull that allowed Ole Miss to creep within in the first half. The Lady Bulldogs delivered another strong defensive effort -- sparked by the play of Porsha Porter and Diamber Johnson against point guard Valencia McFarland. Porter and Johnson helped contain McFarland, a freshman, and forced her into a 8-of-23 shooting night.
Without leading scorer Kayla Melson, who is averaging 15.6 points per game, McFarland''s struggles were magnified given freshman Shae Nelson also was 0-for-8 from the field.
Conversely, MSU shared the basketball efficiently in the first four-plus minutes and hit its share of key shots. Senior Mary Kathryn Govero hit a pull-up jump shot and a 3-pointer in the second half to stall an Ole Miss rally. Johnson, who missed a few foul-line jump shots earlier in the half, went 3 of 3 from 3-point range to help provide daggers.
Johnson and Govero are the only two returning players from MSU'' Sweet 16 team of a year ago. She has had her ups and downs this season adjusting to having the ball in her hands more. She said many of the Lady Bulldogs'' wounds are self-inflicted.
"I guess we just think too fast and don''t we think at all when everything is coming at us fast," Johnson said. "I think we are getting better at that and being more patient and trying to slow things down. Whenever they are attacking us, we have to attack them and try to get a layup."
MSU''s defense has kept it in most games it has played. The Lady Bulldogs are fifth in the SEC at 58.3 points per game allowed. The team''s inability to execute better and to take care of the basketball has been its biggest weaknesses. MSU is 11th in the league in field goal percentage (37.2) and last in the league in scoring (57.9 ppg.).
Johnson, who is shooting 35 percent and is second on the team in scoring (11.4 ppg.), said she has to do a better job of capitalizing on makable shots, particularly ones she gets coming off a high screen that allows her to penetrate into the lane.
"The only thing that can help me make it more is to get in the gym a little bit more," Johnson said. "For some reason, I have been hitting more threes lately. At first, that jump shot really was my money shot. I have been working on my threes a lot more, so I just need to balance it out more so I can be consistent with both."
Fanning-Otis has said for the past few weeks that she is seeing improvement, but that it is coming slowly. Against Ole Miss, she saw several more positive signs, including better shooting percentages from her team and a lower one from the opponent, and a plus-10 rebounding margin. She said the Lady Bulldogs still have to improve on their assist-to-turnover ratio, which is last in the SEC, but that the team is moving closer to being more consistent.
"We''re taking little steps to get better as a basketball team," Fanning-Otis said. "Hopefully, we''ll continue to do that when we get back home on Sunday."
South Carolina is coming off a 66-61 victory against No. 15 Kentucky on Thursday in Columbia, S.C. Prior to that, USC won at Arkansas 64-62.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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