February 17, 2011 8:32:00 AM
Sharon Fanning-Otis is sticking with the plan.
Hearing her talk about toughness, focus, rebounding, turnovers, and togetherness might be getting old, but the Mississippi State women''s basketball coach knows good things will happen for her team the more it embraces each of those concepts.
She and her assistant coaches have been preaching their importance all season, and while the Lady Bulldogs have shown improvement, strides still need to be made for the team to reach its goal of becoming the most improved squad in the Southeastern Conference at the end of the season.
The end will come in five games unless MSU can reverse its fortunes.
The first step will come at 7 tonight when MSU (10-14, 2-10 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Vanderbilt (17-8, 8-4) at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Lady Bulldogs would have to win the final four regular-season games and then win another in the SEC tournament next month in Nashville, Tenn., to have a chance to extend its learning process to a postseason event.
Fanning-Otis isn''t looking that far ahead. She is focused on helping her team improve every day so it can be better equipped for second matchups this season against Vanderbilt, Florida, and Alabama (all losses in the first meetings) and the University of Mississippi (a victory).
"We want to leave it on the floor and lay it on the line," Fanning-Otis said. "It''s execution and it''s focus. We have said this before and we emphasize it every time to these kids every day and in every scouting report. If we can get one more offensive rebound, take one more charge, have one more good possession with an assist, to get to the free-throw line one more time you''re looking at about 10 points, and look what 10 points would do for our won-loss record."
MSU had lost seven games by nine or fewer points this season. Those growing pains probably were to be expected from a team that entered the season with 11 new players and only two key returners (senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero and junior Diamber Johnson) from its first Sweet 16 team in program history.
But Fanning-Otis hasn''t made excuses. She has encouraged her team to continue to take small steps in an ultra-competitive league because she knows it has the potential to meet her goals.
The Lady Bulldogs'' defense has kept the team in many games. MSU has allowed an average of 49.3 points a game in its last three games. The Lady Bulldogs are fifth in the league in field goal percentage defense (37.1 percent). But its inconsistency on offense (it is shooting only 37.2 percent from the field) and its inability to take care of the basketball have been problems that on too many nights have been too much to overcome.
Fanning-Otis sees MSU maintaining its focus and executing more during games. Unfortunately, nagging lapses continue to plague its progress. But Fanning-Otis and the Lady Bulldogs aren''t going to stop moving forward and doing what they can to reach their goals.
"Adversity defines you and you have to play through things and play through mistakes," Fanning-Otis said. "If we can just step up our game in little increments and focus on the process and doing those things and playing hard and playing together and playing smart (we can get there)."
Vanderbilt won the first meeting 65-44 on Jan. 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.