February 19, 2011 11:00:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mary Kathryn Govero would like to thank all of the Southeastern Conference coaches for their kind words.
While the senior guard was pleased Thursday to learn another coach was certain Mississippi State would would win more games this season, the praise felt empty.
It meant little to Govero because it came after another loss.
"Thank you (for the praise)," Govero said, "but it doesn''t change the win-loss column for you. In the long run, that is what it comes down to. That is what matters. We have to continue to become a better team to get the wins we''re looking for."
The latest setback, a 74-62 to Vanderbilt University, came as a direct result of a 17-0 run by the Commodores in the second half. Like in many of the team''s other losses this season, the Lady Bulldogs were unable to avoid the pitfall of a deadly scoring drought -- this one lasted 6 minutes, 59 seconds -- that starched their momentum.
MSU (10-15, 2-11 Southeastern Conference) will try again to deliver a 40-minute effort at 3:30 p.m. today when it plays at the University of Florida (14-13, 4-9) in the Stephen C. O''Connell Center.
MSU led 44-38 with 14:41 to play in the second half before Vanderbilt (18-8, 9-4) used its run to turn the tide. The Lady Bulldogs had their fair share of good looks at the basket in that stretch. But with key contributors Porsha Porter and Ashley Brown saddled with foul problems and Vanderbilt doing its best to take junior point guard Diamber Johnson (12 points, seven assists) out of the mix, MSU had few remaining options to go to to halt the slide.
"We knew this is a team that makes runs," Govero said. "They are known for getting out and getting a lead and teams coming back on them. We just didn''t handle that well and fight back after they made that run."
Johnson joked that it is the "12-minute mark" that works against the Lady Bulldogs. MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis called 30-second timeouts at the 13:25 mark and at the 12:04 mark. Johnson looked up at the clock during the second stoppage and rolled her eyes as if to say she had been through this scene too many times.
"It was like that last year also," Johnson said. "The 12-minute mark always seems to be our breaking point. I guess it is more fatigue. We will have to learn how to fight through that, but it is getting us right now."
There were other ingredients in the game that allowed the Commodores to rally. Vanderbilt shot 23 more free throws and MSU shot 11 more 3-points. Despite going 9 of 22 from beyond the arc, MSU shot only 33.3 percent (23 of 69). Vanderbilt shot 50 percent in the second half (42.1 for the game) and used a 52-36 edge in rebounding to sweep the season series.
Johnson said the Lady Bulldogs have to figure out what is going wrong in a game and change its approach so it can create a spark after a lull.
Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb praised MSU for its growth since the 65-44 victory that kicked off the SEC season on Jan. 6.
"I think they have improved a lot," Balcomb said. "I knew they were very young, and I have talked to Sharon and I know she had quite a turnover (11 new players) from last year, and we lost to last year''s team twice.
"I just kept telling my team they were the same team. I lie sometimes because we always struggle down here. They are not the same team. They have improved a lot. They worked very hard. They made a lot of hustle plays they did not make early on, they have kids making plays now. They are a good team, and they''re going to win some more games. I think Sharon has done a great job with this group staying positive."
Fanning-Otis reiterated the need to play tough for 40 minutes and to meet the team goals for rebounding and from the free-throw line. She didn''t believe the Lady Bulldogs took the basketball at the Commodores enough to help themselves fight through too many missed opportunities.
Still, she stressed the team has made progress from its first meeting against Vanderbilt when it trailed 31-16 at halftime. The Lady Bulldogs led 31-29 at halftime Thursday.
"We just have to toughen up," Fanning-Otis said. "Rebounds and free throws are very obvious key points. Those are toughness things. Free throws are getting the ball to the rim and not being scared to be hit or taking it at somebody, or getting a rebound and going back up and making and-ones."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.