April 19, 2011 7:54:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mark Kathryn Govero believes the Mississippi State women''s basketball team can get back to the NCAA tournament in 2012.
It just hasn''t sunk in yet that she won''t be able to help the team realize that goal.
But that point became a little clearer Monday night when MSU''s lone senior capped a successful career by receiving six awards at the team''s annual banquet at the Hunter Henry Center.
"It has gone by so fast that I really still don''t think it has hit me," Govero said. "I think it will finally hit me when I don''t have to wake up at 5 a.m. for individual workouts."
Govero, who averaged 12.7 points per game, received the Sonny Mullins Community Service Award, the Newsom Academic Award, the "Big Dawg" Award, the Most Charges Award, the Field Goal Percentage Award, and the Coaches Award.
All of the honors epitomized how much Govero represented the example of a student-athlete. MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis emphasized the Coaches Award perhaps best captured the academic excellence, the basketball prowess, the leadership abilities, and the independent work ethic Govero brought to the team.
MSU will have to do without all of those qualities and intangibles next season. Coming off a 13-17 season in which it went through plenty of adjustments with freshmen and junior college transfers, everyone focused Monday on the improvement the team showed at the end of the season. MSU won three of its last four games, and five of its last nine, including a sweep of the University of Mississippi. MSU also upset Auburn 49-47 in the first round of the Southeaster Conference tournament.
A loss to Vanderbilt the next night didn''t diminish the progress the Lady Bulldogs they made from the start of practice. That optimism carried over to Monday night, as neither Fanning-Otis nor the players shied away from stating the team should play in the NCAA tournament in 2012. MSU advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history in 2010.
"I think if you don''t put expectations on yourself you''re never going to get as far as you should," said Govero, who will complete graduate school at MSU and work part time at a church in West Point. "I think with the experience they gained and with the success they had at the end of the season it will help them take a step forward."
Rising senior guard Diamber Johnson, who received the Most Improved Player Award, exemplified the improvement of the team. She averaged more than 15 points per game in the final 10 games of the season and finished the season as the team leader in scoring (12.8) and assists (4.2).
MSU also allowed fewer points per game (59.3) and held opponents to a lower field goal percentage (38 percent) than the 2010 team. Fanning-Otis said the team needs to take better care of the basketball (it averaged 16.2 turnovers this season), hand out more assists (only 10.4 per game), and shoot more free throws.
Johnson said it will be difficult to do those things without Govero and everything she brought to the team, but she said she and her teammates are looking forward to the challenge.
"I am ready for it," Johnson said. "We''re already doing more than we did last year and we want to get further than the Sweet 16 team. We''re definitely ready to go and we have been working hard."
Other award winners were: Candace Foster (Heart of a Champion), Ashley Brown (Most Deflections, Best Rebounder), Johnson (Highest Power Rating, Most Assists), and Porsha Porter (Free Throw Percentage Award, Best Defensive Player).
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.