January 16, 2012 11:18:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- For much of the 2010-11 season, a familiar refrain prevented the Mississippi State University women's basketball team from finding its rhythm.
Stuck between a lack of execution and experience and an inability to care for the basketball, MSU suffered its first losing season since the 2005-06 campaign and took a step back after making the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2009-10.
This season, the same troubles that plagued the Lady Bulldogs are back. Through 17 games -- the latest a 68-51 loss to then-No. 19 Georgia on Sunday at Humphrey Coliseum -- MSU is last in the Southeastern Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.6), last in the league in assists (186), and ninth in field goal percentage (38.2 percent) and scoring (62.5 points per game).
The questions remain whether MSU can find its stride faster than it did last season. In the final two months of the 2010-11 season, MSU played its best basketball en route to a 5-5 finish to cap a 13-17 year. Three of MSU's six games in which it had more assists than turnovers came in those final 10 games, which included two wins against Auburn University and the University of Mississippi.
At 11-6 and 1-3 in the SEC, MSU can't waste any more time trying to put its game together if it wants to realize its goal of returning to the NCAA tournament, let alone qualify for postseason play.
"I think we just need to be more patient with each other," MSU senior guard Porsha Porter said. "There were times when we were fast for no reason. If we would have been more patient and limited the turnovers (it might have been a different outcome) because they really didn't beat us. We beat ourselves. They just fed off those turnovers because we really can play with any team in this conference. We just have to work together to limit the turnovers."
Porter's comments resembled the ones MSU players made after a 53-48 loss to LSU on Jan. 5 in Starkville. MSU led for much of that game, only to see LSU turn the momentum late in the second half when MSU lost its footing.
In that game like in the game against Georgia, MSU appeared to want to do things too quickly. On Sunday, it started from the first possession when senior point guard Diamber Johnson attempted a long lead pass to post players that went out of bounds for a turnover. The miscue was one of several MSU made when it didn't have to force the issue. Porter dribbled too deep into the defense and lost possession, Shamia Robinson tried to penetrate a defense and had a pass deflected, Catina Bett threw a pass that was over the head of a cutting teammate, and Johnson bounced a pass that went through the legs of Robinson.
"There are times when our minds go all over the place and we just need to put it back together and come as a team at the end," Porter said.
Said Johnson, "We just have to read more as a team. ... If other people aren't reading the game with it, it is a turnover. ... We just have to do a better job of getting on the same page."
Mistakes are going to happen in any sport. MSU is bound to make its share of them, too, especially given how much coach Sharon Fanning-Otis is working four freshmen into the rotation. But with six seniors, some who only are in their second season with the program, time is running out. MSU has had four games this season in which it has committed 20 or more turnovers. It has had more assists than turnovers in only two games. That's not a recipe for success for a team that was picked by the media and by the coaches in the preseason to finish 11th in a 12-team league.
One potential bright spot is MSU has shown a willingness to play hard, especially on defense, and to make adjustments. Last week, MSU rallied from a sluggish first half and a double-digit deficit to win at the University of Alabama. But it remains unclear if MSU can stop committing unforced, rushed mistakes that decrease its chances of beating bigger and more athletic opponents.
"You have to understand the difference (between slowing down a little bit and going fast) and you have to learn how to attack," Fanning-Otis said. "Those are lessons we're trying to teach, and learn, and emphasize, and, hopefully, they will get that."
The first step may be MSU knows what it needs to do. Now it needs to execute.
"When we take care of the ball, just like (we did against) Alabama, we came back because we took care of the ball and we made defensive stops," Johnson said. "It is just a matter of doing that against any team and every team. The tougher teams, like Georgia, it is going to be tougher, but, at the same time, any team can be beaten on any night, and when you do those little things, you can win."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.