November 28, 2012 9:42:34 AM
STARKVILLE -- Typically, there wouldn't be a lot of building blocks to take from losing three games in three days thousands of miles from home.
Things are different for the 2012-13 Mississippi State women's basketball team.
With only two experienced players returning from last season, each practice and every game is a chance for the Bulldogs to grow. And while MSU has plenty of areas it needs to improve on, first-year coach Vic Schaefer will continue to hold his players accountable because he knows that's a formula for success.
"We have to do better. We have to shoot the ball better. We have to execute on offense better," Schaefer said. "We finally got into some offensive flow in the third game in Puerto Vallarta (against the University of Central Florida). We really struggled against Cal Santa Barbara."
MSU (2-4) lost to Winthrop University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and UCF in its three-day stay in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, over the Thanksgiving holiday. MSU will get back to the court at 7 tonight to play host to Savannah State at Humphrey Coliseum. The game is the first of six home games in the next seven for the Bulldogs to close 2012. MSU will play Saturday at the University of Southern Mississippi.
MSU failed to shoot better than 38.5 percent from the field in the three games. Still, it nearly managed to beat Winthrop before falling on a last-second shot. Things didn't go nearly as well against UCSB, as MSU shot a season-low 22.4 percent. The Bulldogs fared a little better in the tournament finale against the Golden Knights, but they still hurt themselves with nine assists and 19 turnovers. UCF also won the rebounding battle 39-34.
Aside from sophomores Martha Alwal (15.7 points per game, 10.3 rebounds) and Kendra Grant (15.2 ppg.), MSU has yet to find another consistent scoring threat. Senior guard Darriel Gaynor is the only other player who has scored in double figures.
"I don't think Martha and Kendra are going to get 30 apiece every night," Schaefer said. "They're going to be the focal point of everybody's defense every night, so it is going to become increasingly more difficult for them score, especially once we get into the SEC, so you're going to have to have other kids step up and make shots."
Schaefer hopes his post players can deliver better production. He also is looking for better consistency from his shooting guards.
"In some of these cases, we have gotten some really good looks and we're not making shots," Schaefer said. "Our turnover problem is a lack of experience. ... I love my team and their commitment to try to be the best they can be, but because of our size at the point (guard) it becomes a liability, too, at times going against quicker, bigger guards. That is a concern and an issue we continue to battle as well. The only thing that is going to get us better is experience."
Grant, who started all 30 games last season, said playing through adversity was the thing she took from the trip. She said a number of players suffered from illnesses or other maladies, which is why she feels the three-game tournament will help the Bulldogs later in the season. She also is confident MSU can improve on a number of the areas it is lacking in through six games.
"I think it is definitely something that is fixable," Grant said. "Just getting in the gym, coach is always emphasizing that. We're getting a lot more shots up in practice than we usually do, so I think that is going to help us."
Alwal (44.4 percent shooting from the field) and Grant (38.6) have the highest shooting percentages on a team that is shooting 32.3 percent from the field and is scoring 55.8 ppg. Both of those statistics are last in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. Gaynor (7.2 ppg, 35.9 percent), Sherise Williams (4.3, 18.6), and Carnecia Williams (3.8, 29.2) round out MSU's top five scorers.
Grant believes the Bulldogs have plenty of options that can emerge as bigger scoring threats.
"Once they see Martha and I getting things going, scoring and rebounding, I feel like they will just follow suit," Grant said, "Darriel, when we need something she is the one who will really find a way to get the ball to the rim, or Sherise will get a big rebound for us. I feel like the more they see other people doing things the more they will follow."
Carnecia Williams, a redshirt sophomore forward, said the team found its stride in its third game at the tournament, a 64-56 loss to UCF. She said things started to click offensively as the players grew to better understand individual roles and capabilities. She hopes that will carry over tonight.
"I feel like we just realized we can play together and we just have to keep playing hard through whatever is going on," Williams said. "We have to communicate on the court and stay focused and keep each other up."
Williams said those things are crucial because the team is still "afraid to make mistakes." She is confident the team has the potential to rebound better and to take better care of the basketball. Once those things happen, everything will come a little easier.
MSU showed it could do some of those things in the second half against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs rallied from a double-digit deficit to earn a 57-55 victory Nov. 16 at Humphrey Coliseum. Williams said MSU will earn more victories like that if it can play with the "hunger" it showed that evening.
"We just have to continue to use the mind-set from that game and build from it," Williams said. "If we just take our time, slow down, and remember the things we have been working on so hard in practice we'll be all right."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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