February 14, 2013 10:36:21 AM
Everything starts with Katia May.
As much as the junior said in the preseason she understood what it meant to be point guard in coach Vic Schaefer's system, May really had no idea what was required to "get up the line" and to pressure an opponent the length of the court. Playing defense for 94 feet is one thing, but doing it every possession?
Twenty-three games into the season, May already has played more minutes than she did her first two seasons in Starkville. In her first season under Schaefer, May has come to embrace Schaefer's defense that requires players to dictate tempo with their aggressiveness. May's ability to set the tone on defense has been an integral reason why MSU has started to see results after an 0-6 start to the Southeastern Conference season.
May and MSU (11-12, 3-7 SEC) will look to extend their two-game winning streak at 7 tonight when they take on the University of Mississippi at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford. WKBB-FM 100.9 and WXWX-FM 96.3 will broadcast the game live. It also will be available for HailStateTV subscribers at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive. MSU defeated Ole Miss 72-57 on Jan. 27 in Starkville for Schaefer's first SEC victory. Since then, MSU has defeated the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri (in Columbia, Mo., for Schaefer's first SEC road victory).
"She has shown to be a little more comfortable of late," Schaefer said. "She is playing hard and has really been the key defensively in the three victories we have had. She has really been able to set the tempo with her on-ball pressure and working the opposing teams' point guard."
Schaefer admits May and sophomore point guard Jerica James are still committing too many turnovers. May leads the Bulldogs in assists (82, 3.6 per game) and turnovers (95). MSU is last in the SEC in turnover margin (-2.26) and assist-to-turnover ratio. May also is tied for second on the team with 32 steals.
May has had two of her best games at MSU in the past four games. She scored 15 points and had six assists (seven turnovers) in 32 minutes against Ole Miss. She bounced back from seven- and nine-turnover games against the University of Tennessee and Arkansas to score a career-high 16 points and make five steals in 33 minutes Sunday at Missouri. She admits she has made steady progress from earlier in the season when she played only four minutes against the University of South Carolina, the team's second SEC game. That game was one of three May didn't start. She returned to the starting lineup against the University of Kentucky, and has started the past six games.
"I am doing what I am supposed to do and staying focused," May said. "I have to give credit to my teammates. They are being open when they need me to get them the ball at the right time. It is about timing and me knowing when to get them the ball."
At 5-foot-2, May is one of the smallest point guards in the SEC. She has made up for the size discrepancy by using her quickness to get up into defenders and influence their decision-making. Arkansas coach Tom Collen credited MSU's defense in the Bulldogs' 47-44 victory on Feb. 3 in Starkville. Point guard Calli Berna, the league leader in assists with 152, had four assists and four turnovers in 40 minutes. The four turnovers might not sound like a lot, but Berna has nearly three times more assists (152) than she does turnovers (57), and May did everything she could to try to prevent her from going where she wanted to go.
"Katia's influence rubs off on our team in ballgames when she is picking up fullcourt and pressuring the ball," Schaefer said. "That makes everybody else play hard behind her. That's true with any of our teams (at Arkansas and at Texas A&M University). We have to have a point guard pick up and apply ball pressure."
Schaefer earned the nickname "Secretary of Defense" for his work on that side of the ball when he worked for coach Gary Blair at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. With former Texas A&M point guard Aqua Franklin on his coaching staff at MSU, Schaefer has a two-pronged attack for his point guards to make sure they are getting into opponents and into passing lanes to disrupt an opponent's offense and to create offense for the Bulldogs.
"Any success you have with your team starts at the point," Schaefer said. "We are still turning the ball over way too much, but with Katia and JJ (James) playing better, our team will play better."
May said she doesn't mind playing defense and that she has come to love getting up on the ball. She said her ability to affect a game takes pressure off her teammates and gives opponents less time on the shot clock to run their offense. She said it has been a challenge maintaining the focus needed to play at the tempo Schaefer, Franklin, and the rest of the coaches demand. But she feels she is making strides to become a floor leader the Bulldogs can depend on.
"I have to keep running the team and playing defense like I am and keep my teammates motivated and playing hard regardless of the score," May said. "I think I have improved a lot considering I have been in two totally different systems. I think I am doing pretty good, but I can be better."
MSU will play host to LSU at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in its annual "Think Pink" game. SportSouth will televise the game. The first 750 fans will receive free "Think Pink" T-shirts courtesy of Oktibbeha County Hospital.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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