November 13, 2009 9:11:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State women''s basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis hopes to see a lot of smiles from Rima Kalonda this season.
If that''s the case, Fanning-Otis and the Lady Bulldogs will know the senior is feeling fine and is doing her best to contribute.
The 6-foot-3 senior center got off to a good start Sunday when she had 15 points, seven rebounds, and six blocked shots in a 106-34 victory against Division II Arkansas-Monticello in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Kalonda will try to build on that performance at 5 p.m. today when she will make her first career start at MSU in the team''s season opener against the University of Arkansas -Pine Bluff.
"I feel stronger this season," Kalonda said. "I want to help my team get better and to play hard defense and to get rebounds."
Kalonda averaged 1.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 28 games last season. She averaged only 9.5 minutes per game.
This season, Kalonda figures to play a bigger role as Fanning-Otis searches for production off the bench to replace the minutes played last season by seniors Donnisha Tate and Robin Porter at forward.
"You can see a player gain confidence every time they''re successful at anything," Fanning-Otis said. "It''s great to see a big old smile on Rima''s face. ... It was good to see Rima score. I think she is gaining confidence."
Kalonda is in the mix with senior Channa Campbell, Danielle Rector, and Bethany Washington. The health and the development of some or all of those players will help determine how versatile the Lady Bulldogs will be this season.
Fanning-Otis said her desire is to mix and match lineups so MSU can bring a high level of defensive intensity for 40 minutes. With a lot of depth in the backcourt, Fanning-Otis is looking for someone to emerge in the post.
Kalonda, who is from Kinshasa, Congo, played with classmates Chanel Mokango and Armelie Lumanu at Southeastern Illinois College. As a sophomore, she averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. She averaged 8.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game as a freshman.
Kalonda, who had another surgery on her knee in the offseason, took advantage of a distinct height advantage against Arkansas-Monticello to score in double figures for the first time in a MSU uniform.
But Kalonda didn''t mention offense when asked what she hopes to bring to the lineup this season. Instead, she said she hopes to be a screener who helps get people open, a defender who can block shots and rebound, and a teammate who provides energy and enthusiasm on and off the court.
"I am working hard to get to 100 percent," said Kalonda, who said she is at about 80 percent. "I need to work hard to give more (than she did against Arkansas-Monticello). I expect to play hard and to win championships."
Fanning-Otis is confident a healthy -- and smiling -- Kalonda will be able to do all of those things.
"We need her minutes," Fanning-Otis said. "Is it 15 points every game? I don''t know. (Is it) six or seven rebounds (every game)? Yes. If it is close to 10 points it is a huge plus."
n NOTE: Fanning-Otis said Mokango, a senior center, and freshman guard Ashley Jones (shin splints) were scheduled to practice for 45 minutes Thursday in their first action of the week. She hoped the practice time would help them get ready for limited roles tonight. Neither players saw action in the exhibition game.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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