November 20, 2009 8:02:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State women''s basketball team received a passing grade from nearly everyone in its first game as a ranked team in six seasons.
The only person who wasn''t overwhelmed by No. 25 MSU''s 81-35 victory against Utah Valley University before a crowd of 639 at Humphrey Coliseum was coach Sharon Fanning-Otis.
"I would give us a 50 out of 100," Fanning-Otis said when asked what grade she would give the team. "It is probably a little better than that. I am probably real hard on them, but that is what I told the girls. If you''re expecting a championship, you''re going to have to play that way all of the time. You can''t play in spurts."
Even though Fanning-Otis was pleased with the fact that senior guard Alexis Rack (16 points) led five players in double figures, she said the Lady Bulldogs were too inconsistent and didn''t grade out well enough in all of the categories they will need to later in the season.
"We just need to play tougher and smarter," Fanning-Otis said. "I would say it is halfway there. You should score a lot more than you scored and I felt they shouldn''t have scored as many."
MSU held Utah Valley without a field goal for 16 minutes, 2 seconds and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 36-7 lead by the time Kayla Burningham hit a 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the first half.
The Wolverines committed 19 of their 33 turnovers in the first half.
Offensively, Tysheka Grimes (14 points), Mary Kathryn Govero (13), and Chanel Mokango and Diamber Johnson (10) rounded out the double-digit scorers.
Govero notched her total on her 21st birthday, while Johnson''s effort was a career-high.
The highlights came on a night when MSU, a team that also received votes in the preseason Associated Press poll, celebrated its first ranking since it was No. 13 on March 17, 2003, in the final AP poll of the season.
Rack and Grimes gave the Lady Bulldogs a B-. They agreed MSU did some things well but they said there were plenty of areas that could have been much better, especially with a stretch of games looming that begins at 2 p.m. Sunday with Maryland.
"We ran the floor well, we moved the ball some and then there were some cases when we very complacent and didn''t move at all," Grimes said. "We are just trying to eliminate those things to be No. 1."
Said Rack, "We''re working toward playing 40 minutes and not letting up."
MSU will play No. 10 Texas, Rutgers, and Southern California on Nov. 26-28 at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Utah Valley coach Cathy Nixon said her team, which lost honorable mention All-American Robyn Fairbanks to graduation, showed its youth against an experienced team. She said the Wolverines (2-2), who played six freshmen, couldn''t get much done against the Lady Bulldogs'' defense.
"They''re a team with their athleticism and the way they shot the ball tonight I think they have to be as good as anybody out there," Nixon said.
The loss tied the program record for margin of defeat. Utah Valley lost to Gonzaga 87-41 on Nov. 20, 2004.
Last year, MSU beat Utah Valley 71-63 in Orem, Utah.
"It is hard to tell (the difference in MSU from last season to this season) because we were horrible," Nixon said. "I think a lot of that can be attributed to some of the things they did. They seemed to be a little more disciplined in some of the things they did offensively. ... I thought they were a very good team last year. I am excited for them because it is fun to see teams mature like they have."
NOTES: North Panola High senior Jenisha Jackson is expected to be one of four of MSU''s signees for the Class of 2010. Jackson is a 6-foot-2 forward. Fanning-Otis couldn''t comment on her because she hadn''t seen her signed letter of intent. The signings are expected to be announced today. Wednesday was final day of the early signing period. ... Rack scored in double figures for the 17th game in a row. ... The game was just the second for Utah Valley against a ranked opponent. The Wolverines lost to No. 14 Duke 95-61 on Dec. 18, 2007. They committed a program-record 39 turnovers in that game. ... Great West Preseason Player of the Year Julie Smith had only three points and committed nine turnovers in 28 minutes. ... The NCAA Membership Services notified Utah Valley on July 7, 2009, that it was accepted as an official member of Division I. The date was incorrect in Wednesday''s edition.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.