December 2, 2009 8:37:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State women''s basketball will see at 7 tonight if has learned its lessons and is ready to move on.
Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis hopes the Lady Bulldogs will be in that position when they take on Southern Miss (3-3) at Humphrey Coliseum.
The game is the first for MSU (4-3) after it went 0-3 last weekend at the 10th annual Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. MSU, which entered the three-day tournament ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25, opened the tournament with a 73-55 loss to then-No. 13 Texas. MSU beat Texas 71-63 last season in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
MSU then lost to Rutgers 62-54 and to Southern California 64-60. The defeats erased any of the momentum the Lady Bulldogs had generated from an impressive 84-55 victory against Maryland on Nov. 22 at Humphrey Coliseum. They also knocked MSU from the national rankings after two weeks in the AP Top 25. The rankings were the first time the program had been ranked since 2003.
Fanning-Otis hopes MSU can begin to put things back together tonight.
"I think anytime you lose a game or games you have to learn something from it," Fanning-Otis said. "We played three very good basketball teams, and we played three teams that were different size wise. We didn''t do a good job with the consistency. I think there were parts of games that could help us win any basketball game that we played all year, but it is going to take consistent defense."
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs will need better and more communication and rebounding on defense to help solidify that part of the game. That end of the floor is crucial because MSU shot 35.3 percent or less (against USC) and had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in all three games.
The statistics were even more alarming because senior guard Alexis Rack, who had a career-high 43 points against Maryland, struggled with her shooting. She went 5-for-19 against Texas and was 5-for-16 against Rutgers and 6-for-16 against USC.
Cold shooting nights from Tysheka Grimes and Mary Kathryn Govero against Rutgers (3-for-13) and from Govero against USC (2-for-15 coupled with a lack of production from senior center Chanel Mokango (six points, five turnovers against Rutgers, zero points in 22 minutes against USC) limited the Lady Bulldogs'' margin for error.
Fanning-Otis hopes the next few games will help the team settle on a roster. She said Mokango likely will move into the starting lineup to replace senior center Rima Kalonda, but that isn''t set. She said players like junior guard Ashlie Billingslea, freshman guard/forward Ashley Jones, and post players Danielle Rector, Bethany Washington, and Channa Campbell need to emerge as bigger contributors to make sure the Lady Bulldogs can maintain production when Fanning-Otis goes to the bench.
"What we''re talking about is how do you put the mental and the physical together and how do you to it for a 40-minute period," Fanning-Otis said. "There are too many self-inflicted turnovers and mental mistakes. You come back, you learn, and you go on with the next games. If you worry about those games or you reflect on them other than evaluating and moving on, it is going to hold you back."
Southern Miss is coming off an 84-55 loss to then-No. 14 Georgia in the championship game of the LaQuinta Inn Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic. Pauline Love had a team-high 18 points, while Tanesha Washington had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Danielle Johnson added 12 points.
Love leads the team in scoring and rebounding (18.7 points and 13.7 rebounds). Washington (10.8) and Johnson (10) also score in double figures.
MSU beat Southern Miss 72-61 last season in Hattiesburg, but Fanning-Otis knows tonight''s game will present plenty of challenges.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.