January 3, 2010 12:11:00 AM
STARKVILLE --Bethany Washington is used to the ritual.
The heating pads start from the end of the Mississippi State bench and work their way from trainer to manager to teammate to her knees.
The size of the pads vary from gym to gym, but Washington has pads she brings with her when she travels, just in case, so she can be ready.
Once the pads find their home, Washington can stretch out and receive the warmth she needs to keep her joints loose.
The pads are just two pieces of the equipment Washington uses to prepare herself to play basketball.
On the right knee, she wears a white sleeve. A jointed brace protects her left knee. Washington also has worn a protective wrap on her shoulder to help keep it in place.
She wears a shoulder brace because her shoulder subluxes.
It wasn''t always like this for Washington.
As a freshman, she started 29 or 32 games and averaged 6.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game.
Injuries have forced Washington''s minutes to shrink the past three seasons. She averaged 17.7 minutes (in 23 games) as a sophomore and only seven in 20 of 33 games last season.
She injured her left knee (ACL) last season and she injured her ankle (bone bruise) at Ole Miss her sophomore season.
All of that after injurying her right knee (ACL) in high school.
This season, Washington hopes to play a bigger role. On Wednesday, she matched her season-high with 14 minutes in the Mississippi State women''s basketball team''s 108-67 victory against Alcorn State. Washington had two points, a season-high three assists (one off her career-high), and one rebound and helped give senior forward Tysheka Grimes a break.
Washington''s ability to provide minutes off the bench will be a valuable asset starting at 2 p.m. today when MSU (9-4) opens Southeastern Conference play at Auburn.
"As long as I am loose I am fine," Washington said. "I have to stay warm."
Washington strikes a variety of poses on the bench with the heating pads. She can sit with her knees bent in front of her and position the heating pads on her thighs and on the tops of her knees, or she can stretch out her legs (adorned with white sneakers and pink shoelaces) and use the pads to cover every inch.
The warmth allows Washington to stay limber and produce in the two- to three-minute stretches that MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis needs from her.
"It is my senior year and I am trying to step up as best I can and to provide for the team to the best of my ability," Washington said. "I think I can contribute a little more."
Washington said she feels "pretty healthy." She said he mind tells her she is 100 percent even though her body disagrees.
"I have good and bad days," Washington said. "My body tells me to stop sometimes. I will do whatever I can do to help the team."
Senior guard Alexis Rack remembers when Washington did more for the Lady Bulldogs. As freshmen, they played key roles on the team and have matured into two of the team leaders as seniors.
"When she was 100 percent I think she was unstoppable one-on-one in the four position," Rack said. "She could shoot the three, drive, and play defense. She was just another threat and a weapon we could use.
"It is the same thing (now), she just has to get flowing. Going in and out you really can''t get a rhythm, so I think if she gets a rhythm in it is game over."
Washington played eight minutes in the first half Wednesday night. She scored her only points on a hook shot in the lane. She also showed she still has a knack for doing the little things. She delivered a pass to Chanel Mokango that the 6-foot-5 center could keep up in the air and score on the block. She used a diagonal pass to find an open Rack, who connected on a 3-pointer.
Washington''s play this season has revealed she knows how to play the game. In the second half against Mississippi Valley State, she passed up a short shot to pass the ball to Armelie Lumanu for a layup. She also understands passing angles and how Fanning-Otis wants the offense run to help the Lady Bulldogs get a "great" shot every possession.
Those intangibles are going to be key as MSU tries to realize its potential in a wide-open SEC race that figures to be extremely competitive.
"She is still not 100 percent, but mentally she is ready to give you some energy for two or three minutes," Fanning-Otis said. "I thought she did that for the first part of the game (against Alcorn State). I thought she gave us quality energy and focus on where she is supposed to be. I am not concerned with the points. I am concerned with taking care of the basketball and knowing where you''re to be.
"Will it be 14 minutes every time? I don''t know. If she can give Ty a rest and play that four some (it will help us)."
NOTES: Auburn (9-4) is coming off a 66-55 loss to host San Diego State on Wednesday in the championship game of the Surf ''N Slam Classic.
Redshirt junior Jordan Greenleaf led Auburn with 15 points and eight rebounds. Junior guard Alli Smalley was 5 of 18 from the field, including a 0-for-6 effort from 3-point range, and had 10 points. She leads the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game.
Senior KeKe Carrier, a 6-foot-7 center, is second on the team in scoring at 13.2 ppg. She leads the team in rebounding 7.5 per game) in only 19.4 minutes per game.
Auburn has lost at Temple, to Texas A&M, and at Florida State.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.