January 7, 2010 9:25:00 AM
Mary Kathryn Govero didn''t set out Sunday to deliver the production of two players.
But with senior guard/forward Tysheka Grimes not able to play Sunday against Auburn, Govero knew she had to do something to help the Mississippi State women''s basketball team in its Southeastern Conference opener.
Govero responded with a career-high 22 points to help MSU pull away in the second half for a 73-58 victory. She and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs will need a similar effort at 8 tonight (CSS) when they play host to No. 17 Vanderbilt (12-2, 1-0) in their SEC home opener.
"Every game I try to do a little more and pick up in areas I have to improve on," Govero said. "With Ty out, she is somebody we look to to score, so we moved the ball around a lot and got some open shots, especially in the second half when people knocked them down when they needed to."
MSU (10-4, 1-0 SEC) will be without Grimes, the team''s third-leading scorer (11.5 points per game) and leading rebounder (7.0 per game), tonight and at 1 p.m. Sunday when it plays host to No. 4 Tennessee.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said she isn''t sure if or when Grimes will return this season, so she is counting on all of her players to help pick up the slack.
Against Auburn, Govero was 8-for-14 shooting from the field to help push her scoring average for the season from 10.2 to 11.1. She also had four rebounds, two assists, and three steals in an effort that epitomized the total contribution MSU received from all of its players.
The Lady Bulldogs shot 51.7 percent and outscored the Tigers 44-28 in the second half to earn the victory. Auburn held a 47-31 rebounding edge.
Rebounding without Grimes is an area of concern for Fanning-Otis. MSU has been outrebounded by double figures in two of its four losses this season. Rutgers had a 39-38 edge in its victory. MSU outrebounded Southern California 48-36.
In the SEC, Fanning-Otis knows controlling the backboards will be crucial, which is why rebounding was one thing she stressed Sunday and will continue to stress to Govero.
"The biggest thing we have pounded her with in this last game was blocking out and how important our rebounding is," Fanning-Otis said. "She came up with steals and buckets we needed and then she had the confidence to keep shooting even though she didn''t hit some early shots.
"Hopefully they''re all going to break out and play their very best basketball and we''re going to continue to improve. As Ty gets back with us, if we''re fortunate enough to have her come back in, she will have learned by watching and the other players will have gained experience."
Govero said the key against Auburn was everyone played a bigger role in a team effort. She said the Lady Bulldogs missed Grimes'' presence in the post, but she said players like Rima Kalonda, Bethany Washington, Danielle Rector, and Channa Campbell did a fine job splitting minutes, which allowed Fanning-Otis to use different rotations.
One of the adjustments MSU made was to play senior Armelie Lumanu some at the four spot, or power forward. Lumanu sees the majority of her minutes at point guard, but the move paid off Sunday as MSU committed only 10 turnovers.
Govero also said the Lady Bulldogs picked up their defensive intensity in the second half. She said everyone will have to deliver that kind of effort for the rest of the season if MSU wants to live to its preseason billing. The Lady Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the SEC by the league''s coaches and fifth in the conference by the media.
"People may see Ty is gone and they may write us off or overlook us, but we haven''t lowered the expectations we have for ourselves," Govero said. "We can continue to be successful, but everybody is going to have to play a more significant role. Whenever we do get her back it will just make us a stronger team."
As for rebounding, Govero doesn''t know how many more she will be expected to grab. She said she and her teammates know they will have to be more aware that they box out on every defensive possession. If they do that, the Lady Bulldogs might be able to get out and run, which Fanning-Otis said helped them last season in a victory against Vanderbilt in Starkville and Sunday against Auburn.
"Last year, transition was the difference in the ballgame, us pressuring and pushing," Fanning-Otis said. "We felt like that would be a factor with Auburn, and we feel like that will be a factor with any team.
"Somebody has to step up. You have to expect to win. If you go in scared or overconfident against anybody, you''re going to lose that game. You''re going to have to play every possession the very best you can play it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.