March 2, 2009
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Mississippi State women''s basketball team is still discovering what kind of team it wants to be.
Coach Sharon Fanning has stressed all season the importance of hard work, defense, communication, and execution in an effort to help her players realize what it takes to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Now that it''s March, the Lady Bulldogs are trying to put all of those ingredients together.
Alexis Rack scored a game-high 19 points and Mary Kathryn Govero added 14 off the bench Sunday afternoon to help MSU beat Alabama 67-49 before a crowd of 1,543 at Coleman Coliseum.
The victory helped MSU (21-8, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) secure the No. 6 seed for this week''s Southeastern Conference Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark.
The Lady Bulldogs will take on South Carolina (10-17, 2-12) at 9 p.m. Thursday. The winner of that game will take on No. 3 seed LSU (17-9, 10-4) at 9 p.m. Friday.
MSU beat South Carolina 58-41 on Thursday. It also has two victories this season against LSU.
On Sunday, the Lady Bulldogs struggled with themselves and against the Crimson Tide (13-16 1-13), the last-place team in the SEC.
MSU shot 28.6 percent (8 of 28) in the first half, the worst of any SEC opponent against Alabama. The Lady Bulldogs made only 4 of 15 3-pointers, the most attempted by an opponent against Alabama in the first half.
The second half was a different story -- and more like the team Fanning wants to see.
The Lady Bulldogs continued to pound the backboard and had 21 offensive rebounds and a 56-37 overall edge. They also held the Crimson Tide more than 11 minutes without a field goal and to 21.9 percent shooting (7 of 32) in the final 20 minutes.
"We weren''t in the attack mode that we needed to be in as we were in the second half," Govero said. "In the second half we were attacking and crashing the boards offensively and defensively and getting it inside and outside gives you open looks and you have more confidence shooting when you''re in that mode. We just need to do that for 40 minutes."
MSU also had a 26-14 edge in points in the paint and a 21-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Those are elements Fanning wants to see every game.
"In the second half we challenged our team relative to the energy, who we want to be and how do you we want to finish this game and how we want to go into the tournament," Fanning said. "I thought we played a lot harder. When you play harder defensively and you contest shots, then you rebound the basketball and then you''re in transition and you''re getting some easier looks."
Erika Russell led Alabama, which led 30-26 at halftime, with 12 points. The Crimson Tide led 41-35 with 14 minutes, 25 seconds to play and then went stone cold from the field.
MSU answered with a 24-2 run that gave it a 59-43 lead with 3:27 to play. Alabama was 0-for-13 from the field with six turnovers in that stretch.
Alabama coach Wendell Hudson liked his team''s effort in the first half but said his players didn''t complete the job.
"I know it has been hard on them to lose games and not win that many SEC games, but if we don''t give maximum effort, we don''t have a chance," Hudson said. "When you don''t make shots it is always going to be a struggle, but we haven''t made shots before and we still have given a better effort than that. I don''t think we played with the same intensity level we have played with all year."
Fanning wasn''t pleased with her team''s energy in the first half. She said the execution and hard work was missing for the second consecutive game. MSU led South Carolina 20-19 after the first half on Thursday.
Like in that game, the Lady Bulldogs picked up the intensity in the second half. Robin Porter took a pass from Rack and scored on a layup to tie the game at 41 with 11:31 to play. Rack then scored on a drive to give the Lady Bulldogs the lead for good at the 10:48 mark.
Govero, who was 4 of 8 from 3-point range, and Rack continued to spark the run. Govero, who was sporting a new braided hairstyle that she called a "taste of Africa" thanks to teammate Rima Kalonda (from the Congo), hustled with Porter to track down an offensive rebound in the right corner. She then hit a 3-pointer, Rack drove in for two more, Govero connected on another 3-pointer off an assist from Rack and Govero returned the favor to Rack for another trey that made it 54-41 with 5:53 left.
"We were second-guessing the 3-point looks. We usually knock them down and they weren''t going in, so we were second-guessing taking the shot or getting the ball inside," said Rack, who added six rebounds and five assists. "In the second half, we got in the paint a lot of transition and our defense stepped up."
Fanning also said she saw improved communication between Rack and Govero on a possession in which the Lady Bulldogs made an extra pass to free Rack for a 3-pointer. She said that "selfless" attitude and leadership are what the Lady Bulldogs need to have if they are going to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
"The games are going to be tough," Fanning said. "There is going to be a lot of frustration. There are going to be things that don''t go your way, but how you react to that adversity is what is going to make you."
MSU was 10 of 29 from 3-point range. The 29 attempts were the second most in a game this season. MSU is averaging 19.6 3-pointers per game.
n NOTES: Senior Donnisha Tate led the Lady Bulldogs with eight rebounds. ... MSU had a 26-7 edge in points off the bench. ... MSU''s 36.1-percent shooting effort was the second lowest by an SEC opponent against Alabama this season. Ole Miss shot 30 percent in Alabama''s only league victory this season. ... The 21 offensive rebounds were the most Alabama has allowed this season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.