March 24, 2010 10:01:00 AM
PITTSBURGH -- Debbie Antonelli has known Sharon Fanning-Otis for a long time.
The veteran college basketball analyst developed a friendship with Fanning, as she was then known, in 1988 when she was the women''s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
Through the years, Antonelli has worked as an analyst on numerous games in which Fanning-Otis has coached. She couldn''t have been any prouder Tuesday night as she watched seventh-seeded Mississippi State defeat second-seeded Ohio State 87-67 in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Petersen Events Center.
The victory will send MSU (21-12) into the Sweet 16 for the first time against third-seeded Florida State (28-5) at 1:32 p.m. Sunday in Dayton, Ohio.
"I couldn''t be more pleased for Sharon and her first trip to the Sweet 16," Antonelli said. "It is not going to be about Ohio State losing, I think this is going to be about Mississippi State winning. The way they played defensively they bottled up Ohio State. They did a fantastic job helping on (junior center Jantel) Lavender. Their game plan defensively was good. They survived the 3-point shooting barrage early. I thought offensively Sharon coached a tremendous game. They spread it out when they needed to, they ran screens when they needed to. ... We saw why the SEC is a superior league to the Big Ten. Last year, the Big Ten had three teams in the Sweet 16. This year, they are all out by the second round. The SEC is showing where speed and athleticism matters."
MSU also benefited from a 30-point performance from senior guard Alexis Rack and from a sterling 55.7-percent shooting effort from the field.
"They made shots, too," Antonelli said. "(Chanel) Mokango hit a lot of turnaround jump shots in somebody''s face. Rack hit those threes in the first half with a hand in her face. They gained momentum off their offense, whereas Mississippi State usually gains momentum off its defense. I thought Sharon did a fantastic job getting her team ready to play. ... Mississippi State had a terrific game plan and executed it well. I couldn''t be more pleased for (Sharon) as a friend to see she is going to get a chance to play in the Sweet 16."
Fanning is 254-198 in 15 seasons at MSU, and 575-424 in 34 seasons.
Another All-America effort
One game after teaming to hold Middle Tennessee State''s Alysha Clark, the nation''s leading scorer at 28.7 points per game, to 17 points, Mokango did an even better job defending Lavender, the three-time Big Ten Conference Player of the Year.
Lavender extended her double-digit scoring record to 102 games, but she finished with 17 points, 4.5 off her season average, and wasn''t able to dominate the game.
"I was just focused," Mokango said. "We talked as a team and we said we were not going to let this go away and we have to win because we have never been to the Sweet 16, so we had to win no matter what. We did it."
After scoring 20 points and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds Sunday in a 68-64 come-from-behind victory against MTSU, Mokango had 19 points (on 9-of-11 shooting) and three rebounds. Many of her shots came on turnaround jump shots over Lavender.
"It wasn''t surprising because we were executing," Mokango said. "Everybody''s shots were going through today. It was just our game and it was our day."
Grimes not able to play
Senior forward Tysheka Grimes tried her best to shake off a left foot injury she suffered down the stretch against MTSU, but she was only able to go four minutes before she opted to take herself out of the rotation.
"I thought I was going to be able to go," Grimes said. "The type of medicine they had given me and the treatment and things like that, I was feeling pretty good. But going out there and playing kind of aggravated it more. I just decided it would be best for me not to play."
Grimes felt it was best for the team not to play because she knew she wasn''t at 100 percent and she didn''t want to make any mistakes.
"I had a lot of faith in my teammates," Grimes said. "Hopefully the next game I can contribute more than what I did today."
Grimes missed the first 10 games of the Southeastern Conference season after she partially tore the plantar faciitis in her right foot. She said the injury she suffered Sunday was similar to that injury.
Through all of the ups and downs this season, Grimes believed MSU would be able to answer the call without her.
"I did expect it because our attitude, we were really up, positive, and very optimistic throughout this whole trip," Grimes said. "We just knew we had to get the job done under any circumstances. I had a feeling this was going to be the outcome."
Fine atmosphere in Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh women''s basketball coach Agnus Berenato would have loved for her team to be involved in the NCAA tournament games at the Petersen Events Center.
But Berenato was forced to watch after her team failed to earn an at-large bid
Pittsburgh''s season ended with a 70-58 loss to Toledo on Friday in the first round of the Women''s National Invitation Tournament. The loss gave Berenato plenty of time to visit with friends and fans at the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh. She said she liked what she saw and experienced.
"I thought it was awesome," Berenato said. "I am very sad we weren''t in it, but I thought we did a fabulous job. I thought (Pittsburgh''s Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women''s Administrator) Carol Sprague and everybody at Pittsburgh put on just an unbelievable show. It shows the hospitality of the city of Pittsburgh, and it''s why we are the city of champions. It was a great national event. It is not something the University of Pittsburgh had to be in, but we hosted it as if we were in it."
Sunday''s doubleheader of Ohio State versus St. Francis (Pa.) and Middle Tennessee State versus Mississippi State had an aattendance of 5,1516. Tuesday''s MSU versus Ohio State game had an attendance of 3,966.
This and that
Rack made 6 of 12 3-pointers to tie Cornelia Gayden for the most treys in a season in the Southeastern Conference. Rack now has 105 3-pointers this season. "I was just taking what they gave me," Rack said. "Once I get hot I think the ball is going in every time. ... MSU improved to 6-5 all-time in the NCAA tournament. ... The Lady Bulldogs earned their seventh victory against a ranked opponent, the most in a season since 2001-02, when they also won seven.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.