March 25, 2010 10:21:00 AM
PITTSBURGH -- Sharon Fanning-Otis said all of the right things Tuesday night.
Faced with the emotion of a stirring 87-67 victory against Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Petersen Events Center, Fanning-Otis stuck to a script she has repeated this season like a Broadway performer.
This time, though, the lines changed. Instead of calling her seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs'' upset of the second-seeded Buckeyes a "great" team win, she called it "special."
The dismantling of one of the nation''s premier programs was as much special as it was sweet because it helped MSU (21-12) secure its first trip to the Sweet 16 in program history.
The significance of the moment could have forced Fanning-Otis to lose her composure, but she remained the focused coach she has been throughout a season with its share of its ups and downs.
"Down the stretch, we have not played with the toughness we had to have to finish some games and our execution down the stretch needed to be better to finish against tough teams," Fanning-Otis said. "I felt we were able to do that together."
That comment hinted at the frustration Fanning-Otis and her coaches experienced this season in trying to get the Lady Bulldogs to play with the consistency befitting their talent and potential. Against Ohio State, the thoroughness of MSU''s 55.7-percent shooting effort and its defense''s ability to force 24 turnovers, which it turned into 37 points, told the story of a game that wasn''t as close as the final margin.
Ohio State had no answers for MSU''s athleticism, making it all the more special.
The victory made Fanning-Otis think of a reminder she has had on an office door for some time, and it seemed to be fitting to talk about it after such a significant victory.
"I have had a sign on the door that has been there several years, I guess, it says ''Why not?'' " Fanning-Otis said. "It is the national championship trophy. It doesn''t matter what the game is, if you''re out there competing and somebody is keeping score, you want to win. I am happy for our program and this basketball team with the number of seniors we have."
As quickly as Fanning-Otis seemed to celebrate, she regained her focus and said the Lady Bulldogs would savor the victory for a few hours before re-focusing on their next opponent: Third-seeded Florida State (28-5) at 1:32 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2) in Dayton, Ohio.
Ohio State coach Jim Foster, who used to coach at Vanderbilt, came away impressed with MSU, and feels the Lady Bulldogs have the potential to keep their season alive if they can recapture some of the magic they showed Tuesday.
"If they can bottle it, they can beat a lot of teams," Foster said. "They have eight seniors, they are long, they can cause a lot of problems defensively. I am sure Sharon would love to see what she saw tonight on a regular basis. I know I would."
No one knows if MSU will be able to come close to what it showed against Ohio State. But that won''t stop Fanning-Otis and her coaches from trying to get even more out of their players. They know the Lady Bulldogs are capable of playing even better. It might not sound possible, but Fanning-Otis believes it will happen if her players remain humble and stay hungry.
"You can''t become complacent when you come off this because we want to finish this the very best we can be," Fanning-Otis said. "That is all we have emphasized all year, being the best basketball team we can be.
"It is a blessing (to get to the Sweet 16). It is something that you work for every year, to get as far as you can. Milestones are great for programs. When you have a senior team, you want to take the next step, and this was the logical next step for this team. ... I don''t want to finish with this. We have to stay connected and you can''t worry about duplication. You have to find a way to get it done. We found a way to get it done today, and maybe we can keep going."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.