March 30, 2010 4:44:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Defense has been the calling card for the Mississippi State women''s basketball team in the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Bulldogs used a 13-0 run in the final four-plus minutes to rally past Middle Tennessee State in the first round.
MSU had 14 steals and forced 24 turnovers Tuesday against second-seeded Ohio State in an 87-67 upset that secured the program''s first trip to the Sweet 16.
Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis knows it will be difficult for the seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs to duplicate those efforts at 1:32 p.m. today (ESPN2) when they take on third-seeded Florida State in Dayton, Ohio, but that doesn''t mean they won''t try.
MSU will attempt to deliver a repeat performance against an opponent that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in field goal percentage (44.5 percent), 3-point shooting percentage (38.2), and assists per game (15.6).
Florida State (28-5) also boasts two post players -- 6-foot-5 senior forward Jacinta Monroe and 6-4 sophomore center Cierra Bravard -- and a stingy defense that was second in the ACC in field goal percentage (35.4).
"Florida State is a long, quick, aggressive defensive team, and they have a lot of multiple defenses and full- and half-court traps," Fanning-Otis said. "I think we will see more of a variety of things."
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs prepared to face more zone defense than they saw against Ohio State. On Friday, MSU began its on-court preparation for FSU in Dayton and is anticipating anything a talented opponent will throw at it.
The Lady Seminoles, who last advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2006-07, have advanced to the NCAA tournament six consecutive seasons. MSU is in its second consecutive NCAA tournament, and its sixth overall.
"They are a really aggressive team," Fanning-Otis said. "They are a consistent, hard-working team that plays very, very well together and finds ways to win. That''s why as a team we''re going to have to find way to improve."
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs (21-12) will have to stay connected and will have to apply a lot more pressure on the ball to keep the ball out of the hands of Monroe, the team''s leading scorer (13.2 points) and rebounder (7.2). Bravard is sixth on the team in scoring (7.2 points per game).
Junior guard Courtney Ward is second on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg.), and senior forward Alysha Harvin is third on the team in scoring (10.7). They have hit 61 and 59 3-pointers, respectively, this season.
FSU advanced to the Sweet 16 by beating Louisiana Tech (75-61) and St. John''s (66-65 in overtime) on its home court in Tallahassee, Fla.
MSU defeated Louisiana Tech 72-68 in Ruston, La., earlier this season.
The Lady Bulldogs will counter the Lady Seminoles'' inside-outside attack with versatility. Senior guard Alexis Rack leads the team in scoring at 17.6 ppg. Her 21- and 30-point efforts in the first two rounds mark the first time she has scored 20 or more points in back to back games since December.
Senior center Chanel Mokango played fine defensive games against All-America candidates Alysha Clark (MTSU) and Jantel Lavender (Ohio State). She also played two of her best offensive games of the season, scoring 20 and 19 points respectively, and displaying a sweet shooting touch from the perimeter.
As a team, MSU shot 55.7 percent from the field, its third-best performance of the season, and 54.5 percent (12 of 22) from 3-point range, its best mark since the 2008-09 season opener.
Senior guard Armelie Lumanu also showed she could be a stat stuffer. Against Ohio State, Lumanu had 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, and six steals in one of her best all-around games of the season.
Today, Lumanu likely will see time at the four (power forward) position. How much time depends on the availability of senior forward Tysheka Grimes, who suffered a foot injury against MTSU and played only four minutes against Ohio State.
Lumanu played four positions against Ohio State, and her length and quickness provided matchup problems for the Lady Buckeyes.
Those qualities could be keys against FSU, which shot 37.3 percent or lower in four of its five losses. The Lady Seminoles also hit four or fewer 3-pointers (they average 6.1 per game) in four of their five losses
Fanning-Otis would love for the Lady Bulldogs to turn in a defensive effort that forces the Lady Seminoles into another one of those days. She said FSU resembles LSU and Kentucky in certain ways and that it also is similar to Texas, a team that beat MSU 73-55 in November, in terms of athleticism.
"They pick up full-court and have a lot of multiple things," Fanning-Otis said. "They have perimeter shooters, players on the rim, and a point guard with a great assist-to-turnover ratio."
The winner of today''s game will play the winner of today''s other game between top-seeded Connecticut and fourth-seeded Iowa State at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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