March 4, 2018 12:35:36 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The piece of black athletic tape winds down Roshunda Johnson's right leg.
The tape starts just below the bottom of Johnson's shorts, which are rolled up to about the middle of her thigh, and snakes to a stop just before her black ankle brace.
"It is just precautionary for certain things that are going on with my legs," Johnson said.
If Johnson still isn't 100 percent like she says, she is doing a great job of disguising it.
Johnson had a game-high 20 points to lead four players in double figures in the No. 1 seed Mississippi State women's basketball team's 81-58 victory against No. 9 seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
The win pushed MSU, which is No. 2 in the nation, to 31-0 and into the semifinals to face No. 5 seed Texas A&M, which eliminated No. 4 seed LSU, later Friday.
Victoria Vivians (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists), Blair Schaefer (15 points), and Teaira McCowan (12 points, 11 rebounds) also reached double figures to help MSU, the SEC regular-season champion, remain one of two undefeated teams (Connecticut) in Division I women's college basketball.
Johnson, a 5-foot-7 redshirt senior guard, has played a key role in the Bulldogs' first SEC regular-season title. She is averaging 17 points in the last seven games. She is shooting 51.9 percent from the field (42-for-81) and 54.5 percent (24-for-44) from 3-point range. Her effort Friday was her third 20-point game of the season.
"When you have Ro and Blair out there making threes, you better find them," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "The thing that Ro can do so well is she will just take you off the bounce if you go get her. She is really good."
Johnson has played in every game this season after missing six last season in MSU's program-record 34-5 campaign that ended with a loss to South Carolina in the national title game. The transfer from Oklahoma State has showcased a versatile game that includes the ability to beat you off the dribble with either hand and a sniper's eye from behind the 3-point line.
Against Kentucky, Johnson was aggressive on both ends of the floor. When she wasn't scoring or making one of her team-high three steals, she was guarding Maci Morris. Johnson limited Morris to 5-for-13 shooting from the field and 13 points. Morris entered the game as Kentucky's leading scorer (17.5 points per game).
"It adds a lot to our team," MSU senior guard Blair Schaefer said when asked what dimension Johnson adds to the team when she plays like she did Friday. "People have to figure out how they want to guard her. If they are going to give her the drive, she is going to drive it. If they give her space, she is going to knock down shots. I feel like it opens up a lot on the floor. Either they are going to sag off somebody and try to help the person who is beat, or she is going to beat you and get a layup.
"I feel like when she is playing that aggressive it gives our team energy and then it gets other people going offensively and it is just a positive effect."
Johnson and Schaefer have complemented each other extremely well all season. Since both players are 5-7, they know they don't have a lot of time to get their shots off. While Schaefer is more of a stationary shooter, Johnson has used opponents' awareness of her shooting ability to take them off the bounce. She has become increasingly adept at slicing into gaps or beating defenders off the dribble when MSU goes to its motion offense and runs players off screens.
On Friday, though, Johnson did the majority of her damage from behind the arc and from the free-throw line, where she was 7-for-7.
Johnson took a starring role in the second quarter to help MSU regroup after Kentucky (15-17) led 23-22 after one quarter.
In a span of 1 minute, 7 seconds, Johnson turned a close game into another blowout by draining a 3-pointer from the left wing. She followed with a second trey 57 seconds later and then stole an inbounds pass and hit another 3-pointer from nearly the same spot.
"I thought our first three quarters offensively we're really good, sharing the ball, Blair and Ro knocking down shots," coach Schaefer said. "It seemed like they always had a dagger. We do such a good job. Our chemistry is so good making the extra pass that sometimes you lose them. When you do, typically we can make shots. That has been this team all year."
Johnson said she still isn't 100 percent, so she still has to wear the black tape, which matches the brace that sits above the black, low-cut adidas sneaker. Both sneakers are "old school" because they are all black. The sliver of white on her legs is from the wrap on the braces that help hold them in place.
Johnson said athletic trainer Julie Martin helps assemble the ensemble every game. She said Martin can tape her up in "about one minute" and that the tape "relieves some of my things I have going on" and helps her during the game.
Johnson said she felt good prior to the team's first practice of the season in Mize Pavilion. She said she still felt good Friday after notching her third 20-point game of the season and helping MSU take its first step in its quest to get back to the SEC tournament title game for the third-straight season. The Bulldogs are looking for their first SEC tournament championship.
MSU turned the game with a 23-9 second quarter in which it shot 8-for-14 from the field. The Bulldogs were 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the frame.
Johnson, who also had four assists, was 5-for-12 from the field (3-for-8 from 3-point range) to help the Bulldogs shoot 50 percent from the field (28-for-56). MSU also was 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Blair Schaefer said Johnson needs to understand the Bulldogs are a much better team when she plays like she did against the Wildcats. She feels MSU can be a "crazy team" if Johnson continues to be aggressive and mixes the ways she attacks the basket and looks for her shot.
"She needs to have a lot of faith in herself because when she is playing like this she doesn't need to have any doubt that her handle is not good enough, her shot is not good enough, her drive is not good enough because she is a great player," Schaefer said. "
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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