March 18, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Tysheka Grimes doesn''t care which word you use.
Energy, focus, and intensity are all the same to her, and as far as she is concerned, the No. 11 seed Mississippi State women''s basketball team will need a healthy dose of all three at 11 a.m. Saturday when it takes on No. 6 seed Texas in the West Regional at Columbus, Ohio.
Mississippi State (22-9) started practice Tuesday for Texas (21-11) and its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2002-03.
The Lady Bulldogs, who were one of the final teams selected to the field of 64, believe they belong in the NCAA tournament and they want to make sure they don''t have any regrets after realizing another one of their goals.
"We have to come out with the same intensity we had against LSU here," Grimes said. "We have to come out with more intensity and more energy than we had to come out with a better lead, and we have to keep it going throughout the entire game."
MSU used a 27-9 run to start the game to build a 27-13 lead against LSU on Feb. 8 at Humphrey Coliseum. The Lady Bulldogs held the Tigers to 23.1 percent shooting in the first half and forced 17 turnovers in a 65-55 victory.
The win was part of a three-game stretch that saw MSU also beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. The Lady Bulldogs played some of their best and most focused basketball in those three games, which helped assure them a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Since then, though, MSU has struggled to match those efforts for extended periods. The Lady Bulldogs went on to lose to Auburn and Tennessee in games that were close, and then played poorly in the first halves of two victories against South Carolina and a win at Alabama.
Mississippi State showed flashes of the play it needs in a 63-58 loss to LSU in the SEC tournament. But MSU shot only 32.7 percent from the field and allowed LSU to shoot 60.9 percent in the second half.
Grimes knows the Lady Bulldogs can''t afford an effort like that Saturday.
"We come out every game with the same focus, but being consistent sometimes is not always (in the cards) for us," Grimes said. "We work hard to try to be consistent, but sometimes we fail at it. In the NCAAs, we plan to work hard to remain consistent and for that -- consistency -- to be our main focus."
Sophomore guard Mary Kathryn Govero doesn''t believe the magnitude of making the NCAA tournament and playing on ESPN2 will be a distraction.
Govero agrees with Grimes that consistency will be crucial. She also said everyone will have to believe in themselves and in each other and not be satisfied with just getting to the NCAA tournament.
"Getting here is not it," Govero said. "You can''t be happy we got here and go play a game and say, ''OK we got here, it doesn''t matter if we win or lose.''
"I don''t think we have played our best game. I think this tournament gives us a chance to come out and play our best basketball."
Govero said defense has been a key in every game the Lady Bulldogs have played well. If they do it from the start, she said the offense will flow from the defense.
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning is excited to see how her players respond after this break. She said the team grew as a squad at Christmas break and earned key victories at Southern Miss, Utah Valley State, and Utah. The team carried that momentum into the Southeastern Conference season, and now Fanning hopes her players can draw from all of its experiences to play its best basketball.
"I am excited about this opportunity," Fanning said. "Come game day, though, we will have to perform. I still believe our best full game -- that 40-minute game -- is ahead of us.
"We''re asking everybody to reach down, to focus, and to keep their focus throughout the tough times that can go along with the game."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.