March 25, 2009
Sharon Fanning already is thinking about the 2009-10 season.
One of the first jobs Fanning took to prepare for next season was to watch Mississippi State''s 64-58 loss to Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Monday again.
The veteran MSU coach knew the outcome wasn''t going to change. She also knew her confidence in her players wasn''t going to diminish one bit.
But things did get tough when it came for Fanning to watch the final 6 minutes, 43 seconds.
The Lady Bulldogs, who led 58-54, went scoreless down the stretch and committed six turnovers as they faced the potential of earning the program''s first trip to the Sweet 16.
Fanning credited Big Ten champion Ohio State (29-5) for making the plays when it had to, but she honestly assessed what her did team wrong and what she felt could have happened.
"I feel we could have beaten Ohio State, but we have to do it for a 40-minute period and we have to execute and make plays," Fanning said. "I think we needed a little more patience in terms of shot selection and more energy on defense. We have to guard harder and we can''t give up offensive rebounds. They had a couple (offensive rebounds) that were critical."
The Buckeyes had two offensive rebounds in the final 2:27 that they used to score two points.
The Lady Bulldogs'' unforced errors proved to be more troublesome. MSU committed four consecutive turnovers after OSU took the lead for good, 60-58, with 2:56 to play.
The lead change was the 17th of the game.
The Lady Bulldogs appeared to rush down the stretch, which accounted for at least two traveling violations and an offensive foul by junior point guard Alexis Rack.
"There were a couple of minutes there where we weren''t focused and we didn''t have the look like we were going to make this shot or that we were going to get this next stop," Fanning said. "It is something we will learn from because I always say some of your losses prepare you for another close game if you gain confidence from that."
MSU appeared to show it learned its lessons Saturday. Tied at 59 with just over two minutes to play, MSU held on for a 71-63 victory.
Junior college transfers Chanel Mokango, whose turnaround jump shot gave MSU the lead for good, and Armelie Lumanu (11 points, 10 rebounds) showed maturity in their first NCAA tournament game.
Rack, who hit 8 of 8 free throws down the stretch against Texas, hit a three-point play with 6:43 remaining to give the Lady Bulldogs (23-10) a 58-54.
Rack appeared to have her swagger on the play, which could have meant good things for MSU.
Unfortunately, one bad play led to another and then several more as things unraveled for the Lady Bulldogs.
Fanning said she was positive with her players following the game. After all, MSU was making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the 2002-03 season. Even though it was an experienced team in terms of the classes of its players, the Lady Bulldogs had inexperienced players in important roles.
Through it all, the team showed signs of growth, intensity, and focus.
Now Fanning wants to see more of all of those things for longer periods of time.
"We played hard for a couple of days," Fanning said. "That was important that we did play hard, but we may have lost a little steam. Donnisha Tate fouled out and Tysheka (Grimes) was playing two positions. It was a great opportunity for us and I am very proud to get to that point, but I am disappointed we are still not playing."
Fanning said the players will begin individual workouts next week to prepare them for an important offseason.
With Rack, Mokango, Lumanu, Grimes, and Mary Kathryn Govero returning, the Lady Bulldogs will have most of their starters back next season.
MSU loses seniors Tate, Robin Porter, and Lauren Roberts to graduation. Fanning said each one of those players had intangibles that will be difficult to replace, but she knows the expected return of guard Marneshia Richard (redshirt this season) should bolster the team''s depth, experience, leadership, and toughness.
"All we can try to do is coach people hard to be the best they can possibly can be and to get them to work harder than anybody we play and to expect to win every game we play," Fanning said. "This year, we see how close we were and how we have to finish. We have gotten better. Now it is up to us as a staff to have some of these experiences and to help the players be successful in a practice setting. Once they get success there they will be tougher and they will be more mature and we will see that growth that we saw in them as we went along this year."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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