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Lady Bulldogs adjust to new roles

 

Adam Minichino

 

STARKVILLE -- The look was encouraging and demanding. 

 

Judith Tabala has only been a member of the Mississippi State women''s basketball team for a few months, but her first game action Sunday showed she, Diamber Johnson, and the rest of her teammates are adjusting to new roles. 

 

Johnson, who offered the look to Tabala, scored a game-high 21 points to lead four players in double figures in a 75-42 victory against the University of Montevallo in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum. 

 

"I think it was another step forward," said Johnson, a junior guard. "It shows what we need to work on. Team wise it shows we have a lot of potential and we can be a good team by the end of the year." 

 

Porsha Porter (13 points), Ashley Brown (12), and Judith Tabala (11) also reached double figures on a day MSU never was seriously challenged and led by as many as 37 points late in the second half. 

 

The margin of victory was to be expected against the Division II Falcons. What wasn''t known was the areas the Lady Bulldogs need to continue to improve on as they prepare for their season opener at 4 p.m. Friday against South Carolina. The game is part of a doubleheader with the MSU men''s basketball team (7 p.m. vs. Tennessee State). 

 

One thing MSU fans discovered is Johnson can give a look that will stop teammates in their tracks. She showed her parental stare with 1 minute, 11 seconds remaining in the first half after Tabala received a pass from her and hit the bottom of the backboard going up for a layup that she missed. 

 

With Tabala stationed on the lane waiting for a free throw at the other end of the court, Johnson cocked her head at Tabala and stared at her with a look of disdain that said, ''What did you just do?" She said something to Tabala, tapped her teammate''s hip, and then walked away. 

 

"I told her I love my assists and don''t mess up my assists," said Johnson, who had three in 33 minutes. "We''re going to need the inside game. It is not just going to be able to come from the guards. When Judy learns everything and gets it, like she is slowly doing, she is going to be able help us out a lot." 

 

Tabala received a lot of attention from the coaches Sunday. Depending on whether it was a good or a bad play, the coaches alternated calling for "Judy" or "Judith" to do something, to come to set a screen, to come to the other side of the floor for a play, or to encourage her to be more active in the paint. 

 

Tabala said she doesn''t mind which name her coaches or teammates use. She also wasn''t surprised by the look Johnson gave her. 

 

"It is not like a bad look. It is something to tell you you will do good the next time," Tabala said. "It was a good look. (It was a look from) someone who wants to win the game." 

 

MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs will need Tabala to play with a level of aggression that fits a Judy, not a Judith.  

 

"It''s not what we have to have," Fanning-Otis said. "She needs to be much more aggressive on getting two shoulders to the basketball. ... You''re going to have to be more aggressive. She is going to have to go fetch some balls. It has to become very important to you if you''re going to play this many minutes and with your size to average in double figures in rebounds." 

 

Tabala, a 6-foot-5 junior transfer from Odessa College in Texas, is originally from Kinshasa, Congo. That should sound familiar because Armelie Lumanu, Chanel Mokango, and Rima Kalonda, who were standouts on last season''s Sweet 16 team, also were from that nation in Africa. Tabala, like Mokango, is long and lean. And while she doesn''t have the 3-point shooting range or the quick shot-blocking ability of Mokango, she showed good hands and an ability to finish in the paint area that is more advanced than Mokango at the same stage two years ago. 

 

"I think I am improving every day, and I will try to do my best to learn as much as I can every day so I can help my team and help us win," Tabala said. "I have to get stronger and rebound the ball more and run the floor more." 

 

Fanning-Otis said junior Catina Bett, a 6-5 center, likely would be in the starting lineup when she returns to the lineup at the start of the second semester. Bett, who transferred from the University of Kentucky, was with the team last season but couldn''t play. Bett should offer a more experienced option in the post, but Tabala still will be expected to play significant minutes. She said she is working hard to learn the plays and to do whatever she needs to do -- rebound or set screens -- when she is on the floor. 

 

"I think I just need to execute more because once you know the play it is easy to do what they''re asking," Tabala said. "If you don''t know the play, that is when it gets hard and the whole thing is messed up." 

 

Fanning-Otis said Tabala is "nowhere near" where she has to be to be an integral component of the Lady Bulldogs'' rotation. Tabala and 6-3 junior forward/center Danielle Rector likely will be the team''s primary front-court options off the bench. 

 

Fanning-Otis wasn''t pleased with her team''s rebounding edge (42-31) or the scoring output, especially in the first half (32 points). She liked how the Lady Bulldogs responded defensively in the second half when they went on a 15-1 run in the first 8 minutes, 20 seconds to pull away. 

 

Fanning-Otis also liked the depth of scoring and the flashes of potential she saw across the board. The key now, she said, is to develop consistency and to raise the level in anticipation of what the team will face in the Southeastern Conference.  

 

"It''s a start," Fanning-Otis said. "It''s a matter of time and understanding." 

 

NOTES: Fanning-Otis said sophomore guard Ashley Jones has left the team for "personal reasons." Jones, a 5-11 guard from Winter Park, Fla., averaged 1.0 points and 1.0 rebounds in 32 games last season. ... Fanning-Otis also said sophomore guard Darriel Gaynor and freshman forward Carnecia Williams are working back into form. She said Gaynor is two to three weeks from returning to the practice rotation, while Williams is participating in non-contact drills in practice. She isn''t sure when both players would be able to dress out for games. ... Junior forward Elyseia Dunn saw her first action in at least a week after suffering a concussion. She had two points and three rebounds in 13 minutes.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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