November 11, 2010 6:16:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mary Kathryn Govero has seen the spotlight.
Until now, though, she has avoided spending much of her college career in its glare.
That all changed Sunday when the senior guard saw how important opponents believe she will be this season to the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
The University of Montevallo eschewed more conventional defenses and opted to face-guard Govero whenever she was on the floor. As a result, Govero scored only four points on a 2-for-7 shooting afternoon.
The defense worked -- to a degree -- as Diamber Johnson scored a game-high 21 points in MSU''s 75-42 victory in the exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
It remains to be seen whether Govero will see a similar defense at 4 p.m. Friday when MSU opens its regular season against the University of South Carolina Upstate, but she will be ready for anything.
"My person didn''t have a clue what was going on on the other side of the floor," Govero said of the Montevallo game. "We''re just going to have to do a better job of executing our offenses and setting and using screens because all of the other teams we play are going to be a lot better defensively (than Montevallo)."
Govero expected the attention because she and Johnson, a junior guard, are the only two returning players who logged significant minutes last season on a team that went 21-13 and advanced to the program''s first Sweet 16. Govero was fourth on the team in scoring (11.2 points per game) behind All-Southeastern Conference standouts Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango. Rack and Lumanu played integral roles in the backcourt and had the ability to create their own shots, which drew defenses and helped Govero find open shooting spots on the perimeter.
This season, Johnson and junior college transfer Porsha Porter will be counted on to do some of those same things. Govero also has worked to improve her ballhandling skills so she can create her own shots.
Johnson said everyone will have to play their roles, especially in the half-court set, if Govero and the Lady Bulldogs are going to click.
"I think it is something we both have to work on," Johnson said of the half-court offense. "We have to help her get to the screens in the right time at the right place. That is what she struggled with (against Montevallo) because they were guarding her blind. We have to do a better job screening her."
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said Govero is going to have to adjust to facing a lot of defensive pressure. Govero went 0-for-4 from the field in the first half against Montevallo, and finished with six rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 33 minutes.
"She is going to have to get used somebody saying, ''You''re not going to touch the ball,'' " Fanning-Otis said. "As a team, we have to make those adjustments and do a better job executing. She is going to have to have a change of pace, a change of direction, and be able to cut to work to get open when somebody is guarding her hard."
Govero doesn''t mind how many points she scores as long as the team wins. Porter (13 points), Ashley Brown (12), and Judith Tabala (11) also scored in double figures against Montevallo, so Govero was able to bide her time and learn from the experience. But Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs have a long way to go until they''re doing things the right way. She also said the team has to play with more intensity if it is going to be more competitive.
"We just have to step up," Fanning-Otis said.
As for Govero, Fanning-Otis said she will need to rebound more on the offensive end if she isn''t taking as many shots. She said Govero also will have to be patient, to play defense, to set screens for teammates, and to continue to run the floor hard to capitalize on fast-break opportunities.
"Whether or not she shoots the ball a lot, I think she will be a big part of our scheme, and she will learn to adjust," Fanning-Otis said, "and we will learn more what we need to do. I think (the kind of defenses MSU will see) will vary on what the other teams'' capabilities are."
Govero said she will have to recognize what MSU needs from her each game and to be more assertive and persistent about making sure her teammates are setting good screens to help her or someone else get open. If that happens, she should be able to be the scorer everyone expects her to be or to be a facilitator who keeps defenses honest.
"We''re going to have to be more efficient offensively," Govero said. "As long as we''re being effective on the offensive end, I am willing to do whatever it takes to help us be effective."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.