November 29, 2010 9:09:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Coaches love to see young players accept challenges.
With five junior college transfers and four freshmen, Mississippi State women''s basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis has presented a host of new opportunities to nearly every player on the 2010-11 roster.
On Sunday, an injury gave one of the new Lady Bulldogs a chance to play an even greater role.
Katia May showed in place of Porsha Porter she is capable of exciting things. At the same time, May showed she, like MSU, is a work in progress.
May had seven points and a career-high five steals in MSU''s 74-31 victory against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff before a crowd of 816 at Humphrey Coliseum.
The 31 points were the fewest allowed by MSU since a 97-25 victory against Nicholls on Dec. 7, 2008.
"I think I did better than usual," May said. "I was rushing, but it wasn''t as bad as the other games. I calmed down a little."
Mary Kathryn Govero (game-high 23 points) and Diamber Johnson (career-highs of 17 points and seven assists) paced the Lady Bulldogs (3-1), while Danielle Rector (career-high 11 points in 15 minutes) and Ashley Brown (12 points, 15 rebounds) also reached double figures.
May logged a career-high 26 minutes largely due to a left ankle injury Porter suffered with five minutes left in the first half. The 5-foot-2 point guard from York, Ala., was 2 of 4 from 3-point range, committed six turnovers, and showed a dizzying knack for thievery that helped the Lady Bulldogs notch 16 steals and force 26 turnovers.
May, who started the second half, said she is finding a balance between going fast and slowing down. Several stretches proved her right, as she made a mistake and jumped back into the fray to make up for it. On one sequence, May regrouped after a turnover in the lane to steal the ball from behind. The Lady Bulldogs gave the ball right back on a drive down the lane, but May made a steal at halfcourt that helped set up a 3-pointer by Govero.
In the second half, May committed several unforced mistakes trying to initiate the offense or to fight through the trapping defense. She said she isn''t letting the mistakes get her down and is willing to hustle to help make amends for things that go wrong.
"If I know I can get it I am going to get it," May said. "If I can stop the ball, I am going to stop the ball."
May anticipates seeing more minutes if Porter is out for any time with the sprained ankle. Given May is the only other healthy point guard on the roster, she likely will split time with Johnson and work in a backcourt rotation that includes Govero and freshman Brittany Young.
Fanning-Otis said May is still learning from every experience she sees. She felt May "grew up a little bit," especially against the extended pressure she saw Sunday.
"I thought this week during practice she was beginning to communicate better," Fanning-Otis said. "The other thing is communicating and seeing if your team is hearing what you''re saying or (seeing) the visual you''re giving them and not just rushing into something after you say we''re running (a play)."
Fanning-Otis expects May to develop more confidence on the offensive end. She hopes May will provide the same hustle she exhibited on defense at an even higher level. If that happens, May might become the kind of guard opponents don''t want to face.
"I know being a taller player when you have somebody her size on you they just kind of get on your nerves and they bug you," Govero said. "She can use that to her advantage. She may be outsized, but she is quick, so she can get in the way and get a lot of loose balls like she did today. Like coach said, she is getting better at practice and she is getting more confident. I think she is at the point where she is starting to call stuff but she is not yet as confident as she is going to need to be."
The Lady Bulldogs figure to need May to play at a higher level and to get contributions from as many players as they can get at 7 p.m. Wednesday when they play host to Louisiana Tech (2-3), which is coming off a 62-53 loss to Missouri State. MSU defeated Louisiana Tech 72-68 last season in Ruston, La.
Fanning-Otis isn''t sure if Porter''s sprained ankle will keep her out of the next game, or a game against North Texas on Saturday.
"Hopefully everybody around her will step up," Fanning-Otis said. "When there are injuries like that, that is an opportunity for someone as well as the team to step up and play a little harder."
NOTES: Former Columbus High and East Mississippi Community College player Jasmine Abrams was 2 of 14 from the field and had four points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes for Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-4). ... MSU senior Ashley Newsome, who ended her volleyball season Wednesday, saw her first action of the season and went scoreless with one rebound and a steal in four minutes. ... Fanning-Otis said freshman Carnecia Williams is back practicing with the team and sophomore guard Darriel Gaynor has started running but isn''t ready for game action. She said it will "take some time" for Gaynor to be ready for game action. Williams also hasn''t played this season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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