December 10, 2010 10:38:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Catina Bett''s time has nearly arrived.
Ever since last December, Bett, a transfer from the University of Kentucky, has worked hard to make a new home at Mississippi State.
But Bett''s work only went so far.
After enrolling at MSU last December, Bett could only sit and watch as the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
Many of the key pieces to that team, including 6-foot-5 center Chanel Mokango, have moved on, but Bett wants to use the experience she gained as a Wildcat and the things she learned last season to help the Lady Bulldogs this season.
Bett hopes to make her debut at 4 p.m. Saturday when MSU (4-2) plays host to the University of Utah (4-6) at Humphrey Coliseum. The MSU men''s basketball team will play host to East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. in the second half of the doubleheader.
"What we have to have is consistent work ethic," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said of what she expects from Bett when she is academically cleared to play in games. "With the skill set she has, if she can work hard at both ends of the floor she can make a really good contribution."
Fanning-Otis said in the preseason Bett would have been in the starting lineup if she was eligible. Instead, the Lady Bulldogs went with 6-5 center Judith Tabala, a junior college transfer. Tabala has started all six games and is averaging 5.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. The addition of Bett will give MSU greater flexibility when Fanning-Otis goes to the bench. It will allow junior Danielle Rector to see more time at her natural position of forward, and it will enable freshman Brittany Young to see more action in the backcourt.
Bett figures to bolster the Lady Bulldogs'' production in the post. At Gadsden (Ala.) City High School, Bett was named the 2007 girls basketball 6A Player of the Year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association after averaging 15.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocked shots, and 2.0 assists. She averaged 2.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.6 blocked shots in 41 games at Kentucky from 2007-09.
Bett was suspended during the 2008-09 season for "violating team rules." She was dismissed from Kentucky''s women''s basketball team on March 24, 2009. She said last year her suspension and dismissal for "violating team rules" weren''t true and that she was anxious to make the most of another opportunity to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference.
Bett echoed those sentiments in the preseason.
"I am preparing every day," Bett said. "It is not only from coach Fanning, but my teammates are expecting a lot out of me and my family is expecting a lot out of me. It is a mental preparation. The physical skills are there, so you just have to prepare yourself mentally. I am ready to get out there and do my thing."
Bett described herself as a "dominant post player" who "likes to bang." If she plays that way, she could give the team its first true low-post presence in several seasons. While Mokango developed an ability to score on the block in her two seasons at MSU, she was more comfortable facing the basket on offense.
Junior guard Diamber Johnson said in the preseason Bett is a "great leader" and felt she would "make a good impact" when she joined the team. With that date nearly set, Johnson is looking forward to what Bett will add to the mix.
"(I expect) leadership and more knowledge of the game because she has been around for a long time," Johnson said. "I expect her to be somebody we can look to to get points from in the paint."
Johnson said Bett has been dominating in the paint in practice. Still, she said Bett has been "nervous" as the date of her first game at MSU approaches.
"She has been having a countdown for about a month now," Johnson said. "She has been wanting to get into the rotation a lot more with the first and second group knowing her time is coming. She is ready to get out there."
Off the court, Bett, who called herself "the mom of the team" in the preseason, helps keep her teammates loose. A self-professed "diva," Bett said she loves to dress up.
Johnson called Bett "a character" and gave her the nickname "Miss Divalicious." But she said Bett is all business on the court and leaves the dainty ways on the bench.
Fanning-Otis said consistency will be a key for Bett and the Lady Bulldogs. She said the team hasn''t delivered the level of execution and intensity it will need if it wants to close 2010 on a high note in preparation for its SEC opener Jan. 6, 2011, at Vanderbilt.
"It is going to have to be more focused and there is going to have to be individual and collective responsibility to come in prepared," Fanning-Otis said. "It has been an exam week, but it is going to take maturity on this team. The team has to get better, and getting better involves work ethic and communication and the chemistry that happens because you do those two things."
Utah is coming off a 71-68 overtime loss to Idaho State on Wednesday. Sophomore Iwaiani Rodrigues is averaging 25.3 points in the past three games. She hit 13 consecutive 3-pointers in games against Westminster and Idaho State, and nearly tied the NCAA record of 14 in a row.
Utah has lost to Stanford (62-53 on Nov. 19), to Penn State (70-58 on Nov. 25), and to Arkansas (65-54 on Dec. 4).
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.