December 21, 2010 10:28:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State women''s basketball team has 17 days to figure out what it wants to be this season.
The Lady Bulldogs showed Monday night they are still working to answer that question before the Southeastern Conference portion of their schedule begins.
Catina Bett scored a career-high 16 points and had 10 rebounds, and Mary Kathryn Govero added 15 points to lead MSU to a 61-49 victory against Mississippi Valley State before a crowd of 983 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"We just have to get smarter and we have to play a lot harder together," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "Toughness is going to be very important. That word will define us as the season progresses."
Diamber Johnson added 10 points and four assists for MSU, which improved to 7-3 in its last home game of 2010 and its final game before Christmas.
After the game, Bett, Govero, and Johnson said the Lady Bulldogs believe they will be able to compete in the SEC this season despite all of their new pieces (five junior college players, four freshmen).
The effort they delivered Monday might cause some people to wonder.
Aside from a 15-1 run to open the game and a 15-4 spurt to start the second half, the Lady Bulldogs worked through plenty of inconsistent stretches and appeared to be a step slow as the Devillettes (2-7) outworked and outhustled them.
"We''re working on being more consistent and having that high energy and that intensity for 40 minutes," said Johnson, who was 4 of 16 from the field. "We''re not where we need to be, but we''re better now than what we were, and once SEC gets rolling I think we will be OK with it, if we work hard over this break and don''t take too many days off."
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs have to learn to communicate better and to deliver focused efforts for longer periods. She was disappointed her players failed to get position for rebounds hard enough or strong enough and appeared to be complacent at times against an opponent that plays very hard.
"If we play as hard as that team we will win a lot of ballgames in the league," Fanning-Otis said. "If we play like we played today, we won''t. As you''re trying to become a good basketball team you can''t play up and down to the level of your competition.
"We''ve got to work to get to that point of playing as hard as we can possibly play together every possession, and playing it like it is our last possession. If we can do that we will get a lot better."
MSU hit five of its first six shots in building an 11-0 lead. It looked crisp and benefited from the little things, like a solid screen from junior forward Ashley Brown that drew a "great second screen, Brown" from assistant coach Greg Franklin on the bench.
The Lady Bulldogs also showed good half-court execution later in the first half when Porsha Porter fed Brown for what could have been a jump shot, but Brown looked inside and found Danielle Rector for a layup.
But more than two minutes later Fanning-Otis was left to ask "what are y''all doing?" after an unforced turnover in the halfcourt. Two more turnovers in the next three possessions followed. On the other end, MSU looked a step slow in the paint defending entry passes and then reacting after missed shots.
The lapses continued in the second half following a quick start that helped MSU build a 42-22 lead with 14 minutes, 32 seconds remaining. The Lady Bulldogs missed their next five shots and committed three turnovers, which allowed MVSU to cut the deficit to 42-30.
Fanning-Otis wasn''t apoplectic after calling timeout. Instead, she calmly addressed the team and closed the break with a huddle of "pick it up."
It wasn''t until a hustle steal by Govero, who saved the ball on one leg before it went out of bounds, seemed to spark MSU and helped it push the lead back above 12 until the final seconds.
Govero said the team is still learning, especially with Bett in only her third game with the team. MSU will take on Buffalo at 4 p.m. Dec. 29 in the first game of the Christmas City Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., and will play the winner of the Lehigh-Rider game on Dec. 30. It will travel Jan. 6 to Vanderbilt to open the SEC slate.
"We have made some progress in some areas and I think we have regressed in some areas, too," Govero said. "We just have to come back off the break ready to work and go to that tournament and, hopefully, have a good showing and take that momentum into the SEC."
MVSU, which lost to the University of Arkansas 55-54 and to the University of Mississippi 67-58, matched MSU in rebounding at 42 even though it has only one player 6-foot or taller.
The Devillettes, who have lost two starting point guards for the season due to injuries, committed 24 turnovers that the Lady Bulldogs turned into 19 points. But coach Nate Kilbert''s team matched MSU with 16 offensive rebounds and forced two turnovers in the final minute as it pressed to the end.
Kilbert said he wouldn''t have imagined the Devillettes would play so well against some of the elite teams on their schedule without a true point guard. He said Arkansas is the best of the three SEC teams his squad has faced.
"I thought Mississippi State would be a lot further along than Ole Miss, but they are not. I think they are right there together," Kilbert said. "We just had a great shooting night against Arkansas. I think Arkansas is way better than people think."
Kilbert feels Tennessee will be the team to beat in the SEC and the rest of the teams will fight it out for positioning. He feels MSU could be in the mix if it improves in areas.
"Their posts have to get better," Kilbert said. "Their posts have to start finishing plays when they get down there. I think Arkansas'' post players are a little bit more athletic and they finish plays a lot better, at least they did against us. State had a lot of opportunities to really pound us inside and their posts just weren''t ready enough to do that. They have to get better in that area if they want to get 33 (Govero) open shots and their guards more open looks."
NOTE: Fanning-Otis said senior forward Ashley Newsome turned an ankle in shootaround Sunday and was unavailable. Newsome had a boot on her right leg and didn''t dress out. Fanning-Otis said Newsome will have her wisdom teeth taken out today. ... Sophomore guard Darriel Gaynor, who saw her first action of the season (one minute) Friday in a 61-36 loss at Xavier, played two minutes and didn''t score. Fanning-Otis said Gaynor still is a way away from being where she needs to be. ... MVSU senior Courtney O''Briant, of Maben, had four rebounds in 14 minutes.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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