January 14, 2011 9:58:00 AM
By Adam Minichino
STARKVILLE -- Catina Bett forgot life in the Southeastern Conference was this much fun.
Last season, it was easier to enjoy her re-adjustment to SEC basketball. The transfer from the University of Kentucky spent her days as a practice player who challenged seniors like Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango and then watched from the bench when they implemented the scouting report on game nights.
The results were wondrous. The Mississippi State women''s basketball team peaked at the right time, engineering one of the program''s best rallies that catapulted it to the biggest upset in school history.
A first trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament convinced Bett great things were in store for her when she hit the court for the 2010-11 season.
Bett wants to start seeing similar results.
The 6-foot-5 center scored a team-high 15 points and was the most active she has been in her brief career in Starkville, but her efforts weren''t enough as LSU defeated MSU 72-55 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I just feel like I have to help my team in some way," Bett said. "I am tired of losing. Whatever it takes. I have been working hard in the gym on different moves. I don''t want to be just a back-to-the basket post player. I want to step out and be more versatile. I just tried to do whatever I could."
Adrienne Webb and Jeanne Kenney scored career-highs of 26 and 17 points, respectively, as the Tigers (12-6, 2-2 SEC) tied a season-high with 10 3-pointers (on 20 attempts) to help coach Van Chancellor, a 1965 graduate of MSU from Louisville, earn a victory in his return to his alma mater.
Bett wasn''t happy with the outcome. Normally an upbeat, hype player, Bett appeared frustrated and was emotional as she discussed a fourth-straight loss that dropped MSU to 8-7 and 0-3 in the SEC.
Bett was bumped, knocked down, and harassed all evening as a wave of post players tried to knock her off her game. The Lady Tigers succeeded late in the second half, as Bett went to the ground clutching the side of her face. She got up and hit 1 of 2 free throws. LSU also denied Bett space in the lane when she tried to make cuts. The Lady Tigers, the SEC leader in scoring defense entering the game (53.8 points per game), were equally suffocating against others. MSU shot just 36 percent (18 of 50), committed 14 turnovers (to six assists), and failed to reach 60 points for the fourth game in a row.
The absence of junior point guard Diamber Johnson, who didn''t play in the second half, also hampered the Lady Bulldogs. Johnson, who didn''t start for the first time this season, scored seven points and had three assists in 16 minutes, but she was involved in a collision that resulted in concussion-like symptoms, according to MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. Johnson rode the stationary bike behind the MSU bench while the teams played early in the half. Later, she wasn''t on the bench as LSU pulled away.
Fanning-Otis said Johnson would evaluated on a day-to-day basis to determine her status for MSU''s game Sunday at No. 19 Kentucky.
Neither Bett nor Fanning-Otis used Johnson''s absence as an excuse. Both said the team has to get tougher and find ways to overcome obstacles like that if it is going to change its fortunes.
"When they put their two shooters on the floor we just didn''t match up well enough," Fanning-Otis said. "To be down six (at halftime), I thought we were in good position. ... We have talked about mental toughness, but we''re going to have to grow as a team."
Said Bett, "We all know what we have to do so we can win. After a while, you have to get it set in your head that you''re tired of losing. It is more emotional in that aspect."
Chancellor praised the play of Bett as he entered the postgame interview area. He also commended the performances of Webb, a 5-9 sophomore, and Kenney, a 5-8 freshman, who had exceptional shooting nights. Kenney did all of her damage (5 of 8 from the field) from 3-point range, while Webb (tied for team-high with eight rebounds) was 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. The 50-percent effort marked just the third time this season LSU has hit at least half of its 3-pointers. The 10 treys were the most MSU has allowed in a game this season.
"That''s the best they have shot it all year. That''s the best we have shot it all year," said Chancellor of his team''s 50.9-percent shooting performance. Only LSU''s 56.1-percent showing in a victory against Nicholls on Nov. 30 has been better.
Chancellor also praised the play of MSU. He said last season''s Lady Bulldog team was as good defensively as you will see. He said Lumanu, a long, lean guard, and Mokango, a 6-5 center who could hit from 3-point range, could hurt teams so many ways. Like his team, he said MSU is a work in progress that needs time to come together.
"Mississippi State lost the world," Chancellor said. "I think Mississippi State is doing fine when you consider outside of Mary (Kathryn Govero) they lost everybody who had done anything. I think they''re doing fine. They''re just young. The Southeastern Conference is just not a place for young players."
With only nine games experience since becoming eligible after her transfer, Bett took a season-high 13 shots and played more than 20 minutes (20) for just the fourth time this season. She picked up her second personal foul with 9 minutes, 27 seconds to go in the first half and was limited to seven minutes. Still, she had attempted seven shots and MSU had weathered the storm and trailed 32-26 at halftime.
But LSU scored the first five points of the second half and the outcome was never in jeopardy. The Lady Tigers allowed the lead to slip to 44-36 on a jump shot by Bett with 12:50 to play, but they pulled away and built the lead to as many as 21, 65-44, with 3:24 remaining.
Fanning-Otis liked the fact that Govero (10 points), the team''s lone returning senior with playing experience, showed hustle on the offensive boards and created some offense for herself in the second half. She stressed she and her assistant coaches would remain positive to help the Lady Bulldogs build chemistry and have fun again. It might not reach the level of last season by the end of the season, but Fanning-Otis said the team is making strides and needs to deliver more focused and consistent efforts.
"We have a lot to learn with the ballgame," Fanning-Otis said. "It''s a process for us right now, and it''s painful when we don''t win, but that''s where you have to step up and have character, work ethic, continue to fight, and find ways to get it done."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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