January 15, 2011 11:45:00 PM
The Mississippi State women''s basketball team has to change its identity.
There''s no denying the Lady Bulldogs are one of the stingiest teams in the Southeastern Conference. MSU is third in scoring defense (56.3 points per game) and fourth in field goal percentage defense (35.4 percent).
Those numbers figure to keep coach Sharon Fanning-Otis'' team in every game provided the Lady Bulldogs can generate some offense.
But MSU''s ability to score is being put to the test this season. The Lady Bulldogs (8-7, 0-3 SEC) are last in the SEC in scoring offense (58.7 ppg.), shooting percentage (37.2 percent), and assists (152).
They also are ninth in rebounding margin (+1.5) and 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.6).
MSU will try to improve those statistics at noon today (Fox Sports Net) when it takes on No. 19 Kentucky (12-4, 1-2) in Lexington, Ky.
"We just have to be ready to win a ballgame, and expect to win one," Fanning-Otis said. "It doesn''t matter where the game is player, the time it is played, it doesn''t matter the opponent. We have to get better every game."
MSU will try to avoid its first four-game losing steak since it dropped the final four games of the 2007-08 season. The health of junior point guard Diamber Johnson could be a roadblock in snapping that skid. Johnson, whose status is uncertain, played only 16 minutes Thursday in a 72-55 loss to LSU at Humphrey Coliseum. Johnson, who had seven points and three assists, suffered concussion-like symptoms, according to Fanning-Otis, and was held out of action in the second half against the Lady Tigers.
Without Johnson, the team''s leading scorer at 11.1 ppg., junior center Catina Bett paced MSU with 15 points.
Bett was emotional after the LSU game, and said it has gotten to a point where someone has to step up and take charge of the team. She said she tried against LSU to get her teammates and the crowd into the game. Bett said she is going to do everything she can to fight harder to spark the Lady Bulldogs. She might be able to use her "hype" factor to provide that lift. She said earlier this season she listens to up-beat music to get her prepared for games, and she might try to convey some of that energy and intensity to her teammates.
Fanning-Otis said MSU will need even better production from Bett the rest of the season.
"I know she didn''t have the percentage we''re going to need, but I felt she did go to the rim and posted up," Fanning-Otis said. "She has to keep it simple. She either has to have a right jumphook, a left pivot shot, a pump fake, or a pump fake step through. She doesn''t need to put the ball on the floor a lot. She needs to get people deeper."
Today''s game will be Bett''s first since she was a player at the University of Kentucky. Bett, who 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 at Gadsden City High. 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 SEC.
Fanning-Otis said MSU needs to get tougher and to do a better job executing its half-court offense. Freshman Katia May, who took over at point guard against LSU, had four of MSU''s 14 turnovers (six assists) in the loss. She often overpenetrated without an option, which caused the offense to stall.
"We''re forcing some things," Fanning-Otis said. "We were forcing things where it was off the first pass. When we can make more than three or four passes and set two or three screens, we can break people down a lot better."
Fanning-Otis also said the Lady Bulldogs have to rebound better, especially when the team goes with a small lineup, and do a better job on defense, especially when it comes to recognizing the location of shooters. LSU was 10 of 20 from 3-point range Thursday.
Kentucky will put MSU''s ability to handle the basketball to the test. The Wildcats are second in the SEC in scoring offense (75.3 ppg.) and first in the SEC in steals (12.5 per game) and turnover margin (+8.4).
SEC Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap leads the team in scoring (17.4 ppg.) and steals (3.3 a game). The Wildcats are playing without senior point guard Amber Smith, who suffered a knee injury in a pick-up basketball game in July.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said earlier this week his team has learned valuable lessons from its 1-2 start in the SEC. He said the Wildcats have to improve their execution on offense and need to do a better job on their transition defense. He said other players also have to emerge to take the load off Dunlap.
"Victoria needs some help from her teammates and her coach," Mitchell said. "She is trying to do too much and is not playing up to her capabilities. She is trying to force some things. I see why she is doing that because people around her are not making things happen. She needs everybody around her to play better. Once she is assured of that she has to make better decisions."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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