January 20, 2011 7:57:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Porsha Porter has heard the talk.
"She can''t make a layup," or "she can''t shoot the ball."
The Mississippi State guard acknowledges she has encountered a few bumps in the road in her first season in Starkville. But the transfer from Jefferson College (Mo.) is trying to find her shooting touch and to grow more comfortable as a Division I basketball player.
The thing is, though, life in the Southeastern Conference isn''t easy for anyone.
"Just playing in the SEC is really hard," Porter said. "The transition for me has been playing against quicker guards and bigger players. In JUCO, there weren''t many quick players or taller players. You could just play defense and that was it. Now that we are in the SEC, I am going against girls who are 5-foot-8, 5-9 every night. Being short, that is a challenge."
Porter''s adjustment is made tougher by the fact she is one of five junior college players new to MSU this season. When you add in four freshmen, factor in there are only two returning players with significant playing experience, and the fact that another player joined the team after the first semester and it''s not surprising MSU (8-8, 0-4 SEC) has started slowly in league play.
MSU will try to snap its four-game SEC losing streak -- five games overall -- at 7 tonight when it plays host to Auburn (11-7, 4-1).
Porter, a 5-6 perimeter player, and 5-11 junior forward Ashley Brown are the junior college players who have played the biggest roles all season. Center Judith Tabala saw extended playing time early in the season, but the return of junior center Catina Bett, who wasn''t eligible to play until last month, has limited her minutes.
The return of sophomore guard Darriel Gaynor from a knee injury has bolstered the Lady Bulldogs'' depth, especially after junior forward Eylseia Dunn was lost to a season-ending injury.
Porter has held her own on the defensive end, as evidenced by her rebounding (5.4 per game) and steals (team-high 30). Her transition has been slower on offense, where going against taller players on the perimeter has forced her to learn how to get her shots off in different ways, whether she is taking a jump shot or driving to the basket.
"I know I am struggling," Porter said. "People tell me that all of the time. ... I just have to get comfortable with it. Once I am comfortable with my shot and taking it to the basket it will fall. I just have to believe in my shot."
Porter said she hasn''t felt her shot is coming out of her hands consistently, which has led to frustration. She said she can''t let that affect her because when that happen it tends to bring other parts of her game down.
Porter hopes she can raise her energy level and create more offense from her defense. She feels increased intensity and focus will help her find her comfort zone.
"It is just ups and downs for me," Porter said. "The coaches talk about having effort all of the time on the court. In JUCO, our coach never said ''have effort''. It was always just ''Play basketball'' and ''Play defense.'' Going to the next level has been unique. It is effort, energy, dedication, and playing with heart."
Brown, who is third in the SEC at 9.3 rebounds per game, rebounds a game, has made her biggest contribution bringing energy to the team. Her scrappiness in the paint has helped MSU hold its own in the post, but she admits, too, her play hasn''t lived up to what she knows she can. She said life is faster in the SEC and is "totally" different than games in the "preseason." She said it also is different than what she thought it would be after watching SEC games on television.
"I need to get better in my transition (offense and defense)," Brown said. "I am not rebounding like I was. I think I have slacked off on that. I have to work on my defense and defending on and off the ball."
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said the adjustments the five junior college players on this season''s team are making are bigger than the ones JUCO transfers Rima Kalonda, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango made the past two seasons at MSU. She said those players had a better grasp of terminology after playing for current MSU assistant coaches Greg Franklin and Franqua Bedell at Southeastern Illinois. Bedell replaced Franklin as head women''s basketball coach at SIC before coming to MSU.
"The league is a constant attack," Fanning-Otis said. "It is very aggressive, and there is no time to rest and you have to play through mistakes. ... In junior college, the depth of the teams relative to our league isn''t there and the execution is a little better.
"They''re getting a little better balance and understanding. We just have to know as a team how hard we have to play."
NOTES: Fanning-Otis said freshman forward Carnecia Williams is working with the team in practice and is going to see "limited time." Williams hasn''t played this season due to injury. She said a decision about whether to redshirt Williams and Dunn will be finalized after the season. Dunn has played in only four games.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.