February 4, 2011 8:33:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Close doesn''t mean anything to Diamber Johnson.
It didn''t after the second Southeastern Conference loss to Arkansas, and it meant even less Thursday night after yet another frustrating performance.
"It was old last week," Johnson said. "We''re still doing little things that are hurting us. We''re going to continue to try to get better. We seem to get better in one area and then we struggle at another one. We''re getting there. Hopefully it kicks in starting this week."
The latest refrain came Thursday night after a 66-61 loss to the University of Alabama at Humphrey Coliseum.
All of the ingredients that have plagued the Lady Bulldogs (8-13, 0-9 SEC) in their 10-game losing streak were there again.
n MSU went 6 minutes, 20 seconds without a field goal in the first half.
n The Lady Bulldogs committed 21 turnovers.
n Alabama, which didn''t have a rebounding edge in any of its first nine SEC games, held a 44-40 advantage in that category.
It didn''t matter that MSU had a better shooting percentage (36.2 to 35) and that it committed only seven of its turnovers in the second half. The aforementioned maladies coupled with tentative play against a more aggressive opponent cost MSU against an opponent that at least on paper figured to be its best shot at earning a league win.
"You have to get tougher," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "Our whole league is very aggressive. I think it is the deepest I have seen like that with the same type of demeanor. We''re the ones who are going to have to step up."
Fanning-Otis called timeout with 12 minutes, 29 seconds remaining and her team trailing 50-33. The animated talk sparked a 9-0 run and featured back-to-back layups by junior Porsha Porter (season-high 30 points, nine rebounds, seven turnovers) and a 3-pointer by senior Mary Kathryn Govero (10 points, nine rebounds) that cut the deficit to 50-42 with 10:18 to play.
But a 3-pointer by Ericka Russell (16 points, 6-of-18 shooting) was the first of her two daggers that derailed MSU.
Alabama (12-11, 1-9), which snapped its nine-game losing streak, built the lead back to 61-47 with 4:27 remaining before MSU made its final push.
This time, MSU played with the same energy it showed following the timeout. But it hurt itself with missed layups, turnovers, and failed attempts at boxouts. Still, three free throws by Porter cut the deficit to 63-59 with 1:05 to go. With the shot clock running down on the ensuing possession, Alabama moved the ball from side to side before Russell drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 36.6 seconds left that sealed the deal.
Tierney Jenkins paced Alabama with 17 points and 14 rebounds. The double-double was her 16th of the season. Kaneisha Horn (12 rebounds) and Jasmine Robinson each had 11 points.
"It is really exciting (to get the first SEC victory)," Jenkins said. "I feel it is a long time coming. Maybe from here this can be the starting point to continue to have a good season."
Jenkins said the Crimson Tide had a team meeting the other day to reflect on the season and to re-set goals for the final regular-season stretch. The discussion appeared to spark the Crimson Tide, who were the more aggressive team in their pressure defense and on the offensive glass. Alabama had a 17-12 edge in offensive rebounds, which helped it overcome 20 turnovers.
"We felt like we deserved to win this game," Jenkins said. "We feel we work harder than any other team. We just wanted to show it tonight."
Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said the Crimson Tide need to do a better job taking care of the basketball. Still, his team''s effort allowed it to overcome those mistakes. It used a 13-0 run in the first half to take a 19-6 lead and never looked back.
It helps, too, when Russell, who was 3 of 12 from 3-point range, makes big shots.
"She made them at the right time, and when Ericka shoots the basketball with Tierney, Kaneisha, and Alicia (Mitcham) the way they''re playing inside, we think we have a chance," Hudson said.
For MSU, it was another round of frustration. Fanning-Otis said she will continue to stress the need to play aggressively and to play with focus. She said better mental focus will lead to improved execution.
"The word toughness is all we can keep repeating to them in the locker room and how do you react," Fanning-Otis said. "There were a lot of loose balls late we could have had, there were free throws that we missed that we didn''t take advantage of as far as blocking out and they ended up getting a couple of offensive rebounds. We had a couple of layups late that were right there. The ballgame could be right there. If you miss one stop or give somebody an uncontested shot then all of a sudden it drains you."
Johnson agreed. She looked flummoxed after the game as she talked about how the Lady Bulldogs have to fight back when they''re pushed to help them end the drought.
"We did a lot of it to ourselves," Johnson said. "We''re pretty much handing the ball to them (when other teams attack). Everybody is coming at us with that, and we have to learn how to attack it and make it benefit us."
NOTE: Junior Danielle Rector (respiratory ailment/sickness) didn''t dress out for the game. ... Govero was one of five players named Thursday to the District 6 Capital One Academic All-District First Team. Already having completed her undergraduate work in Kinesiology at MSU with a 3.97 grade-point average, Govero is pursing her master''s degree. She is eligible for the Academic All-American team, which will be voted on later this month.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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