February 8, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Mississippi State senior forward Robin Porter is living up to her words.
Last October at the Southeastern Conference Media Basketball Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., Porter talked about how Mississippi State senior guard Marneshia Richard kept her motivated.
Richard was inactive at the time after knee surgery, but Porter talked about wanting to try to step into her classmate''s leadership role.
She also wanted to make a statement in her final season with the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
"I want to go out with a great bang my senior year," Porter said. "(Being) without Marneshia opened a lot of doors and I just went through them. I have tried to set the example, to be positive, and to work hard and to show my competitiveness."
Porter''s performance Thursday might have been the biggest shot in a season filled with solid efforts.
The senior forward converted a driving layup with a little more than a minute to play that helped MSU hold off No. 20 Vanderbilt at the Humphrey Coliseum.
"I was thinking we needed a score and we needed a momentum boost," said Porter, who had 11 points in the 66-61 victory. "I had a lane and I took it. It gave us some momentum and picked us up."
Porter will try to provide a similar spark at 2 p.m. today when MSU plays host to LSU in a pivotal SEC matchup.
The victory against Vanderbilt helped MSU (17-6, 4-4) improve its standing in Collegerpi.com''s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) from 59 to 46 and its ranking in Strength of Schedule (SOS) from 90 to 81 (through Friday''s games). Both numbers are better than Vanderbilt (54, 94) but lower than LSU (37, 15) as SEC teams jockey for position to earn bids to the NCAA tournament.
A victory today would be doubly important because it would enable MSU to sweep the season series from LSU (12-8, 5-3). The Lady Bulldogs used an Armelie Lumanu runner in the lane in the final seconds to win 38-36 in Baton Rouge, La.
Porter and the returning Lady Bulldogs talked before the season about wanting to erase the memory of a loss to Southern Miss in the second round of the Women''s National Invitation Tournament and to help the program make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002-03.
Porter has backed up her talk with consistent play. She is fourth on the team in scoring 8.7 points per game) and leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. Her rebounding numbers rise to 7.5 in the SEC. Thirty-eight percent of her rebounds come on the offensive end.
She also leads the team in field goal percentage (50.3 percent), and enters today''s game 15 points away from becoming the 16th player in the program''s history to reach 1,000 career points.
"She keeps a level head and is just trying to make plays," MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. "She has a certain speed -- steady -- and she sees things."
Fanning compares Porter to a "warrior" because she doesn''t mind working in a crowd or muscling opponents for rebounds. She also has seen Porter emerge this season as more of a vocal leader who is helping hold her teammates accountable.
Porter said she didn''t even know she was nearing a scoring milestone until one of her teammates recently told her about it.
On Thursday, junior guard Alexis Rack scored 14 points to join the 1,000-point club.
But Porter never considered scoring to be the area she made her biggest contribution. Instead, she said her ability to stay positive, to motivate her teammates, and to offer advice and encouragement to less inexperienced players, especially freshman point guard Diamber Johnson, have been the biggest things she has added to the team.
"I guess time is running down for me and I want to keep the momentum going and keep the energy with myself and my teammates and to do what I can to help everyone stay focused," Porter said.
Porter likely will play the same role next season, but from the bench. She recently asked Fanning if she could join the coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
Porter earned her bachelor''s degree in December and is working on her master''s degree, which she said could take her up to two years.
She plans to use that time to continue to learn from Fanning and her assistant coaches and to help the team reach its goals on and off the court.
"These have been the best four years," said Porter, who was a member of the All-SEC Freshman Team. "I have had my ups and downs with injuries and all types of things, but I don''t regret any of it. All I can do is playing hard."
Fanning doesn''t want Porter to do anything less. She said she continues to improve defensively and energizes the team with a can-do attitude.
"I think she is playing with a sense of urgency that she knows there are no do-overs," Fanning said. "She wants it really bad and she is trying to express it to her teammates."
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.