February 1, 2009
STARKVILLE -- It''s never too early to start talking about the rewards and consequences of a Southeastern Conference regular-season game.
With multiple sources projecting only five SEC teams will earn bids to the NCAA tournament, the Mississippi State women''s basketball team''s game at 1:30 p.m. today against Georgia could figure prominently in the teams'' postseason plans.
For Mississippi State (16-5, 3-3 SEC), today is an opportunity to earn its third road victory in four attempts. A home loss to Arkansas tempered some of the momentum the Lady Bulldogs had earned in consecutive victories at Kentucky and LSU.
A 97-33 victory against Savannah State on Thursday helped Mississippi State regain its confidence. Six players scored in double figures in the rout, but Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning knows things will be much more difficult today.
"Anybody can be at the top of this league," Fanning said. "February is a new season. This is a new segment starting up (today). Georgia has a huge win against (No. 5 and previously unbeaten) Auburn and Ole Miss almost beat Tennessee. I just think the league is wide open. This month everybody is playing for seedings and you''re playing to get into the NCAA tournament."
Georgia (14-7, 4-2) is riding a three-game winning streak. Victories against Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Auburn have helped coach Andy Landers'' team regain its footing.
Georgia''s 62-54 loss at Ole Miss on Jan. 8 was part of that sluggish start. The Lady Bulldogs were outrebounded 45-44 and committed 16 turnovers that the Lady Rebels turned into 17 points.
Landers said Georgia is learning not to make the same mistakes over and over. He also had to go back to the fundamentals to help the Lady Bulldogs understand the importance of rebounding.
To drive the point home, rebounding drills have become a part of Georgia''s daily practice routine. In games, Landers said players are graded on their ability to box out on each shot that is attempted. Initially, the minimum requirement for each player was 60 percent.
Unfortunately, one player boxed out 6.25 percent of the time and suffered the consequences.
The team, though, apparently prefers the rewards over the consequences. Landers said every player''s percentage climbed into the 80s and 90s for the next game.
"Once accountability was put on the line the change has been drastic," Landers said.
Georgia will hope for an effort in the 90s today. The Lady Bulldogs outrebounded Vanderbilt and Alabama, but was outrebounded 41-32 by Auburn.
The victory was the team''s first in five games when it was outrebounded.
Georgia ranks sixth (plus 1) in the SEC in rebounding margin.
Mississippi State outrebounds teams by 5.8 (41.8-36) and is 1-2 in the SEC when it is outrebounded.
Mississippi State junior center Chanel Mokango (11.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 77 blocked shots) figures to play a key role today. The 6-foot-5 transfer from Southeastern Illinois College likely will match up against junior center/forward Angel Robinson, who had a team-high 17 points against Auburn.
Robinson is second on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg.) and leads the team with 8.8 rebounds per game.
Georgia junior guard Ashley Houts, who had a career-high 13 assists against Auburn, played all 40 minutes for the 11th time this season last time out.
Landers knows MSU''s athleticism and depth will challenge Robinson and Houts to be at their best.
"They are very, very good. They are very athletic and they have size inside that they haven''t had for a while," Landers said. "They also have excellent athletic ability and depth on the front line. They have explosiveness, 3-point shooting capability, and they''re an excellent defensive team."
Landers doesn''t know if Mississippi State''s athleticism and defensive ability will translate into a game like MSU''s 38-36 victory against LSU, but he knows both teams will test each other in what could be a pivotal game for both programs.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.