February 13, 2009
OXFORD -- Sharrona Reaves'' words did not go unnoticed.
Already leading by 11 points midway through the first half, the Mississippi State women''s basketball assistant coach shouted words everyone on the team''s bench was thinking.
"Stay hungry," Reaves said. "C''mon defense."
The Lady Bulldogs obliged for nearly the next 30 minutes, playing with so much energy and enthusiasm that they added to their vocabulary.
Alexis Rack had a game-high 21 points as Mississippi State forced 19 turnovers, had 14 steals, and held Ole Miss below 40 percent shooting in a 66-50 victory before a crowd of 1,081 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"I thought early on we established some defensive pressure, and I felt like it was really a great team win," MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. "I felt like the energy was important to us. ... That was as good a focus as we have had and as good a team defense as we have had."
Fanning was so pleased with her team''s defensive effort that she kidded with junior forward Tysheka Grimes in the postgame press conference.
"We''re going to work on huungry next time," said Fanning, adding an extra ''u'' for emphasis.
Fanning added the extra letter because the Grimes and her teammates played with an extra hop in their step on both ends of the court.
On defense, MSU was aware of 3-point shooters Bianca Thomas (13 points) and Elizabeth Robertson (zero) nearly all night. The Lady Bulldogs also got into passing lanes, rotated from the weak side to help teammates, and double-teamed the ball at key moments.
Thomas, who had a then career-best 25 points in the first meeting, came into the game averaging 24 points in her past three games.
"We had that intensity the whole game," said Grimes, who had eight points and six rebounds. "I believe that is what helped us in our win. I believe it goes back to staying hungry. As long as we stay hungry and work on the offensive and defensive end, nine times out of 10 we will come out with a victory, because we have a real good team."
Offensively, Rack''s 3-for-15 performance, which tied a career-high for 3-point attempts, was the only blemish on a strong effort. Mary Kathryn Govero had 10 points off the bench, Chanel Mokango added nine points and six rebounds, and Robin Porter had eight points and season highs in rebounds (14) and steals (four).
Armelie Lumanu had seven assists and four steals to help MSU have its biggest positive margin in assists to turnovers (18 to 13) since an 80-66 loss to Florida on Jan. 8.
"We were real hungry," Rack said. "We remembered the last time we played Ole Miss (a 69-64 victory on Jan. 11 in Starkville). We didn''t want to come out like that. We wanted to come out with real intensity and get our three stops."
The victory was the third in a row for MSU (19-6, 6-4 Southeastern Conference. It allowed the Lady Bulldogs to sweep the season series from the Rebels (15-10, 4-6) for the first time since the 2003 season.
The 19 wins also are the most for MSU in a season since 2002-03, when it won 24 games and last advanced to the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Bulldogs set a return trip to the NCAA tournament as their goal at the beginning of the season. MSU''s ability to start quickly in victories against then-No. 20 Vanderbilt, LSU, and Ole Miss is making that goal seem more real every day.
Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said the best thing that happened Thursday night was fans gave $1,800 that will be donated to breast cancer research. She said anyone who came out wanting to see a competitive basketball game was disappointed because her team didn''t respond.
"I give Mississippi State a lot of credit," Ladner said. "I thought they came in with a sense of urgency, took it from the tip, and I thought we never fought back. I was very disappointed with our effort tonight."
Ladner said earlier in the week that the Lady Bulldogs were playing defense with "reckless abandon." She said MSU didn''t do anything Ole Miss didn''t anticipate, but she said her players never equaled the Lady Bulldogs'' intensity and focus.
"They were not weak in any aspect," Ladner said. "I thought we were not in the attack mode at all. The biggest thing they did was allow us only one shot and then they took the board the other way.:
MSU had a 41-31 rebounding edge, its biggest in a SEC game this season. The previous best was nine against Ole Miss in Starkville.
The Lady Bulldogs rallied from an 18-point deficit in that game. Similar heroics weren''t necessary Thursday, as MSU led by as many as 27 points with 7:02 remaining.
"They came out in the last game and outworked us for a period of time," Fanning said. "I felt like we had the energy we had to set the pace. Your energy is going to create an atmosphere. It is a demeanor -- a swagger -- you have to have for that 40-minute period if you''re going to win the big games. That is what we''re still striving for."
Grimes agreed the Lady Bulldogs are working toward that goal. She said it helps to hear words -- or shouts -- of encouragement from the sidelines to keep everyone motivated.
"Coach Reaves is a very intense coach, along with the rest of our coaches," Grimes said. "The coaches are always talking about defensive pressure, defensive pressure. We just have to stay hungry. If our defense is there, our offense is going to be there, too."
MSU plays host to No. 5 Auburn at 2 p.m. Sunday.
n NOTES: Freshman point guard Diamber Johnson forgot her No. 11 jersey and wore No. 22. Fanning said Johnson remembered her shorts and her sneakers, but not her regular jersey. ... Senior forward Donnisha Tate missed the game for what Fanning called "disciplinary reasons." Fanning didn''t say how long Tate would be suspended. ... Porter''s eight-point effort gives her 1,001 for her career and makes her the 16th player in school history to join the 1,000-point club. ... MSU tied a season high by attempting 27 3-pointers. It made five. ... The Lady Bulldogs'' 20 offensive rebounds tied a season high. ... Ole Miss'' seven assists tied a season low.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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