Kevin McGuff and Sharon Fanning-Otis sound like there teams are at similar points in the season.
On Wednesday, Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs are “nowhere near where we need to be to win a conference championship or to compete for a conference championship.” She made that comment after a 35-point victory against Mississippi Valley State.
McGuff can empathize with Fanning-Otis” feelings. The No. 12 Xavier women”s basketball team lost to Michigan 72-71 on Monday. The loss was the second in a row for the Musketeers (7-2).
“We”re struggling a little bit to find our way and to regain our intensity, focus and our ability to defend and rebound like we did for the first seven games,” McGuff said.
MSU and Xavier will meet at 1 p.m. today in the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, to see which team can get back on track.
Xavier showed in its first seven games that is capable of playing with the top teams in the nation. The Musketeers earned victories against Southern California, Arizona State, Kansas, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee State, and Cincinnati. Xavier also defeated MVSU 92-52 on Nov. 23.
But cold shooting (Xavier shot 30.9 percent in a loss to Michigan State on Dec. 9) and an atypical lack of rebounding have hurt the Musketeers in the past two games. Michigan outrebounded Xavier 35-29.
The lack of rebounding is puzzling to McGuff, especially considering he has nine players who are 6-foot or taller on the roster. The biggest players –6-6 junior center Ta”Shia Phillips and 6-5 redshirt junior Amber Harris — are two of the squad”s best players.
Harris, who missed last season with an injury, leads the team in scoring (14.2 points per game). She is second in rebounding (7.9). Phillips is second on the team in scoring (12.7) and first in rebounding (9.6). Both players are shooting 52.4 percent or better from the field.
Phillips scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Xavier”s 51-42 victory against MSU on Jan. 4, 2009. MSU shot a season-low 24.5 percent (1 of 16 from 3-point range), while Xavier burned the nets at a 26.5-percent clip.
Xavier graduated guard Tudy Reed, who led the team with 22 points in that game, but nearly all of the other pieces are back this season for the Musketeers. McGuff believes his team”s experience and size could be keys come March.
For that to happen, though, McGuff said Xavier needs to return to the fundamentals and do things that his teams always have done.
“Field goal percentage defense and rebounding are things we have built our program on,” McGuff said. “We haven”t been doing them, and we have to get back to doing them right now because Mississippi State is going to come right at us.”
McGuff said he expects MSU to play extremely hard today. He doesn”t believe the matchup will be a low-scoring affair like it was last season, but he doesn”t envision a shootout, either.
The Musketeers” ability to contain senior guard Alexis Rack will help them accomplish that goal. Rack, who has led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring in eight games this season, is averaging a career-best 20.3 points per game and is shooting a career-high 42.4 percent from the field. She had a career-high 43-point effort in a 84-55 victory against Maryland on Nov. 22.
“I think Alexis Rack is one of the best players in the country” McGuff said. “She is one of best we have seen so far this year, so we”re going to have to be prepared for her.”
McGuff said the Musketeers will have to prevent Rack from dominating the game. They also will have to contend with the Lady Bulldogs” length and athleticism. But he feels his team has an edge in the post with Harris and Phillips.
If Xavier can go to its weapons and get back to playing its trademark defense and rebounding like it can, the Musketeers could add another solid victory to their résumé.
“I think we can be really special, but there is a long way to go,” McGuff said. “I have seen glimpses of play that I think puts us among the best teams in the country, but I also have seen glimpses when we”re not very good. We have to find a way to sustain the intensity we need against the schedule we play on a daily basis.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.