PITTSBURGH — This time, the Mississippi State women”s basketball team wants to finish the deal.
A year ago, 11th-seeded MSU led third-seeded Ohio State 58-54 with 6 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in their second-round NCAA tournament game in Columbus, Ohio.
Unfortunately, the Lady Buckeyes shut out the Lady Bulldogs the rest of the way en route to a 64-58 victory.
“We didn”t finish the game like we wanted to,” MSU junior guard Mary Kathryn Govero said. “It motivates us knowing we can play with this team. We are both different teams than who we were last year, so we can”t reflect on the past. We have to focus on who we are as a team and what we want to do coming out tomorrow and play to our strengths and play great defense for 40 minutes.”
The memory of that game stirred in MSU senior guard Alexis Rack last Monday when she saw her team matched up against Middle Tennessee State and Ohio State in the other half of the bracket.
Rack said she thought it was funny the NCAA tournament selection committee matched up the teams in the same part of the bracket for a potential repeat engagement.
Rack and the seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs (20-12) will be all business at 6:11 tonight (ESPN2) when they take on second-seeded Ohio State (31-4) at the Petersen Events Center.
Rack brushed aside questions about Ohio State on Sunday following MSU”s come-from-behind 68-64 victory against 10th-seeded MTSU. But the senior guard, who had 19 points, six assists, and seven turnovers against the Lady Buckeyes last season, said the teams are different despite their similarities. MSU returns six players who played against Ohio State last season, while the Lady Buckeyes return four starters and eight who saw action against the Lady Bulldogs.
Rack said she doesn”t remember too much about the game, but she said the Lady Bulldogs had defensive stops, played solid help defense, and rebounded only to fall short. She said MSU”s defense has to be much better than it showed Sunday, even in the final 4:39 when MSU used a 13-0 run to rally.
“It has to be much better than that,” Rack said. “Our help was still kind of late on (senior center Alysha) Clark and we didn”t get our hands out and contest the 3-pointers like we had to. We have to be more alert and have more intensity around the ball.”
Clark, a 5-foot-10 redshirt senior who entered the game as the nation”s leading scorer (28.7 points per game), had 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. MSU will face a bigger challenge tonight against 6-4 junior center Jantel Lavender, the three-time Big Ten Conference Player of the Year.
Sophomore point guard Samantha Prahalis (16.4 ppg.) joins Lavender in double figures, while Brittany Johnson (9.3), Tayler Hill (8.5), and Sarah Schulze (7.1) round out the starting lineup. Johnson leads the Lady Buckeyes with 74 3-pointers (47.7 percent), while Schulze (53), Hill (23), and Maria Moeller (21) provide plenty of shooting options on the perimeter.
“They are very athletic, and I think we are ready for them,” Johnson said. “We were good last year, but this year I think we”re really good. We”re just ready to play.”
Johnson said the Buckeyes are better because they are more of an up-tempo team and everybody is focused. She said the team has more players who can contribute off the bench.
As a team, Ohio State leads the Big Ten Conference in scoring (78.3 points per game), shooting percentage (45.8 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (39.5 percent), rebounding margin (5.9), and turnover margin (2.6).
“I do think this team has a better chance of doing bigger things than maybe last year because we have so many different options,” Lavender said. “I definitely expect them to come out with a lot of fire and the feeling of getting revenge on us. I am pretty sure they feel like they could have won that game. (I think) they”re going to come in (thinking) they can contend with us. … I think they”re going to be really juiced up thinking that they can go to the Sweet 16. … We will have to come out and match their intensity.”
Healthier Lady Buckeyes
Ohio State coach Jim Foster said Monday two of the five players hit with food poisoning before Sunday”s game against St. Francis (Pa.) are still “struggling,” but he anticipates his team will be ready tonight.
He said Moeller, who played only two minutes Sunday, should be able to play a bigger role tonight.
Moeller has played in all 35 games this season and averages 2.9 ppg. in 11.8 minutes per game.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.