Lady Bulldogs start SEC play on tough road
The Vanderbilt Lady Commodores blew an 18-point lead in losing their Southeastern Conference opener to the Ole Miss Rebels 72-67 in Oxford Sunday.
Vanderbilt gets back into the friendly confines of Memorial Gymnasium tonight, a place where it's been very difficult for opposing teams to play. The Lady Commodores host the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs at 7 p.m.
The home court has been very kind to Vanderbilt this season, as is the case most years, with its 7-0 mark.
Mississippi State women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said her squad has been preparing for what's to come at Memorial Gymnasium, but knows the Lady Bulldogs must worry more about themselves rather than a place or even the other team.
"You can't change the look and can't change where you play," Fanning-Otis said. "You can't play the fact you beat them twice last year and there will be some motivation. There are things (MSU) has to learn together. Hopefully every day this team will get better, accept the challenges we have, the circumstances we have, find out how we can deal with it and hopefully play our best basketball from here on out."
After splitting a pair of games at the Christmas City Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., the Lady Bulldogs enter SEC play with an 8-4 mark overall.
Fanning-Otis has noticed some positive aspects emerge from the team, but said now is the time to get serious about its play and turn it up a notch.
"It's about intensity and toughness," Fanning-Otis said. "We've gone through a test and now we get tested relative to the league and we've got to step up. It's a whole new season."
The things that concern Fanning-Otis about the Lady Commodores (9-5, 0-1) are their defense against the shot clock and their depth.
Vanderbilt has five players to score in double digits, led by senior forward Hannah Toumi with 14.2 points per game.
"They throw multiple sets at you, but the key is going to be putting pressure on the ball and containment," Fanning-Otis said. "On offense, we're going to have to come off screens and get the ball in the basket."
Mississippi State is led by the scoring duo of junior Diamber Johnson and senior Mary Kathryn Govero. Johnson leads the team with 12.3 points per game, while Govero averages 11.8 points per outing.
Fanning-Otis depends on the leadership of Johnson and Govero, but wants the other members of the squad to provide some relief.
"As players learn, it's just 30 second or minute breaks," Fanning-Otis said. "Those two players. with their experience, are going to have a lot of minutes. That's just the way it is, but everyone should continue to get better. It's going to be a team thing with us and needs to be balanced. It's going to have to be better shot selection. We've got to figure out how to score more points whether that's free throws or transition buckets.
"M-Kat (Govero) and Diamber know the cards that are dealt and they just have to step up. Everyone has got to click on all cylinders when you enter league play."
(Editor's Note: Matthew Stevens, Mississippi State beat writer for the Starkville Daily News, contributed to this report.)
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