MSU women open SEC Tourney play
Mary Kathryn Govero leads the Lady Bulldogs in scoring with 12.8 points per game. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs understand what's at stake tonight.
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It's pretty cut and dry. Mississippi State must beat Auburn in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at 9 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn., or have its season come to an abrupt end.
The Lady Bulldogs are encouraged that won't be the case considering their play over the last month.
After losing its first nine SEC games of the season, MSU won three of its final six, including the last two straight.
The Lady Bulldogs feel like they are taking momentum into the matchup with the Lady Tigers, a team they defeated 57-45 at Auburn on Feb. 6.
MSU senior Mary Kathryn Govero likes the attitude going into the SEC Tournament.
"It's all about believing before the game starts that you are going to go out there and do what you need to do to get the win," Govero said. "I felt like we've had that the last couple of games. If we take that going to the SEC Tournament, we'll be fine."
The Lady Bulldogs came off their NCAA Sweet 16 season with 11 new faces on the court and three of those didn't join the squad until December.
It was a growing process throughout the month of January and MSU women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said the program is on course to being the most improved team in the SEC by the end of the season.
"We need to do that and win four games, but let's try to win one," Fanning-Otis said about how to approach the SEC Tournament. "We're not there, but hopefully we have more games to try and improve. I felt getting toward the middle of the pack in the league was a goal and if there's a championship, you want to win it."
Auburn coach Nell Fortner has watched the Lady Bulldogs recover well from losing so much talent from the year before.
It's a situation Fortner can relate to and says Fanning-Otis has appeared to have coped well.
"We lost a large amount of our players going from 2009 to 2010," Fortner said. "Their players are very talented, fast, quick and can shoot. They've got some size inside and it was just a matter of them finding their chemistry and finding themselves with pretty much a new starting lineup, outside of Mary Kathryn Govero. It was a matter of them coming together."
MSU (11-17, 4-12) will have a starting lineup of Govero, Diamber Johnson, Porsha Porter, Ashley Brown and Catina Bett. Govero averages 12.8 points per game, while Johnson adds 12.5 points per outing.
The Lady Tigers have the services of players like Alli Smalley, Morgan Jennings, Chantel Hilliard, Jordan Greenleaf and Blanche Alverson that Fanning-Otis knows are capable of making a difference at any time.
"It looks like they are making adjustments and having other people stepping up into roles that they have not been in," Fanning-Otis said. "Any team this time of the year have players who have been in the SEC Tournament and been through a regular season and they understand what the next step is."
The Lady Tigers (15-14, 8-8) edged MSU 45-41 in Starkville so the winner in the final game of the first day will break the tie in the season series.
"Any team you've played before and whether you've won or lost, you're both familiar with each other, but we need to play our best basketball (tonight)," Fanning-Otis said.