By DANNY P. SMITH
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs were finally rewarded for their play on the basketball court with a Southeastern Conference victory.
After losing nine-straight games in the league, some where they fell just short in the end, the Lady Bulldogs went on the road and defeated the Auburn Lady Tigers 57-45 on Sunday.
MSU women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis hopes the momentum from that victory carries over when her squad travels again to play at Ole Miss tonight. The tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Tad-Smith Coliseum.
"This should give our basketball team some confidence and more expectation because we have been playing harder," Fanning-Otis said about the Auburn win. "We've come up a little short at times, but finding a road win in the SEC at any time in any year is a very important thing to find."
The Lady Bulldogs, who improved their records to 9-13 overall and 1-9 in the SEC, are in the stretch run of the season.
Following the contest against the Lady Rebels, Mississippi State hosts the next two games against South Carolina on Sunday and Vanderbilt on Feb. 17. The Lady Bulldogs have road dates against Florida on Feb. 20 and Alabama on Feb. 24, then ends the regular season hosting Ole Miss on Feb. 27.
"Where we are right now, hopefully (the Auburn win) will be the first win of many to come in our league and something to grow on as far as expectations relative that we can do this," Fanning-Otis said. "A lot of times the first step is getting a win."
Fanning-Otis said State was able to have success against Auburn due to a team effort.
Porsha Porter followed up a career-high 30-point effort against Alabama by leading the Lady Bulldogs once again against the Lady Tigers with 21 points. Senior Mary Kathryn Govero also scored in double digits with 12 points.
The effort from starters Catina Bett, Diamber Johnson, Ashley Brown and the bench players was a factor in getting the win.
"We had everybody that was supposed to be in a rotation to be on the floor at some point," Fanning-Otis said. "It's good to see this team gain confidence and growth. They are having to adjust to as this season progresses. If you have the type of effort and it's a team, you are going to find a way to win ballgames."
Govero leads MSU in the scoring department, averaging 11.8 points per game, while junior guard Diamber Johnson stands at 11.3 points per outing.
The Lady Bulldogs play another winnable game when it faces the Lady Rebels, a team that has marks of 10-12 overall and 3-7 in the SEC after losing to LSU 76-38.
Fanning-Otis stresses the importance of not looking at the Ole Miss record, plus there's always the rivalry factor in the series.
"Ole Miss is very aggressive and a team that plays really hard," Fanning-Otis said. "Every team in this league can win and that's just obvious.
"Right now, it's the team that's going to be persistent and that's what we have to be. Our discipline and focus has to improve because execution is the bottom line down the stretch."
Renee Ladner, who has just received a contract extension as the coach of the Lady Rebels, has had to learn patience working with a squad with only two players returning with any playing experience.
Ole Miss is led by a senior as Kayla Melson scores 15.6 points per game, but freshman Valencia McFarland is second on the team at 12.8 points per outing.
"I've tried not to put too much on them too soon, but at the same time, teach them adversity," Ladner said in the preseason. "In this league, tough is not enough and you have to compete at the highest level every night."
There may be some tough road conditions today due to Wednesday's winter weather, but Fanning-Otis would like to see some people dressed in maroon and white at Tad-Smith Coliseum.
"We've had a great crowd at Ole Miss in the past," Fanning-Otis said. "This team needs a great crowd whether it's at home or on the road. If there's any way to get there, we need you there and we need for you to bring some friends because the support and enthusiasm is going to lift this team.
"I've said through the years that so many of our wins are attributed to not only our kids' play, but they have responded to our fans."