For The Daily News
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mississippi State could not overcome a sensational shooting night by Vanderbilt in the quarterfinal round of the Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Friday night.
The Lady Bulldogs allowed a season-highest 52 percent shooting by the Lady Commodores, as Vanderbilt rolled to a 69-55 victory in Bridgestone Arena.
Third-seeded Vanderbilt improves to 20-10 and will face second-seeded Kentucky in Saturday’s semifinal round. For a third straight year, MSU finishes 1-1 in the SEC Tournament. The eleventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs finish 13-17.
“We had to have a better team defensive game tonight,” MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “With our team, it all starts on the defensive end. In the first half, (Vanderbilt’s Tiffany) Clarke had zero points. She finishes with 23. She was the difference in the ballgame in the second half.”
Vanderbilt actually hovered around the 60 percent shooting mark for most of the contest. The Lady Commodores scored the game’s first four points and never trailed. A 3-pointer by VU’s Angela Puleo extended the Lady Commodores lead to 17-9. The Lady Bulldogs closed within 17-13, before Vanderbilt pushed the lead back out to 24-15.
The Lady Bulldogs responded with a 7-0 run, including baskets by Catina Bett and Diamber Johnson, as well as a 3-point basket by Mary Kathryn Govero. The Lady Commodores closed the half with a 9-4 run. Vanderbilt led 33-26 at the intermission.
The lead quickly pushed into double digits in the opening stages of the final half. A layup by Hannah Tuomi ran the advantage to 40-29 with 16:01 left in the contest.
Still, despite heavy foul trouble, the Lady Bulldogs hung tough. The inside presence of Ashley Brown, complimented the outside scoring touch of Johnson and Govero. A Porsha Porter layup brought the Lady Bulldogs within 12, at 52-40.
A 10-4 run by Vanderbilt pushed the Lady Commodores to the game’s largest lead, at 64-46 with 5:55 left. The Lady Bulldogs closed back within 12 in the closing minutes.
“We were an improved ballclub the second half of the season,” said Fanning-Otis, who capped her 16th season with MSU. “We lose one player off this team. The off-season begins next week. Hopefully, these players will have the off-season attitude and work ethic to make us an even better team next year.
“Personally, I would like to thank the Mississippi State family and our fans for all of their support this year.”
Govero was the lone senior on this year’s MSU roster. The Clinton native finishes as the school’s 12th all-time leading scorer with 1,173 career points. Govero made her mark throughout her MSU career with numerous accolades, including being named the SEC Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, this past week.
“Mary Kathyrn may be the best pure jump shooter we have ever had in our program,” Fanning-Otis said. “She was a role model and team player. She was a leader and inspiration both on and off the court. I feel truly blessed to have coached that type of player.”
For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 23 of 75 shots from the field (30.7 percent), 4 of 23 shots from 3-point range (17.4 percent) and 5 of 12 shots from the foul line (41.7 percent). The Lady Commodores hit 24 of 46 shots from the field (52.2 percent), 4 of 15 shots from 3-point range (26.7 percent) and 17 of 22 shots from the foul line (77.3 percent).
Vanderbilt held a 40-37 rebounding advantage. The Lady Bulldogs had seven assists and four turnovers, while the Lady Commodores had 15 assists and 13 turnovers.
Johnson paced the Lady Bulldogs with 20 points, while Brown had a team-high nine rebounds.
Behind Clarke, the Vanderbilt scoring ledger also included Puleo with 11 points and Tuomi with 10 points.