Tall Order For Lady 'Dogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mississippi State had a truly unusual women's basketball season in 2003-2004, going 7-7 in the tough Southeastern Conference but missing the NCAA Tournament with a 14-15 overall record.

The Lady Bulldogs, sparked by All-SEC guard Tan White (20.2 points per game), won 9 of their last 14 games but couldn't quite overcome a rash of early-season injuries to reach postseason.

Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning, who has compiled 476 wins in 28 seasons at three college outposts (Tennessee-Chattanooga, Kentucky and MSU), kept a stiff upper lip.

"Everyone in our league felt we were good enough, but the numbers just didn't stand up," she said.

The Lady Bulldogs beat Arkansas twice, and played national runner-up Tennessee within 10 points twice.

They return four starters this season, including White, but still lack a formidable inside presence.

That's probably why the Lady 'Dogs have been picked to tie Ole Miss -- another team with inside-game issues -- for seventh-place in the SEC this season.

"Our post game was the weakest in the league last year," Fanning said. "But Rebecca Kates (6-foot senior forward) has always been a tough defender for us, and Mamie Mckinney (6-foot junior forward) has had her moments."

McKinney, a Tallahassee, Fla., native, helped MSU beat Florida 88-76 last season.

"Mamie needs to play the entire season like she's playing against Florida," Fanning said.

The Lady Bulldogs lost only forward Seneca Anderson from last year's regular lineup, which had to contend with the 13th-toughest schedule in the country.

Not so this season.

"This year we have 17 home games," Fanning said. "Baylor, Louisiana Tech, South Alabama and UC-Santa Barbara all come to our place.

"Last year we played eight teams that finished in the Top 20."

That's why one more win would likely have put MSU in the NCAA Tournament.

White did her part, often leading the Lady Bulldogs in both scoring and rebounding at 5-foot-7. This year she received four votes for the preseason SEC Player of the Year -- just one fewer than Seimone Augustus of LSU, the designee.

"With our experience, Tan should be better this year," Fanning said. "We have eight or nine kids who have played."

Blessing Chekwa, a 5-10 junior guard, has had three major surgeries but is playing again. So are Kates (ankle) and talented 5-6 guard Doceide Warren, who had hip surgery this summer and a strained hamstring in preseason but is back in the regular rotation.

"Hopefully, we can take up where we left off last season," Fanning said. "We were one game out of the postseason and that made everyone hungry and a bit more focused."

Tiania Burns started all 29 games at guard last season, but Warren's leadership will get her plenty of time in the backcourt.

Fanning also counts on two freshmen from the state of Mississippi: 5-10 guard Maiyorka Johnson and 6-foot guard/forward Amy Reeder.

"We have a smaller but more athletic team," Fanning said.

The Lady Bulldogs have a new strength coach and a new academic advisor, to go with assistant coaches Steve Curtis, Errol Rogers and Stacey Franklin.

Now, if they can just invent a 6-4 center, they'll be set.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories