STARKVILLE, Miss. ­­- Fourteen regular season home contests, including games with national powerhouses Tennessee and Georgia, and three tournaments highlight the 2001-2002 women's basketball schedule for Mississippi State.

"This is by far the toughest schedule ever for MSU women's basketball," said head coach Sharon Fanning.

With nine of MSU's 16 possible non-conference opponents having gone to the postseason last year, Fanning is not exaggerating. State could face as many as three Sweet 16 teams (North Carolina State, Tennessee, Iowa State) and will face two Elite Eight teams (Vanderbilt, Xavier) from last year's NCAA Tournament.

"I hope the challenge of our non-conference schedule helps prepare us for our league as well as for postseason play," said Fanning.

The Lady Bulldogs begin the regular season with two home games as Alabama A&M comes to town on Nov. 16 followed by Tennessee Tech on Nov. 18. Then Coach Fanning will take her squad on the road to Ames, Iowa for a Nov. 21 opening round contest with Maryland in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament. The championship game will be played on ESPN on Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. CT.

MSU hosts Memphis on Nov. 27 for a rematch of last year's season-opening 88-82 Lady Tiger win, a contest in which LaToya Thomas broke State's school record by scoring 48 points.

The Lady Bulldogs travel to Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 29 for a rematch of the 2000 NCAA Tournament game in which the Lady Blazers knocked MSU out of competition with a 78-72 second-round victory in Eugene, Ore.

State then travels to New Orleans on Dec. 4, before returning home to host the Mississippi State Classic, Dec. 15-16.

After holiday trips to Cancun, Mexico and Cincinnati, Ohio, the Lady Bulldogs tip off the Southeastern Conference season Jan. 3 as they travel to Kentucky. MSU returns to Starkville for a three-game homestand that includes games against South Carolina (Jan. 6), intra-state rival Mississippi (Jan. 10), and Georgia (Jan. 13).

A home game against Arkansas on Jan. 24 is sandwiched by trips to Auburn (Jan. 20), Mississippi (Jan. 27), and Georgia (Jan. 31). The contest in Oxford, Miss., is scheduled to be televised by SEC-TV.

After hosting Auburn in early February and traveling to both Alabama and Vanderbilt, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers come to Starkville on Feb. 14. The Lady Bulldogs wrap up the regular season by traveling to LSU and then hosting Florida.

"The league should be as competitive as ever with nine of the 12 teams coming off postseason play from last year," said Fanning.

MSU plays two exhibition games to open up the season. The Houston Jaguars come to Starkville on Nov. 1 and the Lady Bulldogs play the Australia Institute of Sport on Nov. 8. Both exhibition contests are slated for a 7 p.m. start.

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