Rebound Basket Tips Tide Past Lady Bulldogs

The commemorative basketball goes back into storage for another week. And the Lady Bulldogs will have to wait just as long for the next chance to snap their losing string.

A rebound and layup by Alabama's Lauren Hill with four seconds left gave visiting Crimson Tide a 61-59 victory over host Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Alabama, which came in on a seven-game losing streak, left Starkville with a 9-15 overall record and 3-8 SEC mark.

The Bulldogs walked off their home court having suffered a ninth-consecutive league loss, dropping them to 6-18 on the season and keeping them in the SEC cellar at 1-10. The defeat also kept Coach Sharon Fanning from scoring her 500th career victory, a milestone she has been stuck short of since her team's last victory, on January 8.

This loss stung more than most though as State had leads for roughly 35 of the clock-minutes while Alabama was only in front twice all afternoon, both times in the last two minutes. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that last Tide lead was also the final score. "All the losses have been tough," senior Mamie McKinney said. "We fought hard, but we allowed them to come back at the end of the game."

"We just didn't get it done," Fanning said.

Alabama, which trailed by as much as a dozen points in the first half, could never catch up until 5:39 of the last period. Until then the Bulldogs had been able to respond each time the Tide got within a basket, manufacturing an open shot against UA's tight zone defense. Then with State up 53-48, Hill converted a teammate's miss into a putback…a foreshadowing of things to come.

State was able to regain leads twice more down the stretch, with McKinney getting either the tough basket or making a free throw. But at 2:41 UA's Kate Mastin drew a foul and evened the count on free throws, 57-57. Then at 1:50 after a Bulldog turnover Dee Meriweather got a short jumper to drop for Alabama's first lead of the entire affair.

Both sides wasted possessions in the ensuing minute, until MSU's Doceide Warren drove the right wing for a layup and 59-59 tie. The Tide still had 0:12 on the clock to break that tie and put the ball in guard Navonda Moore's hands to do it. "We wanted to put shooters on either side to space the defense out and give Moore an opportunity to create," UA Coach Stephany Smith said. Moore's hard drive on the right side of the lane didn't produce as her layup went off the other side of the rim…

…right where Hill was waiting to catch the carom and bank it in at 0:04. "I think we did a good job as far as contesting (the first shot)," said Warren, "Hill just got a good offensive rebound. It was a lack of communication for us as far as blocking out."

State stopped the clock at 2.3 seconds and got the ball in to Warren, whose 21-footer at the buzzer hit the front-iron. "It was a good play, I had a good look," said Warren, who finished with a season-best 12 points. "It just fell short."

Which oughtn't have been a surprise, as the Bulldogs were just 1-of-23 from the arc. Alabama had only a pair of made-treys themselves, but also took only 14 shots from long range. Afterwards Fanning pointed to State's quick trigger as crucial. "We probably shot too many threes before we broke them down."

The Bulldogs weren't a patient bunch all day. At first this wasn't a problem, as by playing transition they scored six quick points off UA misses and mistakes and built a 8-0 lead before the visitors got on the board at 16:35. Alabama self-destructed early and often, with 15 turnovers in the first half alone that set up 14 Bulldog points. State's lead peaked at a dozen, twice, and the halftime margin favored the home team 32-22.

Alabama still trailed by ten at 16:59 of the last half, but a four-minute stretch with just three points by State kept the Tide in contention. By 12:58 the lead was down to 41-38, and the Bulldogs never got the margin up to more than seven points again. Both sides had foul problems in the period but MSU was hurt more, especially on the backboards, down the decisive stretch.

McKinney and Lauren Roberts also had a dozen points each for State, while Moore and Merriweather led Alabama with 12 points apiece and Mastin added 11. The Tide shots just 39% for the game but made 15-of-29 shots, 52%, in the second half. The Bulldogs were consistently poor all day, shooting 34% the first half and 35% the second and, as noted, taking far too many attempts from beyond the arc.

The Bulldogs are off until next Sunday when they close out the home schedule by hosting Kentucky on Senior Day. Whether or not the team gets to present their coach that 500th-win ball is strictly secondary to the more important goal of just snapping the program's longest losing streak in 11 years. "You have to keep your heads up," Fanning said. "This game is over, you evaluate and learn from it.

"We have another opportunity next Sunday. Another ball game we can win if we do the little things right and believe."

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