While one coach was not pleased with what she saw, the other one couldn't have been more satisfied.
"I am just really proud and extremely pleased with my team and how hard they fought," said UAB coach Audra Smith. "They said from the beginning that they were going to come in and they were going to win this game. They had the confidence that they were going to win, and they did not back down."
One minute into the game, MSU had an early 3-0 lead on the first of Porter's five three-point shots. UAB took a 4-3 lead a minute later on field goals by Christon Ingram and Brianna Berry. After MSU tied the game at four and again at six, UAB went on an 11-3 run midway through the first half. Nothing seemed to work for State until Rack nailed a trey at the 10:17 mark giving the Lady Bulldogs a spurt of energy that cut the UAB lead to 17-12 and started an MSU run.
Over the next three minutes, the Lady Bulldogs regained the lead at 22-20 after a 13-3 run that ended with a Richard lay-up. UAB answered with a pair of baskets but Washington's field goal tied the game at 24 with 6:23 left. MSU would get no closer.
Although the teams battled near the end of the first half, UAB never surrendered the lead, despite MSU getting within a point four times, including being down 37-36 at the half.
In the second half, both teams continued to battle, but MSU never could pull ahead or tie the game. MSU got to within three points on six different occasions, within two points at five other times and was just a point shy twice. But UAB made shots to extend their lead.
"You have to make a stop," Fanning said. "It is something we have to want to do. You have to play with hunger and a lot of desire. You have to play with hunger, focus and being alert, and make sure you do not give someone the ability to do what they do well."
Imesia Jackson, who scored 30 points on Thursday, became a non-factor in the game as the Blazers double or tripled team her which kept her teammates from getting the ball to her. She took only one shot from the field during 28 minutes of playing time. She finished the game scoring three points - all from the free throw line.
"I'm not sure that Imesia was ready to play today," Fanning revealed. "That takes communication on her part. Yesterday in practice everyone said they were sore or fatigued. But being ready to play is the player's responsibility. When we were ranked in the Top Ten nationally, we had the same Thursday-to-Sunday schedule. The players have to be mature and communicate. They have to get themselves ready to play the game. If there are other situations, they have to communicate those. We have to grow up and get ourselves ready to play."
With UAB bottling up the inside, it left MSU with uncontested outside shots. As a result Porter scored a career high 23 points.
"Percentage wise, she was 8-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the three-point line, with eight rebounds, and three blocks, so offensively she stepped up," Fanning said. "Defensively she has to get better. This is something as a team we need to improve on. If we put you on the floor, whether it is a man or a zone, we have to have positioning, move your feet, be ready to play, and guard someone by putting some heat on them. It is good that our team offense stepped up. Last week against Florida State, it shows if you play good defense, you rebound the basketball, and play aggressive enough you can win the ballgame."
Perhaps a bigger factor in the loss was the inability of MSU to make free throws. State shot 53 percent (10 for 19) at the charity stripe, including a less than memorable 5 for 12 in the first half.
"The two games we lost were in this type of setting where you play on Thursday or Friday and then again on Sunday or Monday," Fanning explained. "The girls have to understand that after you play a game you have to have the mental toughness to get ready for the next game. To win an SEC Tournament Championship, you have to win three or four games back-to-back. You have to be ready to work and we weren't."
Richard added 16 points during a 35-minute stint. Washington tied her season high in points and rebounds with nine apiece. Rack scored 9 points, which is a season high for the true freshman.
While MSU struggled at the free throw line, especially in the first half, UAB felt right at home making 17 of 20. The Lady Blazers also out-rebounded MSU 35-33. UAB had decisive advantages in second chance points (25-14) and points in the paint (34-22).
"The number one thing for us was stepping up to the free throw line and knocking down key free throws, and also keeping them off the glass," said Smith "Mississippi State shot the best they have all year from the three-point line, and that was a chance we were willing to take. We knew there was no way we could match up to them man-to-man and we were going to stay in the zone defense and make it work one way or another."
Guzman led the Lady Blazers with 23 points. This game had special meaning to Diamond Rogers who prepped at Murrah High School in Jackson. To celebrate, Rogers had a double-double – 18 points and 12 rebounds. Berry and Ingram scored 10 points apiece.
MSU takes the week off for final exams before returning to the floor next Sunday to play USM in Hattiesburg.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.