"Our main problem was intimidation," admitted MSU coach Sharon Fanning. "You have to be able to play through adversity when your shots are not falling like they should be. We were contesting shots and scrapping defensively, but we did not block them out on the boards. In the first half, they had 13 second-chance points and we had two. So, they were getting offensive boards and that was supposed to be one of our main adjustments. On the other end when we did not score, we let down. We did not have the maturity we needed to continue to play harder. Offensively, in isolation we were going off our first assumption. It would then become a turnover, blocked shot, forced shot, or contested shot. We were not making good decisions. LSU is a quick defensive team. They may not pick you up full-court, but they guard you hard in the half-court game. They switch a lot defensively, play good help-side defense, and react well defensively."
"The last five games we have been real slow out of the gate and had to rely on our defense," LSU coach Pokey Chapman replied, whose Lady Tigers allow the opponents to score an average of 45.5 points a game. "Some of that had to do with our opponents and some of it had to do with LSU. It was nice to take a game plan from the tapes, scouting reports, walk throughs and take to the court from the get go. It has been something that we have been desperately seeking and it was nice to finally see it this afternoon."
In the early going, MSU matched the LSU defensive play as Robin Porter got a pair of lay-ups giving State a 5-4 lead three minutes into the game. She finished the game with nine points.
From that point the LSU defense was ready for anything that MSU tried. Shot clock violations on three straight trips and almost no offensive rebounding coupled with the inability to get the ball inside spelled the second straight SEC loss for MSU.
"They were crashing the boards hard," said Marneshia Richard, who got the first MSU point at the free throw line. She finished the game with 7 points after playing the full 40 points at point guard. "Sylvia Fowles probably had ten rebounds by herself. They were getting second chance opportunities on offense, and they were getting defensive rebounds that allowed them to be able to push the ball down the floor in transition. We were not getting matched up down the court, so they were getting open shots. When we would get the ball, they would be back on defense and contest all of our shots."
Fowles, the fourth leading scorer (17.7 points per game) and top rebounder (11.0 rebounds per game) in the conference, had eight first-half rebounds and finished the game scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. No one on the MSU team could match up with her.
With about 4 minutes left in the first half the MSU offense show some semblance of life as Richard got back to the line and Lauren Roberts got a pair of baskets to finally get the Lady Bulldogs out of the single-digit scoring territory. But LSU already had the game on cruise control, despite MSU closing out the first half with a 14-8 scoring advantage.
"At the end of the first half, we had some open shots and certain plays that helped us cut it to 12 near the end of the first half," Fanning said. "I began to become more optimistic, and thought we would gain some confidence from that.""P> "Overall we did not come out ready to go like LSU did," said Roberts, who had a 10-point game, to lead the Lady Bulldogs in scoring. "Towards the end of the first half we picked it up a little bit, and I think it was easier for us to come out of the locker room and play hard in the second half. During halftime, coach came in, and we had a team discussion. I think we capitalized on that in the second half. I think we decided that we needed to come out in the second half and represent our school and do a better job."
"Lauren is someone who always plays hard, and I am very proud of that," Fanning said about her sophomore forward. "She is someone that is willing to play any role that you ask of her to help the team. As she continues to get in better position and block out better, maybe she will get to the free-throw line more and get more points for us. I was very pleased with her defensive positioning, stepping out and continuing to play hard, and not losing focus through this tough game. That showed some maturity on her part, because she did not give up when things were not going her way."
It was the first time this season that Roberts reached the double-digit plateau, and the second time in her career to lead the team in scoring. Roberts had four-double digit games last year.
She, along with Heather Hollis and Alexis Rack came off the bench in the first half, but started the second half. Why did Fanning opt to not start Imesia Jackson, Robin Porter and Tysheka Grimes in the second half?
"I felt like the group that was starting the game was not playing focused," Fanning explained. "We were questioning ourselves and some younger players. We were not playing sharp and not taking good shots. I just decided to go with that group in the second half, because they played more confident, communicated better, and found some decent shots. We will go back and regroup, encourage and teach, and hopefully be better prepared for the next game."
LSU played methodically in the second half to build out a 32-point lead with 2 minutes left. It was with just under five minutes left that Chapman cleared out her bench, knowing that the outcome had long been decided. LSU would not lose another game in Mississippi. LSU lost in Oxford on Thursday.
"It helped as far as LSU's focus," Fanning said. "Of course, we had just lost (to Georgia), but we are playing through a stretch where we play possibly three of the best teams in the league, and it is something we have to bear down. That is what the SEC is all about though, anybody can beat you, and you can beat anybody. Mental preparation and everything else has to fall into place."
In the second half, MSU made 10 of 28 (35.7%) field goal attempts, compared to 7 for 25 (28.0%) shooting in the first half. MSU connected on 5 of 10 (50%) three-point shots in the second half, after going 0 for 7 in the first half. They also had a better rebounding effort in the second half, but still LSU's height advantage gave the Lady Tigers a decided advantage in both halves in scoring and rebounding.
"We are not good enough not to lose intensity," Chapman said. "We're not so secure in our play were we can have letdowns. We have to be intense; we have to focus, if not the result is poor play."
For MSU the task gets no easier. They travel to Knoxville for Thursday's game with the fourth-ranked Lady Vols (16-1, 3-0 SEC). Tennessee went on the road to beat Georgia 52-41. Mississippi State has never beaten Tennessee in women's basketball.
"Any ballgame in this league is going to be a tough game," Fanning said. "We are going to have to go into practice encouraging, evaluate film, and teach. You have to coach up a young team and also have to do some positive evaluation. We have had some tough games, but at other times we have played very well, so the potential is there."
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.