Positioning Themselves for Postseason Play

Since losing three straight games to nationally ranked opponents in early January, the Lady Bulldogs have won six of the last seven games. That streak includes two road wins, one over a nationally ranked opponent and another one in a dramatic overtime win.

How did they turn things around so effectively?

"We've been taking things one game at a time and doing the things it takes to win a ball game," said sophomore guard Marneshia Richard. "Everyone is playing great together. We feel a lot more comfortable with each other now than we did earlier this season. We know when to pass it or take a shot."

Admittedly, MSU has not played teams the caliber of Georgia, LSU or Tennessee. MSU lost to that trio of nationally ranked teams in early January and those three will likely end the regular season atop the SEC standings.

But the State women learned some valuable lessons during those losses that has helped to build momentum to make a run at a possible first-round bye in the conference tournament and possible selection for the NCAA tournament.

Part of the momentum is in the frontcourt where a combination of young players are having an impact.

Imesia Jackson, a Crawford, Mississippi native, transferred to MSU from Southwest Tennessee Community College where she was a National Junior College Athletic Association Honorable Mention all-America as a sophomore after averaging 18.9 points per game.

Against SEC competition this year, the 6-foot 1 forward averages 13 points a game, which is also consistent with her scoring average for non-SEC games and is good enough to be among the top 20 scorers in the SEC. Jackson's forte is getting open in the post and awaiting a teammates pass or battling for an offensive rebound and putting up another shot in the same possession.

Bethany Washington, an undersized forward at 5-foot 11, epitomizes the cliché that, 'it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the amount of fight in the dog that matters.'

A true freshman from Houma, LA, Washington, over the course of the seven-game streak, has had double-digit rebounds in five of those games and led the team in rebounding six times.

The third member of the frontcourt combination is sophomore Robin Porter. The 5-foot 11 combo guard/forward is playing a new role on the team.

Last year as a true freshman and for the first 17 games at the beginning of this year, Porter was in the starting rotation. But she sustained a minor injury against LSU that caused her to miss the Tennessee and South Carolina games.

During her absence, other players seemed to develop a chemistry that worked.

Porter returned to the floor against Kentucky but not as a starter. And in her new role, she came off the bench and scored 18 points, with 9 rebounds in a double-overtime win on the road. Since then, she has been effective coming off the bench.

Both Washington and Porter are among the top 15 rebounders in the conference against SEC competition only.

And State will need both this coming week because they will have their hands full trying to keep Carla Thomas of Vanderbilt and the duo of Armintie Price and Jada Mincy from Ole Miss off the glass.

The 6-foot 3-inch Thomas is the Commodore rebounding game. If Washington and Porter can control the taller Thomas on the glass, MSU will dominate rebounding because the Commodores have no appreciable rebounding game outside of Thomas.

Ole Miss, however, is a different story. While Price and Mincy are the obvious leaders for the Lady Rebels, they have a good supporting cast that also take rebounding serious. And that is enough reason to give Coach Fanning's Lady 'Dogs concern. The Lady Rebels have a plus 2.4 rebounding advantage on their SEC opponents while MSU is minus 3.9.

Despite MSU being outrebounded by an average of nearly four boards per SEC contest, the Lady Bulldogs have enough diversity in their attack to win games. And that is the bottom line.

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.

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