"They have eight seniors, and they have been in Final Fours together," Lady Bulldogs head coach Sharon Fanning said. "They know how to win."
And Fanning said the final LSU run came down to fundamental mistakes on the part of her squad.
"It's those little things," Fanning said. "It only takes 15 to 20 seconds for it to change mentally. They start to gain confidence and you switch off mentally, and it can get out of control."
Alexis Rack, who scored 11 points and was one of only two Mississippi State players to score in double digits, concurred with her coach.
"We're a very good team, but we just haven't been playing together," said Rack. "It's just small things that have been causing us to lose."
She also added that this game was a battle of runs. The Lady Tigers opened with an 11-0 run and concluded with their 22-2 run to end the game.
"We played hard the whole game," Rack said. "When they have their runs, we have to come back. When they got their last run, we just never recovered from it."
The early portions of the second half featured almost a reversal of roles for the two teams from the first half. Shots that were falling for the Lady Tigers in the first half wouldn't fall early in the second frame, and the Lady Bulldogs chipped away at that lead for the first 10 minutes of the half, climaxing at the 11:51 mark when Rack nailed her 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 42.
The roles were reversed in the second half as a result of the outcome of the first half, particularly in the opening minutes of that half. The Lady Bulldogs were stymied by the Lady Tigers' physical defense early in the contest, which caused them to go 0 for 10 from the field to start the game and caused them to go scoreless for the first eight minutes of the contest. On most possessions, the Lady Bulldogs found themselves smothered by the Lady Tigers' man-to-man defense. Mississippi State utilized screens to enable more open looks for shots, but it seemed as if the home team just couldn't wriggle free from the defense of the sixth-ranked team in the nation.
At that moment, the 84-31 blow-out loss to LSU earlier in the season crossed forward Donnisha Tate's mind. But she decided to put an optimistic spin on it.
"It crossed my mind in a positive way," Tate said. "I just knew we couldn't let that happen again."
It wasn't exactly déjà vu for Rack, but she realized her team needed to score and needed to score quickly before the game got out of hand.
"We just knew we had to keep playing," the sophomore guard said. "We needed to get a fast break and score. As soon as we scored, we got some momentum going."
Mississippi State was forced to use most of its 30-second shot clock in the first half in attempting to set up a high percentage shot, but they were often coerced into taking off-balance, impromptu shots during the final seconds of the shot clock. And even when the Lady Bulldogs were able to put up acceptable shots, they seemed to clang off the back of the rim or they would circle around the rim and fall back toward the court. The combination of suffocating defense and unkind iron kept the Lady Bulldogs scoreless for the first eight minutes of the game and played a big part in holding them to only 18 points in the opening half.
LSU opened up the court on its offensive possessions during its initial 11-0 run, taking mostly mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers. Once the Lady Bulldogs scored their first four points of the game on back-to-back possessions, the Lady Tigers fed the ball inside to their leading scorer Sylvia Fowles. Fowles came into the contest averaging 17.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Once Fowles was put into the offensive game-plan, she made sure her presence was felt. The Lady Tiger guards lobbed passes inside to the 6-foot-6-inch center, who towered five inches over the tallest member of the Lady Bulldog starting five, Robin Porter, and four inches over Tate, who came off the bench to cover Fowles.
"Sylvia Fowles is a very good post player," said Tate, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds. "It was hard playing against her. The lob from the guards is hard to take away, and I just tried to play well against someone with her size and strength."
Fowles finished the game with a contest-high 20 points and 12 rebounds. She was joined in the double-digit stat category with Quianna Chaney, who scored 18, and Erica White, who scored 10 points.
With the regular season completed, the Lady Bulldogs can now focus solely on their trip to Nashville, the site of the SEC Women's Tournament. Following Sunday's action, the Lady Bulldogs discovered their opponent will be the in-state rival Ole Miss Rebels (12-15, 6-8 SEC), who they split wins with this season. Each team won its home game.
"It's a new season when March gets here," Fanning said. "I hope we've learned from the mistakes we've made. As you head into March you have a new season in the tournament.
"You have to play your best basketball, and that's what we're expecting on Thursday."
The match-up against the Rebels is scheduled for a noon tipoff, with the winner of the game slated to take on LSU at the same time on Friday.