Rack Leads MSU To Upset Of #17 Vanderbilt

While most of the Bulldog nation was at home watching the national championship game between Alabama and Texas, the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs hosted the 17th ranked Lady Commodores. And the Lady Bulldogs put on a show for the Bulldog faithful that attended the game, defeating the Lady Commodores 90-76 in a thrilling come-from-behind victory.

Senior guard Alexis Rack led the way for the Lady Bulldogs, now 11-4 overall and 2-0 in SEC play with 31 points, six rebounds, and five assist on the night.

"I could see where (Alexis Rack) was communicating and had this look about her," said MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis of her senior guard. "She always made that big bucket. Two of her shots in the second half were huge. She has to penetrate, and she did a great job of that tonight."

In addition to Rack's 31, four other Lady Bulldog starters scored in double figures - Armelie Lumanu 18, Mary Kathryn Govero 14, Chanel Mokango 12, and Diamber Johnson with 10.

Merideth Marsh had a big night for the Lady Commodores, who are 12-3 and 1-1 in the SEC, in defeat with 28 points and six rebounds.

The game got off to a slow start, partly due to an uncharacteristic slow tempo by both teams. The teams traded baskets for the first five minutes of the game. Then the Lady Commodores went on a 9-2 run, which was sparked by two layups from Jence Rhoads.

Govero broke the run with a jumper at the 7:32 mark, but the Lady Commodores continued to stretch their lead to 15 at one point in the first half. Alexis Rack got the 'Dogs back in the game by starting and finishing a 9-0 run that got the Lady Bulldogs within four points. Marsh managed to hit a three pointer to stretch the lead back out to 7, but Mokango and Rack made a couple of shots to knock the Lady Commodore lead down to three going into the locker room at the half.

"We wanted to pick it up where we had left off. We finished the half the way we should have started it," said Rack.

The Lady Commodores got off to a good start in the second half with a three-pointer from Lauren Lueders, but Mississippi State quickly went on 6-0 run thanks to a couple of baskets by Rack and Lady Bulldog center Chanel Mokango.

The two teams traded baskets for the next three minutes. Then a Rima Kalonda put-back off a Lumanu miss sparked a 12-0 run that Rack capped off with a layup which pushed the Lady 'Dogs out to a 59-47 advantage.

The Lady Commodores chipped away at the margin bringing it to withing eight. But the Lady Bulldogs quickly regained control of the game and never relinquished the lead.

With the win, the Lady Bulldogs are now 2-0 in conference play with the 4th ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers visiting the Hump Sunday at 1 p.m. in another televised match up.

Post-Game Wrap-Up:

Star Watch:
Mississippi State - Mary Kathryn Govero did not start off well, going 2-of-8 and only scoring five points in the first half. However, she picked up her play in the second half, scoring nine points, finishing the game with 14 points. Govero, trying to make up for the loss of Tysheka Grimes, was more assertive offensively, taking 13 shots.
Vanderbilt - Jence Rhoads had a solid performance with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. She as usual only committed only two turnovers taking care of the basketball. Overall, Rhoads was 5-of-13 from the field, but, thanks to a great defensive effort by the lady Bulldogs, only 1-of-8 in the second half.

The Stats Don't Lie:
The most glaring stat from this game was the fact that Vanderbilt shot an eye-popping 68 percent in the first half but only 35.3 percent in the second half. The Lady Bulldogs were the exact opposite, shooting 39.5 percent in the first half and shooting 55.2 percent in the second half. The Lady Bulldogs' feat is particularly impressive considering they had a stretch where they shot 2-of-18 and then turned around and shot 20-of-30 in another stretch. The Lady Bulldogs, despite having a size disadvantage, out-rebounded the Lady Commodores 43-31, including 16-5 on the offensive boards.

Coach Fanning-Otis comments about those things - "A tale of two halves tonight. As we called timeouts in the first half, we saw that their (Vanderbilt) first points were layups. Vanderbilt does a tremendous job of moving the ball. They make you work hard. Every one of their kids could go for forty minutes, but if you are not broken down and you don't talk and you don't switch, then I don't think you can stay with them. We were not doing those things. They were kicking us there at the start, but somehow we managed to toughen up and settle down, and we played a lot better. You have to get the ball in the paint and find seams. The last ten possessions of the first half, we had some great stops. I felt like we did a better job in everything down the stretch. You know, free throw line, rebounding and taking care of the basketball are three important things. When a team shoots like Vanderbilt you have to do those things well, and I felt like we did that tonight."

The Lady Bulldogs took advantage of the Lady Commodores lack of rebounding, scoring 23 second-chance points. The Lady Commodores turned the ball over 16 times, some unforced something that is normally not seen from them but is one of main reasons the Lady Bulldogs were able to come back and win the game.

Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb-Young - "Give Mississippi State credit, when they turned it up, we couldn't keep up. We relaxed when they began to turn things up,"

Post Game Analysis:
I stated in my preview that the story of this game would be mental errors and that turned out to be true. Vanderbilt made many mental errors that caused the Lady Bulldogs an opportunity to claw back in the game.

Coach Balcomb-Young - "I think our mental focus was poor right out of the locker room. They made a run at the beginning of the second half and forced us to turn the ball over. The start of the second half is what killed us. We left people wide open, and you just can't do that."

The Lady Commodores may have had a lot of mental errors but the Lady Bulldogs pulled together as a team, led by Alexis Rack, who not only scored 31 points but showed great leadership on both sides of the ball.

Coach Fanning-Otis - "I thought (Alexis) Rack communicated well down the stretch, and that helped. We held them under forty percent in the second half and that is our goal. For the most part, we made pretty good decisions together."

Chanel Mokango wasn't the force I expected her to be but she connected when given opportunities even draining two threes.

Chanel Mokango - "Sometimes I am not making my shots so I post up inside instead. Other times I look to shoot, it just depends on how the game is going."

As I mentioned in my preview, it was going to be interesting to see what tempo Mississippi State would start the game. Coach Fanning-Otis started off having her team play at a slower, which the Lady Commodores took advantage thanks to their strengths, which are precision and timing. The slow pace allowed them to make close to 11 layups to begin the game, many uncontested. Coach Fanning-Otis took her team to task for their lack of effort on the defensive end. And they responded, buckling down on defense, which forced the Lady Commodores to make mistakes that helped the Lady 'Dogs come back and win the game.

Coach Fanning-Otis - "You have to change and step up. We had some people step up tonight. Vanderbilt pushes so hard that you have to be ready. So, we stayed with a smaller lineup and it worked for us. Rebounding and free-throw shooting were big for us. As we go on, these players have to continue to step up and gain confidence."

Jeremiah Short covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at moot2005@yahoo.com

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