Mississippi State - This wasn't one of Alexis Rack's best days as a Bulldog only connecting on 4-24 from the field and scoring 11 points on the night. Rack kept shooting, hoping that she would eventually start making her shots, as any true shooter would do when their shot is not falling but her shot never fell. She did manage six assist and four steals on the day helping out in other areas.
"I just had to continue playing and keep shooting," said Rack. "It is like I always tell my teammates, just keep shooting and they will eventually fall. They usually start falling but they just did not today. I just could not get in rhythm."
Kentucky - Victoria Dunlap was a force in the game, scoring 19 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds. Dunlap was dominating down low. showing why she is considered on of the best players in the SEC.
"She is a very tough player, has a lot of heart and has a great attitude," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. "Talented players like that who also work really hard are very rare and she's a special player. She has really stepped up this week. She had a great night on the road at LSU and an incredible afternoon today. She's really gritty and really tough; I think she really went to battle today."
The Stats Don't Lie:
This is one game the Bulldogs could have won but didn't. And while there were a couple of stats that were very similar, the Lady Wildcats had the best of it on the rest of the stat sheet. The Lady Wildcats had 26 points in the paint while the Lady Bulldogs had 24. Both teams had eight points apiece in the paint. The Lady Wildcats began to dominate the stat sheet after that as they out rebounded the Lady Bulldogs 47-39 and they also took 17 more free throws, converting 78.6 percent of them.
"They like to penetrate and get lots of foul shots," said Lumanu. "We have to do the same. We have to penetrate and get to the line. That is part of practice. We should work on free throws during practice and we should also work on penetrating. We have to practice to work on things that did not work today."
Neither team shot particularly well from the field but the Lady Wildcats were a bit more selective shooting only 55 shots while the Lady Bulldogs shot 72. The Lady Bulldogs percentage is a bit deceiving as Rack's 4-24 performance destroyed the overall percentage. Mississippi State, without Rack's performance, would have shot 41.6 percent compared to 33.3 percent with her shooting day.
"Like I said they will guard you hard," said MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. "They will trap you a lot and they will make you work for 40 minutes. I thought some of our turnovers in the first half were just our mistakes. You cannot have mental mistakes and beat a good basketball team. They are a good basketball team with good experience at all the positions. Their pressure had a lot to do with our shooting percentage. I expected our defensive pressure to have something to do with their shooting percentage. It ended up that they got the upper hand today."
The Lady Bulldogs at home always come across as the superior even if they are playing a ranked opponent and that didn't change versus the Lady Wildcats. The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Wildcats tried to move tempo but went about different ways as the Lady Wildcats decided to penetrate while the Lady Bulldogs decided to shoot mostly from the outside, Mississippi State, even with Chanel Mokango in early foul trouble, started the game off strong, thanks to the play of Armelie Lumanu who had ten points and six rebounds in 19 minutes of play in the first half.
"All the time in practice coach is telling me to be strong," said Mokango. "Coach tells me to be smart and not to foul. I missed a lot in the first half because of foul trouble. I had to tell coach that I was ok and that I would make sure not to get that fifth foul. I would have been able to help my team more if I was not in foul trouble."
The second half was a completely different story. In that half, the Lady Wildcats started to dominate the game due to the play of Victoria Dunlap, who scored 14 points and grabbed seven boards in the second half. The Lady Bulldogs could not buy a bucket in the second half, shooting just 30.6 percent. But give credit to the Lady Wildcats for the kind of effort that causes a team to shoot so poorly.
"As you watch them defend, they are a team that really battles," said Fanning-Otis. "They guard you as hard as any team we have played all year. Their depth is a big factor because they can rotate five new people in with some decent experience. Three of their sophomores that have transferred in are really juniors by trade. I think they bring them some good experience. You have to battle because you know that every possession is so important. You cannot let down one possession in this league and win a ball game. In the second half when they were laying it up or having a wide open shot, I didn't see anybody rotating. Also, we were not connecting. We were not talking, we were not working and we didn't have each others' backs. You have also got to rebound better then we did and you have to have a better shooting percentage."
The Lady Bulldogs tend to go as Alexis Rack goes and she couldn't get it going, possibly having her worst performance as a Lady Bulldogs. Rack may receive a lot of criticism for this game but she is the one player on the team that has the ability to score in a variety of ways. And sometimes that leads her to try to create offense even if her shot is not falling.
"I think with Alexis you have to be fortunate on some days because some days she is just really unstoppable," said Mitchell. "I would have to look at the tape to be honest with you to see how good of a job we really did on her. I thought we tried. I thought we were there with her, trying to make her put it down. I didn't think she got a lot of wide open threes today. A lot of those were guarded threes and we talked about that. Early in the game she got one that didn't go down, but after that I thought we were pretty good. She's a very explosive player though."
Player of the Game:
Victoria Dunlap gets my player of the game because she was the main reason that Kentucky was able to come away with the victory tonight with her stellar play down low scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 boards. She also blocked two shots and connected on 7-8 from the free throw line.
Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org