For the second time this season, Mississippi State all-American LaToya Thomas, Naismith Award Finalist, was named "SEC Player of the Week" after blistering the nets for 72 points in Lady Bulldog wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss."> For the second time this season, Mississippi State all-American LaToya Thomas, Naismith Award Finalist, was named "SEC Player of the Week" after blistering the nets for 72 points in Lady Bulldog wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss.">

MSU's Thomas, Massey honored; 'Fill The Hump'

Racking up their fourth and fifth SEC honors during the already-flourishing spring campaign, two Mississippi State Lady Dogs were selected Monday "Players of the Week" for their sparkling performances on the hardwood and on the diamond.<P> For the second time this season, Mississippi State all-American LaToya Thomas, Naismith Award Finalist, was named "SEC Player of the Week" after blistering the nets for 72 points in Lady Bulldog wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Mississippi State sophomore righthander Melissa Massey was named "SEC Pitcher of the Week" as the Bulldogs won the 26th annual Troy Cox Classic Championship at Las Cruces, N.M.

First-year Mississippi State softball coach Jay Miller applauded Massey's work in the circle.

"I thought Melissa did a great job for us this weekend," said Miller. "She pitched well."

Earlier during the hoops campaign, Thomas' counterpart junior all-American candidate Mario Austin of MSU coach Rick Stansbury's No. 20-ranked Bulldogs was tabbed "SEC Player of the Week" following the Dogs big win over the currently No. 3-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on a neutral court in New Orleans, La.

In addition, two members of MSU track coach Al Schmidt's nationally-ranked men and women - sophomore Tiffany McWilliams and junior Marquis Davis - were named "SEC Track Athletes of the Week" following record-shattering performances.

Climbing the charts perhaps faster than the "Dixie Chicks" with the Grammy's voters, Thomas has moved into the Top 10 on the NCAA career scoring list with 2,828 points.

More concerned with helping keep the Lady Dogs in the hunt for a high seeding in the SEC and the NCAA, Thomas was asked moments after the Lady Dogs had defeated in-state rival Ole Miss for the fourth straight time, if she knew what she needed to do to join the elite national group.

"I really didn't know how many points I needed, I just went out and tried to keep my focus, let the game come to me, and look for my teammates when they were open," said Thomas, now third on the SEC all-time career scoring list, surpassing Valerie Still of Kentucky ('83) who had 2,763 points.

The 6-2 Thomas had a fantastic week, something the Mississippi State family and hoop fans in general have become accustomed to over the past few years.

Mississippi State head coach Sharon Fanning, who recruited the Delta All-Star, has seen the talented senior develop into one of the best all-round players in the game today.

"LaToya does what she does well," said Fanning of the three-time all-American, adding it would be a nice gesture on the part of Mississippi State fans to come out this Thursday in Starkville on "Senior Night" at The Hump, in the Lady Dogs' final regular season home appearance, to say "Thank You LaToya and seniors Keisha Stringfellow and Renea Jones."

The Greenville, Miss., prep sensation opened the week with a 35 point outing as the Lady Dogs defeated Arkansas, 72-59, in a Top 25 match at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark., and capped the week with a 37-point outing as MSU swept Ole Miss with a 70-62 triumph Sunday at The Hump.

Thomas scored in a variety of ways against the Lady Rebs, sinking pull-up jumpers, putbacks, driving layups, and fadeaways that even "M.J." would have appreciated. She was perfect at the free throw line, canning (11-of-11). For the week, Thomas hit 92 percent of her free throws (23-of-25).

Ole Miss veteran coach Ron Aldy said after Sunday's game, she's (LaToya) going to get her points.

"We just wanted to try to make her earn 'em. The one think that I can say: If we don't play 'em in the tournament, we're not going to be sorry that we're not going to see her anymore as far as us playing Mississippi State. She's made a tremendous difference in her four years here as far as when we've played them."

Thomas is leading the SEC in scoring for the fourth straight season, averaging 25.6 ppg, something that not even the great "Pistol" Pete Maravich was able to achieve. The easy-going yet aggressive rim-attacking hoopster has scored 30-plus points in eight games this season. She surpassed Still on the career scoring list with her 35-point outing at Fayetteville.

Netting 37 points against Ole Miss, Thomas surpassed Andrea Congreaves of Mercer ('93) to move into the NCAA Top 10.

It's the second time this season that Thomas has received the "SEC Player of the Week" honor and marks the seventh time in her brilliant career in Starkville.

Ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press rankings released Monday, Mississippi State (20-6, 8-4 SEC) is fighting for one of the top four seeds in the SEC Tournament, as well as a favorable seeding in the NCAA.

The Lady Dogs next face their SEC counterparts, No. 14 Georgia of veteran coach Andy Landers, who they've had their share of success against since the arrival of Fanning in Starkville. However, MSU has only a tough, 76-71, loss at Athens, Ga., earlier this month on their minds.

No. 13 Georgia held off No. 21 Arkansas in its last outing, 69-60, as Alexis Kendrick made six straight free throws in the final minute to seal the win. Christi Thomas added 24 points.

"We've had some tremendous match-ups with Georgia, I say matchups, we've usually had a size disadvantage, but we've had some great games with them," noted Fanning, taking a look back at the last meeting (Feb. 6).

"Last game we were down, but we fought back to be in a position to win a game. They're a tremendous athletic team with good size and very good experience and some good young players that have gotten really great minutes in the last few games," added Fanning.

"So we have to play our best basketball. We're playing for third position in this league, we're playing for seeding in the SEC Tournament, we're playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament."

Fanning said the fans are going to be the "Sixth Person" for "Senior Night" at Humphrey Coliseum against the Georgians.

"So we need to 'Fill The Hump' for this important game," she said. "That's the way Mississippi State is going to take the next step!"

Hoping to see The Hump filled for some time now, Thomas said she believes she and her MSU Lady Bulldog teammates would respond in like fashion.

"We had a great crowd for LSU (6,000) and we need another big crowd. Hopefully, we can 'Fill The Hump'."

If you haven't already, invite a friend, a business associate, your next-door-neighbor, but by all means, get to The Hump Thursday night and cheer along with "Fanning's Fanatics" as MSU bids to settle a score with Georgia.

Mississippi State closes out the regular season Sunday, March 2 at Auburn. The SEC Tournament is March, 6-9, at Little Rock, Ark.


Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.

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