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By DANNY P. SMITH
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis likes the way her front line is developing.
With starters Judith Tabala and Ashley Brown, the emergence of former volleyball player Ashley Newsome and Katina Bett joining the mix this week, the Lady Bulldogs are beginning to see some depth in the post.
"With Katina Betts coming into a rotation, we're anticipating that and adds another player with experience, communication and understanding of the game," Fanning-Otis said. "Ashley Newsome will be playing some at a 4 and a 5.
"With (Newsome) coming in and understanding a little bit better and Bett coming into a lineup, it's what we need from a depth standpoint. Hopefully, this will give us time to focus a little bit better."
MSU (4-2) needs to be on top of its game today when it hosts the University of Utah at Humphrey Coliseum. The first game of a doubleheader with the men's team, which plays East Tennessee State University, begins at 4 p.m.
Bett, a 6-foot-5 center, transferred from the University of Kentucky last season and has been sitting out while becoming eligible. She adds more size in the post with the 6-5 Tabala.
Brown believes the addition of Bett can only help the Lady Bulldogs.
"Practice-wise, we need to stay focused and we have one of our players coming back so that's going to be a key to that game as well," Brown said.
Brown and Tabala, both juniors, have started all six games for MSU in the post, while junior Porsha Porter, junior Diamber Johnson and senior Mary Kathryn Govero have been the starting guards.
Govero leads the Lady Bulldogs in scoring at 14.5 points per game, while Johnson also averages in double digits at 12.7 points per outing. Brown paces the rebounding effort by pulling down 11.2 boards per game.
Not knowing exactly how Govero would respond to a badly turned ankle a couple of weeks ago, Fanning-Otis said some players have had to grow up quickly. She saw some of that with Brown and Newsome in a 66-60 victory against North Texas.
"We had to make a lot of decisions as a young team together that we haven't had to make," Fanning-Otis said. "I was pleased down the stretch (against North Texas) with some time and score. I felt like we took some shots then and just became aware of each other."
It will take a better effort for MSU to knock off Utah (4-6), which is coming off a tough 71-68 overtime loss to Idaho State. Sophomore Iwalani Rodrigues has averaged 25.3 points over the last three games for the Lady Utes and nearly tied an NCAA record for consecutive three-point field goals with 13-straight by going 7-for-7 against Westminster and started the game against Idaho State 6-for-6 before missing. The record is 14.
For the season, Rodrigues is shooting 51 percent from three-point range and averages 11.9 points per outing.
Brown, who prides herself on using hustle to get rebounds and scoring on putbacks, knows that must continue if the Lady Bulldogs are to defeat Utah.
"Pushing the ball more in transition and attacking is what we've been working on," Brown said.