MSU, Auburn women look to improve
Even though both teams had their share of challenging non-conference matchups, Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis and Nell Fortner of Auburn knows it doesn't compare to what the programs are facing now in the Southeastern Conference.
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The Lady Tigers didn't shy away from playing against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents such as Duke and Florida State in the pre-SEC part of the schedule.
Although Auburn lost those encounters, Fortner believes there were lessons learned from the experiences.
"We have more fight in us and I think we have grown," Fortner said. "It was a tough non-conference schedule and I think no matter who you play or who you lose to, it can get to a team's confidence and I think we struggled with that even though the losses were close to Duke and Florida State."
The Lady Tigers try to become a more consistent team, while the Lady Bulldogs attempt to end a five-game losing streak when the two squads meet tonight in an SEC Western Division matchup at Humphrey Coliseum. The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Fanning-Otis continues to look for MSU to improve on the things it takes to compete in the rugged SEC.
"It's a process that's going to have to take place," Fanning-Otis said. "The main thing is that we become more stubborn, tougher, we practice harder and that we learn.
"We're seeing different teams every time you go out. It's a different team and a different look. There's a different player you have to guard and the scouting report is a little bit different. We have to learn each other better, be tougher, be able to stay focused, but play harder.
"If we do that, learn the game, then we'll find ways to win ballgames."
Diamber Johnson averages 11.7 points per game to lead the Lady Bulldogs (8-8 overall, 0-4 SEC).
Auburn (11-7, 4-1) is led by sophomore Blanche Alverson's 11.9 points per outing and senior Alli Smalley's 11.8 points per contest, but Fortner likes the minutes that freshmen Tyrese Tanner and Jassany Williams have given the Lady Tigers.
Fortner said those players have enabled Auburn to bring a style to the court to her liking.
"I like what we have and what we're able to do as far as having a quicker team, a defensive team and a team that can score a few more points on the floor," Fortner said. "We have a lot of variety. It's just a matter of being able to use all of that variety every game.
"We don't have that player who will give us 20 (points) every night, but to have that balanced scoring is important to us. If we can do that, it will work in our favor."
The only SEC loss for the Lady Tigers was to Vanderbilt.
"We played well in spurts (against Vanderbilt), but just couldn't quite get over the hump," Fortner said. "Outside of that, I'm pleased with the start and hopefully we can continue to get better as this conference season moves along.
"It's tough to play in this conference. Hopefully, my young kids have grown up a lot and are ready to really contribute during the season."