Jerica James (21) and Martha Alwal are freshmen learning the system at Mississippi State. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs are hoping all aspects of the game come together so they can win more basketball games down the stretch of the season.
There were some games where the Lady Bulldogs were not rebounding.
Once MSU got better on the boards, it began to turn the basketball over.
In last Sunday's 53-50 overtime win against Ole Miss, the Lady Bulldogs only had nine turnovers and forced 18, but were out-rebounded by the Lady Rebels by a sizable 62-48 margin.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis was satisfied about sacrificing one stat over the other as long as it came in a victory. The Lady Bulldogs have a 10-1 record when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent this season.
"Every win is a great win and we expect to win every ballgame," Fanning-Otis said. "Ultimately, you hope success breeds success, but every team is different and you have to get ready for the next one you play."
The next challenge comes against a program that MSU has never beaten.
The Lady Bulldogs host the 13th-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers tonight. The tip for the Comcast Sport South telecast is set for 8 p.m.
Even though MSU was enjoying an emotional victory against its rival, senior guards Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter couldn't look at the statistics because they knew how bad it was.
Johnson, who averages 16 points per game to lead the Lady Bulldogs, finally saw the rebounding margin against Ole Miss and knows that can't happen against Tennessee.
"We've got to work on these boards," Johnson said. "We know Tennessee is a lot longer, stronger and bigger."
Johnson and Porter are the projected starters at guard for MSU along with freshman Kendra Grant, while senior Catina Bett starts at center and freshman Martha Alwal starts at forward.
Alwal's play at times in the second half was instrumental in the comeback over the Lady Rebels with her offensive rebounding and putbacks.
Fanning-Otis said it's important to get more of the same so the Lady Bulldogs can have a chance to win more games down the stretch.
"It's amazing how those little things like taking a charge, or getting an offensive rebound for a putback are energy givers to a team," Fanning-Otis said. "We have to have more of those hustle plays."
MSU players like Alwal, Jerica James and former West Oktibbeha player Shamia Robinson are young and are getting used to SEC play.
"There's a learning process about these two weeks of February," Fanning-Otis said. "You have J.J. (James), you have Kendra, you have Martha and you have Shamia. Those kids have to go through things to learn to make plays.
"Shamia gave us energy for the possessions she was out there. She played better and more solid defense in the minutes she had."
The Lady Bulldogs look to improve on marks of 14-11 overall and 4-8 in the Southeastern Conference.
"We go one game at a time and find a way to beat Tennessee," Fanning-Otis said. "That's collectively what we have to do and what our vision has to be."
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