The Mississippi State women's coaching staff have been pushing junior point guard Katia May to improve her play.
Even though there are still some things they'd like to see her do better, May took a step in the right direction against the Ole Miss Rebels on Sunday.
May hit 6-of-13 shots from the field for 15 points and helped the Bulldogs defeat the Rebels 72-57 in Southeastern Conference women's basketball action at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU head coach Vic Schaefer was happy to see the effort from May and wishes he could have bottled some of it up to use later.
"She is a great kid and our staff has been on her pretty hard," Schaefer said. "Some people say that we've got to be careful with her and they are probably right, but there has to be some point where she's got to get it and understand the responsibility of being a point guard. It comes with the position and she's got to run the team and (Sunday) she did that a little bit.
"At one point, she called a play and we scored on it. Great. I give her credit for that. She had six turnovers and we have to cut down on those."
It wasn't just May's offensive play that helped the Bulldogs, but also her defense on Ole Miss point guard Valencia McFarland that was key.
McFarland, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection, only hit 2-of-13 field goal attempts for seven points. She averaged 11.9 points going into the game, so the output against May was almost five points below her average.
Schaefer was concerned about the matchup, but was glad to see May was up to the challenge against the top Rebel.
"We were worried about the size factor, putting a bigger and quicker guard on (May)," Schaefer said. "(May) did a good job of taking (McFarland's) right hand away from her and that's what we talked about at halftime."
May accepted the challenge from Schaefer to produce one of her best defensive games of the season against McFarland.
"Coach said she's one of the top players in the SEC and she is a great player," May said. "I just had to keep her in front. I just anticipated her going right. Coach said we needed to stop her if we were going to have a chance of winning."
Ole Miss acting head coach Brett Frank was impressed with the way May knocked McFarland off her game.
"Nothing came easy for Valencia," Frank said. "You could see (May's) confidence growing and knocked down some big shots. She is a young player that will have a good future."
May was one of four MSU players to score in double digits as Martha Alwal delivered 23 points, Kendra Grant added 20 points and Carnecia Williams had 11 points before fouling out with 4:50 remaining in the game.
After getting his first taste of the rivalry, Schaefer was proud of how his team responded.
It was the sixth-straight win for the Bulldogs in the series.
"They played hard for us and the fans that came out," Schaefer said. "This was by far the biggest crowd of the season and they were into it. It was our first SEC victory as a staff, the team and the program at Mississippi State. I couldn't be prouder of everybody involved in this win and it came against Ole Miss. I thought the effort was like it should be.
"I was not impressed with the first half. We had issues with rebounding and their dribble penetration, but we were better in the second half."
MSU struggled to a 26-point output in the first half, then exploded for 46 points in the second half. The Bulldogs shot 72 percent from the field in the second half on the way to their 72 points.
Alwal put together 12 rebounds to go along with her points for her 10th double-double of the season.
"Martha got some big rebounds late where she came out of no where," Schaefer said. "She's averaging a double-double for the season without even trying. There's no telling how good that kid can be and it's up to me to get it out of her."
Alwal gave MSU its only lead of the first half at 9-7 with 14 minutes remaining in the first half.
Ole Miss came right back with a flurry and took a 12-9 lead on a 3-point field goal by Diara Moore with 12:50 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs worked ties at 18-18 on a 3-pointer by Jerica James and at 20-20 on a bucket by Williams, but a score by Monique Jackson, her only points of the first half, helped the Rebels to a 32-26 advantage at halftime.
MSU executed a 6-0 run in the second half to take a 42-36 lead with 14:16 left in the game.
Even though the Rebels made a couple of late charges, the Bulldogs didn't give up the lead from that point.
MSU improved to 9-11 overall and 1-6 in the SEC, while Ole Miss fell to 8-12 and 1-6.
"I admire the job coach Schaefer is doing," Frank said. "He's doing an excellent job of changing the culture and getting them to buy into a system, which is something we're trying to do as well. He does a tremendous job and we wish him all the best."
The Bulldogs go on the road on Thursday to meet the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in Knoxville.