By DANNY P. SMITH
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis wants the best out of her team.
She won't settle for everything less.
When considering that MSU beat Utah, a traditionally-strong program out of the Mountain West Conference, by nine points 61-52 last Friday, that would usually make for a happy coach.
Not exactly in Fanning-Otis' case.
Even though she is happy where the Lady Bulldogs are at 5-2, Fanning-Otis wants more progress in certain specific areas.
"Wins are great, but are we being the best basketball team we can be?" Fanning-Otis asked. "Are we becoming a tough team, and are we a communicating team? That's what it's going to take to be in postseason play and what it's going to take for this team to take the next step. Those are expectations we are trying to communicate."
That's what Fanning-Otis expressed to her players following the Utah victory and would like to see those points starting to come about tonight when MSU travels to play the University of Southern Mississippi. The tip in Hattiesburg is set for 7 p.m.
The Lady Bulldogs are coming off a season where they finished tied for third in the Southeastern Conference standings with a 9-7 record, had an overall mark of 21-13 and advanced all of the way to the NCAA Sweet 16.
The standard is set for MSU and Fanning-Otis doesn't want to go backward.
"I don't want us to be complacent," Fanning-Otis said. "Toughness is the word we've been discussing and the energy we have to have.
"When things are going great, you make a big shot and you feed off that in a positive way. It's how you handle yourself in adverse situations that's going to define you."
Whether it's sprinting to the free-throw line, or playing offense and defense, Fanning-Otis said it's important to be ready for what's next on the court.
Junior guard Diamber Johnson takes that to mean that when the Lady Bulldogs get a team down, they just don't need to settle for an eight, nine or 10 point win.
"If we can beat you by 25, we need to beat you by 25," Johnson said. "We don't need the game close. (We need to be) winning, closing out, finishing and not playing down to the level of competition we're playing."
Johnson leads the Lady Bulldogs with an average of 14.3 points per game, while senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero scores 12.4 points per outing. Govero didn't score against Utah.
In Govero's defense, she is battling back from a badly turned ankle against Louisiana Tech, but Fanning-Otis said it's important for her to help MSU in other ways when she's not scoring.
Fanning-Otis also knows that Govero can't do it alone.
"We need close to five people in double figures scoring and rebounding," Fanning-Otis said. "The post positions are going to have to rebound and get two people close to double-doubles there. That's something we really need."
The expected starting lineup for the Lady Bulldogs against the Lady Golden Eagles is Govero, Johnson and Porsha Porter at the guards, Ashley Brown at forward and Judith Tabala at center.
Fanning-Otis knows Southern Miss will present another challenge for MSU.
"Every game is different, matchups are different and the strengths of a particular team are different," Fanning-Otis said. "We have to be wise to that. Winning is a learning process. It's an effort and work ethic. It's the team chemistry together and it's also recognition of what's on the floor. If a team has a strength, you take that away.
"We've talked about effort, toughness and continuing to grow as a team and hopefully, we will progress as a basketball team."