By DANNY P. SMITH
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs have one of the best defensive teams in the Southeastern Conference.
It doesn't do the Lady Bulldogs much good if they can't generate any offense.
Mississippi State is second in the SEC and in the top 40 nationally in scoring defense by allowing 55.1 points per game. The Lady Bulldogs are fourth in the conference by allowing opponents to shoot 34.3 percent from the field.
Being able to hold teams to below 60 points is one thing, but MSU women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis knows her squad has to perform well enough on offense to make the effort worth it.
"We have to keep plugging from a defensive standpoint and if you hold teams to 61 points, you can win some ballgames," Fanning-Otis said. "How are we going to score more than 61 (points)? That's got to be a goal every day we come out in practice. We have to see each other and get this assist-turnover (ratio) better.
"A mature team finds a way to keep energy. They find a way to keep defending and rebounding the ball, pushing the ball and finding shots. A mature team will find that. They'll keep the game 0-0 if that's the way it's going to be. You've got to be mentally tough and find ways to win ballgames. If that's with defense, then so be it. Make a commitment to that and find a way to get it done."
The Lady Bulldogs (8-6 overall, 0-2 SEC) dug themselves a 30-17 halftime hole against the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks Sunday before making it interesting in the second half, only to lose a 61-57 decision at home.
One of the areas which disappointed Fanning-Otis the most was players failing to find open holes against an opponent.
"We still didn't see people," Fanning-Otis said. "We had weak-side people open and we had others who didn't come meet the ball. There's not much you draw up other than having to penetrate before somebody traps. We have to pull away, reverse the ball and then attack it. It takes courage to attack.
"There is a lot of quickness in this league and Arkansas is just one of the teams that can press you and trap you in a halfcourt setting. Our footwork a lot of times and positioning is what's hurting us now."
As MSU gets ready to host another SEC game, this time against the LSU Lady Tigers on Thursday, Fanning-Otis hopes it takes the shortcomings of the Arkansas game, learn from them and get better moving forward.
Fanning-Otis understands the Lady Bulldogs are new to each other with 11 new players on the roster and three of those joining the team in December.
"We don't know each other as a team," Fanning-Otis said. "(Catina) Bett was on the scout team until the (December) 11th. Darriel Gaynor is just getting back in. Her step is not there, but her understanding is and she'll get better every day and (Ashley) Newsome hasn't played basketball in four years. Those people have been put in roles that are very important."
Fanning-Otis won't use being new as an excuse and knows the rest of the league won't wait for MSU to catch up.
"You are in the SEC right now so 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."