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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Husky Report Heads South: Mississippi State 55 - South Carolina 53 (February 11, 2010)

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Photo Caption: Alexis Rack is the player to watch for Mississippi State, who improved to 16-9 (7-5 in SEC play) with their win over South Carolina Thursday. Rack currently leads her team with an average of 19 points per game, to which she adds 4.6 assists, 3.4 boards, and a little over two steals per game.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Mississippi State Athletics Media Relations

By Jim Clark

There was simply too much snow up north, so Full Court’s “Husky Report” headed south to SEC country for some competitive basketball. Of course, in addition to the absence of white stuff, the other major difference was that there were no Connecticut Huskies in evidence.

There were, however, Mississippi State (Lady Bulldogs) and South Carolina (Gamecocks – really)—both part of a logjam in the middle of the SEC pack. At game time, six Southeastern Conference teams had six wins apiece. The top of the league, Tennessee at 9-1 and Kentucky at 8-2 should maintain separation over the last five games of the season, but the middle group (Ole Miss, Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia and these two) could shift around dramatically, with NCAA tournament implications too complicated to predict.

South Carolina has no seniors. Worth watching for the Gamecocks: Senior guard Valerie Naimima, the leading scorer for the team (at 15.9 points per game, she’s seventh in the conference in scoring), and we would guess (don’t know how to check!) the only Division I starter from Fiji (via Long Island University);  freshman Kelsey Bone, a big-body (too much so, by maybe 20 lbs.) 6’5” center who was widely recruited; and, of course, the incomparable Coach Dawn Staley, now in her third season at South Carolina. Staley looked stunning, and game fit, in a stylish draped pant suit. She yelled a lot, swore a few times at her frustrating team, and then would flash a sparking and genuine smile to her assistant coaches. In the (regrettably) nearly empty arena, we could clearly hear all of the coach’s directions from opposite the bench.

For Mississippi State, diminutive senior Alexis Rack is third in the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points per game, shooting 35.6 percent from three point land and averaging 2.3 steals per game. The Bulldogs also feature three starters from the Congo.

UConn basketball certainly has spoiled me. These teams play hard, but it is difficult to see much organization to their performance. No crisp half-court execution here. The first 10 minutes look like a playground game, albeit a highly athletic one. Kelsey Bone is bigger and appears stronger than anyone else on the floor, but her guards don’t get her the ball when she is free. “Run the floor” is obviously not a part of her training. She wears heavy knee braces on both sides, but has done so all season, while missing just two games. There are some very quick players on the floor, and they drive the lane, but never all the way to the hoop.  Drive to 10 feet, kick the ball out. Never go to the hoop. What’s up with that? (Maybe SEC officials call lots of charges in there, but you couldn’t see it in this game.)

South Carolina holds Mississippi State to 23 points in the half. Mississippi State holds South Carolina to 23 points in the half.

The Gamecocks need the game more, because the tough schedule Staley arranged has their overall record at just 13-10, despite the credible conference mark (6-5). Their No. 27 RPI will not likely be enough for an NCAA bid, unless the Gamecocks manage at least 16 wins. Their upcoming schedule has an easy win at miserable Arkansas, then difficult Kentucky, and two more of the six-win crew.

Mississippi State, on the other hand has an RPI of 50, but a 15-9 overall record (6-6 in-conference). They have two likely wins (Auburn, Arkansas) and two against the gang of six. Gerry Palm has them as a seven-seed in his latest bracket. (South Carolina is “last one in.”)

Oddly, the best pure shooter on the floor seems to be the Bulldogs’ 6’5” Chanel Mokango, who has a nice 12-footer, and even hit a three as the shot clock expired to start an 8-2 run that separated the teams for a time with 4:50 left. Carolina kept turning the ball over, however, and could not get closer than three points as the game ran down.

Alexis Rack played like a leader down the stretch, driving to the hole for a key bucket when South Carolina pulled within three. Then, up five with 1:05 left, Carolina’s Nainima drove the length of the floor, while the entire Mississippi State defense parted to allow an uncontested layup. Though up just three, Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis then chose to run the clock. The Bulldogs turned it over. Nainima drove the lane (traveling, I thought), made a bucket, was fouled and then had the free throw discarded by teammate Charenee Stephens’ lane violation, leaving Staley’s team trailing by just one point.

What followed was just completely inexplicable: With a foul to give and down just one point, the Gamecocks allowed nearly 17 seconds to tick off the clock before fouling. They finally sent Rack to the line with 5.5 seconds, and she kindly missed the second, leaving the margin at two points as South Carolina called a timeout with 2.9 remaining. They certainly could have used those 17 seconds. They got the in-bounds to Kelsey Bone, who spun into the lane and got a decent look. But typical of the freshman’s performance under pressure throughout the contest, her three-footer was nowhere close to falling, and South Carolina lost, 55-53. The difference between the teams was a silly but critical lane violation. It may have cost the Gamecocks a tournament bid.

The teams combined for an evenly distributed 36 turnovers, and shot a combined 39 percent. The Gamecocks out-rebounded their opponent by 12 but still lost by two. Bone was 3-12 from the field, and never got to the line. For Mississippi State, Mokango had 15 points on 7-12 shooting, and Rack another 15 on 6-14.

Mokango appeared to be a sea of calm in an otherwise frenetic game, calmly dropping key shots as though she was alone on the court. “When I’m out on the wing,” she declared, “especially when I play bigger posts, I know I’ll hit that shot. Even when I may miss one,” she continued, “I’m sure I will hit the next one.”

South Carolina’s Stephens bravely came to the interview room. “It was just a mistake,” she said of her lane violation. “I’m not really wanting to think about that now.” Nainima remarked, supportively, “We made lots of mistakes during the game.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Coach Dawn Staley announced, clearly frustrated by the loss. “We lost with poor preparation,” she continued. “That’s my job. To get them right, and they weren’t right today.”

On the 17 seconds without a foul, Staley explained, “Mississippi State was turning the ball over a lot. We wanted to give them an opportunity to turn the ball over. We felt that we had plays to win in the time left, even if she made both free throws. “It didn’t come down to those two plays,” she continued. “It came down to offensive rebounds when they got the ball to their shooters; it came down to not playing as hard as we could.”

Present at the game: New York Liberty Coach Anne Donovan, “Looking at everybody,” she said. “I live in Charlotte,” she continued, “so I’m here a lot. I’d never seen Mississippi State live, so I wanted to come on up.” (Charlotte is about an hour southeast of Columbia, where the game was played.)

Bottom line: It was great to see a game decided in the last seconds, for the first time this season. This more normal basketball environment was fun. But then again, there were fewer than 1000 people in the arena. The official attendance was ridiculously announced as 2,252. Last night’s men’s basketball game drew 12,755 in the same arena.

But I’ve never seen a game decided on a lane violation before, and it was sad to see this young team, led by one of my basketball idols, lose in such a bizarre fashion.

I’m back to the land of the snow Friday, to another meeting with the Connecticut Huskies, their last game on campus this year. Tina Charles will be inducted in the “Huskies of Honor” on Saturday afternoon, when the Huskies will spank St.John’s in a game almost certainly over at the half.


Originally published Sat, February 13, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.