Miss. State stresses consistency, intensity, focus

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - When asked what will Mississippi State have to do to advance in the NCAA tournament, Sharon Fanning's answer was obvious - "win and stay away from losing."

Of course, the coach of 11th-seeded Lady Bulldogs was joking at the time.

But Fanning wasn't laughing Tuesday when she told reporters her team has to be consistent, intense and focused on defense when Mississippi State (22-9) plays No. 6 seed Texas (21-11) Saturday in the first round of the Berkeley Regional in Columbus, Ohio.

"Texas is a very athletic team. They have had a couple conference (SEC) opponents in Tennessee and Ole Miss," Fanning said.

"I've seen some of those games and...they have some great experience. It's going to be a team that you're going to have to guard hard and they're quick to the rim."

It will be the first meeting between the two schools. And both teams have headed in opposite directions in the last eight games, with Mississippi State winning six and Texas losing six of its last eight, including a loss to Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament.

This is the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Lady Bulldogs since 2003. Mississippi State played in the WNIT the past two seasons.

Fanning says the leadership of Alexis Rack has made a big difference. The 5-7 junior guard is averaging 14.6 points and 4.3 assists for the Lady Bulldogs.

"One of things that Alexis needed to step up to was more consistency baseline to baseline," Fanning said. "She has been a player where the offense has sparked her intensity and I've seen her in several key games this year where maybe the 3 wasn't falling but she was able to focus and be more mentally tough from a defensive standpoint."

Texas is making its second straight appearance in the tournament and 23rd overall. Coach Gail Goestenkors has led Texas to two NCAA Championship game appearances, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and nine Sweet Sixteens.

The Longhorns are led by guards Brittainey Raven (13.3 ppg) and Kathleen Nash (11.4 ppg) and they beat Tennessee and Ole Miss in the regular season. Mississippi State beat the Lady Rebels twice, but dropped two to Tennessee.

"It's nice to have a common opponent to see how they were played," Goestenkors told reporters Tuesday. "We've got several tapes on Mississippi State, which is good. We'll break those down and see some things that we can hopefully take advantage of, and some things we have to be weary of."

Like Fanning, Goestenkors used the word "athletic" to describe the opponent.

"They're fifth in the nation in blocked shots, so they're extremely athletic and get up and down the floor," Goestenkors said.

The winner of the Mississippi State-Texas game advances to play the Ohio State-Sacred Heart winner on Monday and Fanning says Mississippi State will have to play "our best basketball" to move past the first round. "And we have to be a more consistent basketball team," Fanning said.

"We still haven't played for 40 minutes like we're going to have to at this time of the year. So hopefully, it is something that we'll step up to."