By The Assocated Press
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State senior guard Alexis Rack wants to make it clear to those who think the Lady Bulldogs’ run to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament is a fluke: This team is the real deal.
The seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs (21-12) face third-seeded Florida State (28-5) on Sunday in the Dayton, Ohio regional. It is the first round of 16 appearance in MSU women’s hoops.
Rack scored 30 points in MSU’s second round victory over Ohio State and the Lady Bulldogs shot 55 percent from the field in the 20-point blowout.
When asked about a sports column that said lightning was unlikely to strike twice for the Bulldogs, Rack was confident.
“Show up to the game Sunday,” Rack said.
Rack said it was the Lady Bulldogs’ strong performance that put them in the round of 16, not a poor performance by Ohio State.
“People say that they played bad,” Rack said. “They didn’t just play bad. We took the game. It’s not like they gave it to us. Like I said, show up Sunday.”
Rack has scored 30 points or more five times this year, including a 43-point outburst in a victory over Maryland in December. She was the Southeastern Conference’s fourth leading scorer at 17.6 points per game.
However, going into the NCAA tournament, Rack was coming off a stretch where she scored in double-digits only once in a five-game span. One of those games, a 50-36 loss to Auburn, saw Rack’s lowest offensive output of the season with three points.
In the tournament, Rack has been more aggressive with 30 points against the Buckeyes following a 21-point showing in a first round victory over Middle Tennessee State.
Teammate Mary Kathryn Govero said the team is at its best when Rack elevates her level of play.
“Her shots have been falling,” Govero said. “She’s hitting shots outside, taking it to the rim and that opens up everything else on the team and it causes their defense to be on their toes. We’re at our best when Alexis is able to be a threat from the inside and outside.”
Head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis feels the same way about how Rack’s play has affected the Lady Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament.
“I think you saw Alexis, whether she was taking it to the rim, passing the ball or shooting threes, some things happened for her. Success leads to success.”
Fanning-Otis is no stranger to success, with six NCAA tournament appearances in her 15 seasons coaching at MSU. Going into her first round of 16, Fanning-Otis was quick to give the credit to her players when asked about this year’s postseason success.
“It’s a blessing for our program that we have this opportunity,” Fanning-Otis said. “It’s a credit to these young ladies … they’re the ones putting it on the floor.”
Rack said she was proud to do something no other MSU team has done in her senior year.
“It feels really good to make school history,” Rack said.
The winner of Sunday’s game between the Bulldogs and Seminoles will meet the winner of the other regional semifinal between Connecticut and Iowa.
While Rack’s hot shooting has gotten the Lady Bulldogs this far, Fanning-Otis said it’s Rack’s off nights when the team will show its biggest challenge.
“I think the greatest challenge is when you may not hit those shots … it’s how you play when that’s not happening that’s gonna define you,” Fanning-Otis said.