MSU seeks first win against Lady Vols today

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Tennessee is little more than the next challenge for Alexis Rack.
She’s already had to handle a heavier load in the Mississippi State backcourt due to a preseason injury to Marneshia Richard. Then top rebounder Tysheka Grimes went down with a foot injury a few days ago, and freshman reserve Ashlie Billingslea is out for the year for an unspecified medical issue.
No problem. In Thursday’s game against No. 17 Vanderbilt, Rack scored 31 points as the Lady Bulldogs pulled off a 90-76 upset. It improved them to 11-4 overall, 2-0 in SEC play heading into today’s game against No. 4 Tennessee (13-1, 1-0).
Tipoff at Humphrey Coliseum is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be televised by the SEC Network and streamed live at ESPN360.com.
Rack, a senior point guard, is the engine that drives MSU. She’s averaging 20.4 points per game, second in the SEC, and 4.5 assists per game (fourth).
“She’s becoming a more focused player,” coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “I think that she’s learning about her team every game, what we need to do to win.”
Rack is quick to deflect credit, and she’s certainly not doing it alone. Junior Mary Kathryn Govero scored a career-high 22 points in a 73-58 win at Auburn one week ago. Senior guard Armelie Lumanu is her usual versatile self, averaging 14.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Starting for Grimes last time out was senior Rima Kalonda. Today’s starter at that forward spot will be a game-time decision.
“We’re kind of used to having to step up and play different rotations,” Rack said. “It hasn’t been too much of a difference for me to step up, because everybody’s elevated their game. The whole team has adjusted well.”
MSU must be especially sharp today. It’s 0-30 all-time against Tennessee. The Lady Bulldogs came tantalizingly close to an upset last season in Starkville, but UT escaped with a 63-56 win.
The Pat Summitt-led Lady Vols are paced by Angie Bjorklund, who’s scoring 16.5 points per game.
“Tennessee is a strong basketball team, a balanced team, a big team,” Fanning-Otis said.
It’s going to take a little something extra for MSU to get over the hump against the traditional power. Rack knows it.
“I think we just need to stay focused,” she said. “It’s just those one or two possessions where we don’t do our job on one little, small detail, and just staying focused through the whole game, playing 40 minutes.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.