By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
For at least 40 minutes, Sharon Fanning-Otis hopes she and her team can put the emotion aside and focus on keeping the season alive.
Today could be the final game of a 36-year head coaching career for Fanning-Otis. Her Mississippi State squad (14-15), seeded 10th, takes on No. 7 seed Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Tipoff is 2:30 p.m.
“In this league, it takes 40 minutes, and that’s what I’m asking them for as we go into this tournament, is to play with heart and passion for 40 minutes and stay focused on that,” Fanning-Otis said. “And if we do, I think there is such tremendous parity, I think anybody can win this tournament.”
It’s been a tough go for MSU this season, the 17th with Fanning-Otis at the helm. The Lady Bulldogs have lost nine of their last 10 and four in a row.
It was just over a week ago that Fanning-Otis announced her retirement. It was an emotional day, and it’s been hard for both her and the team to put that behind.
“You have to try to stay focused, but it is difficult,” she said. “It’s been a distraction this last week somewhat, I think, for everyone. But we’re pulling together and are going to give it our best effort that we possibly can.”
MSU faces a Vanderbilt team that’s 21-8 and won the regular-season meeting, 65-59 in Starkville.
‘A new season’
Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner feels the same way as Fanning-Otis about the tournament being wide open. Even though her Lady Rebels are 12-17 and finished last in the SEC standings, Ladner struck an optimistic tone.
“For us, our kids are going to have to have the approach that it’s a new season, it’s a four-game season,” she said. “Records are not really that important, and we’re just going to have to be able to do something we’ve not been able to do throughout the regular season – finish games.”
Ole Miss, the No. 12 seed, will take on No. 5 seed Arkansas (21-7) at 6:30 today. The Lady Razorbacks are a team Ladner said could win the tournament – they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games.
The top four teams get byes, and those are Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU. The MSU-Vandy winner draws Tennessee in the second round, while the Ole Miss-Arkansas winner will face LSU.
Kentucky, the top seed, is coached by MSU alumnus Matthew Mitchell.
“As you can see, we suffered three losses, so it’s certainly possible for us to lose, and we are aware of that,” Mitchell said. “Having said that, I also think that we have a team that can beat anybody in the tournament.”