Struggling Lady Dogs head to No. 5 Lady Vols

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Di’Amber Johnson isn’t giving up on this season just yet.
It would be tempting to. Mississippi State’s women have lost seven in a row and are 0-6 in SEC play heading into today’s 6 p.m. game at No. 5 Tennessee (19-2, 7-0). The Lady Bulldogs have trouble scoring, have become turnover-prone, and still haven’t found great chemistry, not surprising considering all the new faces.
That Sweet 16 run a year ago? Ancient history.
A junior point guard, Johnson is one of the few veterans from that squad, but a first-year starter. MSU, which is 8-10 overall, has nine new players eligible for action this season, and the roster turnover has proved challenging.
“I thought we would pick things up a little quicker and faster and that we would be one of the top teams coming in,” Johnson said. “But it’s taking longer than I thought. I know we have a special team, and I know we have a lot of talent, and I know by the end of it all we’re going to be one of the top teams around here.”
Johnson, a former Daily Journal Player of the Year at Pontotoc, is trying to do her part. She leads the team in scoring (11.3 points per game) and assists (3.8 per game).
Her scoring has been up and down – she’s alternated between single digits and double digits the past 10 games – but Johnson feels she’s rounding into form.
“I feel like last year I wasn’t the very first option, and I wasn’t really looking to score a lot,” she said. “But I feel like I’m coming back to myself and being the player like I was in high school.”
Johnson and senior Mary Kathryn Govero (11.1 ppg) have been the most reliable players, but they need more help. MSU ranks last in the SEC in scoring (57.7 ppg) and field-goal percentage (37.0), and it’s averaged 19 turnovers in SEC play.
So there’s tons of room for improvement.
“I did not expect us to be in the situation that we’re in,” coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said, “but this is where we are, so how are we gong to get better, and how are we going to compete to finish the way we want to finish? That’s important. You have to stay focused on where you’re headed and evaluate where you’ve been, what you’re doing and how you’re going to get better.
“You have to get tougher, and as you do that, you find ways to win ballgames.”
Govero said the team’s attitude has been good despite the losing. She, Johnson and Fanning-Otis all sounded the same theme: Strides are being made.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” said Govero, “but at the same time we see we’ve made some improvements, we’ve made progress from the beginning until now. We just have to put two halves together, and then we’ll get the results we’re looking for.”

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