By John L. Pitts
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning saw her kind of game on Sunday afternoon as the Bulldogs' men beat Tennessee for the SEC championship.
"I'm very proud of our guys," she said. "They kept working hard until the final buzzer. At this time of year, you have to be tough down the stretch."
That's the same kind of intensity she's emphasized for her team this season. The payoff could come tonight, when the women's NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled.
ESPN will have its Selection Monday show at 6 p.m.
"Hopefully, after that we can turn our minds to who we're playing next and where we're going," she said.
It's no slam-dunk that Fanning's team (22-9) will make the field for the first time since 2003. ESPN's Bracketology feature has her Bulldogs among the last four teams to get in the field of 65, yet plugs them in as a No. 9 seed.
Under that scenario, they would be one of six SEC teams to make the field - joining No. 8 Auburn, No. 21 Florida, unranked LSU, defending national champion Tennessee and No. 15 Vanderbilt
"We feel like we did what we needed to do in the league," Fanning said. MSU went 8-6 in a conference regarded as the toughest in women's basketball, including a signature win against eventual SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt on Feb. 5 in Starkville.
Five MSU regular-season league losses came against Top 25 teams. Their RPI - a formula used by the NCAA to aid with seeding - is 44th, sixth among SEC teams.
"We've been in every game we've played, including tough games against Auburn and Tennessee when we weren't at full strength," Fanning said. "You just have to hope there haven't been too many upsets in the other league tournaments out there."
MSU played its last game on March 6, a 63-58 loss to LSU in the SEC tourney quarterfinals.
"We worked last week, Monday through Friday, and had some good practices," Fanning said. "We gave them Saturday and Sunday off and we'll get together and watch the selection show."
The last time the Bulldogs reached the NCAAs, in 2003, they went to Albuquerque, N.M., where they beat Manhattan and then lost to the home team, New Mexico, in the second round.
n Conference scores and blank tourney bracket, Page 11B