Florida frustrates Thomas, beats Mississippi State

Lady Bulldogs begin

the SEC season with

unimpressive 0-1 mark.

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE - Last year's Southeastern Conference Cinderella of women's basketball started the conference season with a thud Thursday night.

No. 14 Florida frustrated LaToya Thomas in the first half, then dominated the paint to keep Mississippi State at bay and knock off the 17th-ranked Lady Bulldogs 82-70 before a crowd of 1,889 at Humphrey Coliseum.

The sophomore Thomas, the league's scoring leader, didn't touch the ball on State's first five possessions. When the ball did touch her hands, she didn't have her touch.

Thomas was just 3-for-9 from the field in the first half and forced shots at times. She went on to finish with 22 points, just two below her average. But with Florida center Tamara Stocks leading the defensive charge, the Gators built a 41-32 halftime lead.

"My shots just weren't falling, and I really didn't play a great game," Thomas said.

"LaToya took a couple of shots with two people on her, but the ball needs to reverse in our offense," MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. "We didn't have good shot selection early."

With Thomas' points hard to come by, junior Jennifer Fambrough scored 27, the most since her freshman season.

Thomas found a little more room to move in the second half, but the Lady Bulldogs (9-3, 0-1 SEC) couldn't keep the Gators (12-1, 1-0) off the glass.

Junior forward Naomi Mobley and freshman backup Vanessa Hayden, a 6-foot-4 wide body, combined for 21 points - on 12-for-21 shooting - and 22 rebounds.

Hayden had 10 points and 10 boards in only 15 minutes of work. She was huge down the stretch as the Gators turned back MSU runs time after time.

The Lady Bulldogs had trimmed a 13-point deficit to four, but Hayden's two free throws made it a 71-65 game with 4 minutes, 59 seconds left.

After Thomas missed a pull-up jumper seconds later, Hayden scored a reverse layup with an offensive rebound to make it 73-66. State didn't threaten again.

Fanning says even with three returning starters, her team is a work in progress. Cynthia Hall has moved to the point from the off guard, and has struggled to score as much as last year. Keisha Stringfellow and Meadow Overstreet are first-year starters, and three freshmen are getting significant playing time. At one point Thursday the freshmen were all on the floor together.

"When it was a four-point game with (about) four minutes left we had that look of oh no' when we needed to be able to make that kick," Fanning said.

Florida, which has wins against No. 11 Penn State and No. 7 Rutgers this season, out-rebounded the Lady Bulldogs 50-38 and held State to 35.4 percent shooting.

"We have a lot of maturing that has to take place, and it's going to take time for us," Fanning said. "We lost to a very good basketball team that is deserving of its ranking."

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