Now It Counts

Matt Insell and the women's basketball team made their public debut Sunday, but the 74-59 win against CBU didn't count. It was an exhibition game. Today at 5 p.m., things start for real.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

Ole Miss hosts Jacksonville State to open the Insell era at Ole Miss. His goals have always been clear.

"We want to bring this program back to where it was," he has repeatedly said, embracing the past traditions, coaches, and players for Ole Miss women's basketball.

Those winning traditions have been dormant since Ole Miss advanced to its fifth Elite Eight in 2007. Last season the Rebels were 9-20, and Insell arrived after that.

They aren't putting any limitations on what they can accomplish this season. And they are ready to get things rolling.

"I want to see how far we can go and leave our mark on this school with this team," said senior Diara Moore. "We want to get to the NCAA Tournament."

Insell said he plans to get Moore involved additionally in what they are trying to do.

"We're going to play her more at the four spot, sometimes going with four guards," he said of the 5-foot-7 guard. "I've been successful in the past going with four guards. Diara is a very physical player that can play the four and can create some matchup problems offensively but can also help us with the rotations. She is a great anticipator."

The Rebels host Jacksonville State today at 5 p.m. The Gamecocks return eight players from the 2012-13 squad, led by juniors Miranda Cantrell and Candace Morton.

Cantrell finished her sophomore season as JSU's leading scorer at 8.9 points per game and bolstered that scoring average by finishing the season with seven consecutive double figure scoring games. The 6-foot post player established a new career high with 18 points against Morehead State on Feb.18. Cantrell tallied 12 double digit scoring games a season ago.

Morton came on strong during conference play last season and averaged over eight points per Ohio Valley Conference match, scoring in seven of the 16 league games.

JSU also has a new head coach. Rick Pietri came on board in June and began a new foundation for the Gamecock women's basketball program. It needed a fresh start, coming off a 1-27 season in 2012-13.

Senior Guard Valencia McFarland
Bruce Newman

Pietri spent the last 13 seasons as the head coach at South Alabama and helped turn the Lady Jags into a contender in the Sun Belt Conference, capturing back-to-back Sun Belt West Division titles in 2003 and 2004.

Insell said JSU comes in somewhat as an unknown with a new coach and some new players, although he is familiar with the Gamecocks' new head coach.

"They've got a new coaching staff and some additional players," Insell said. "Rick is a friend of mine and was very successful at South Alabama. They will present some problems, and we've been working on some of the things they do to get ready."

Insell said this week has been more about Ole Miss than anything else.

"The biggest thing is we've been working on ourselves," he said. "We didn't play up to our potential in terms of intensity, in terms of tempo, defense, and fundamentals. We let down in a lot of areas we had been putting a lot of emphasis on. This week we've been fine tuning that, working on not fouling, working on playing without our hands a lot, calling fouls a lot more in practice.

"We're still trying to pressure the ball, but we've got to pressure it smarter and we've got to use our length. So I'm pleased with where we've gotten this week," Insell continued. "Just trying to get ourselves ready and to learn what it takes to get to the highest level."

The Rebels had five players score in double figures Sunday. Junior forward Tia Faleru, who had a double-double in the exhibition game with 13 points and 14 rebounds, said she is ready for the official opener and the start of the new era.

"We're very excited," she said. "The more fans we have, the better we'll play. It just brings more energy, and there's something about that kind of environment."

Insell said simply that it's time for his team to play as well as it can at this point, because this one is for real.

"Now it counts," he said.

Ole Miss plays again Sunday at 2 p.m., hosting Central Arkansas.

OM Spirit Top Stories