Significant Victory

At one time an Ole Miss-Louisiana Tech women's basketball matchup would have been for national rankings and NCAA tourney seedings. Those were in a different era.

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The NCAA Tournament began in 1982, and into the early 1990s Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech were among only five teams that had been to every NCAA postseason, along with Tennessee, Georgia, and Penn State.

Wednesday's 79-68 win for Ole Miss against the former powerhouse program from Ruston, La., is still a significant one, although both programs have fallen on hard times. The Lady Techsters are only 1-6.

For Ole Miss, things are different now. The victory made it five in a row for the Rebels and a 6-4 record as it begins a resurrection of the program under first-year head coach Matt Insell and staff.

This is a program that has had four head coaches in the last three seasons. There appears to be some stability now as Insell, a former Kentucky assistant, has the team playing well.

"What a great effort. I'm very happy with our basketball team," Insell said. "We've already played ten games. I have a friend who is head coach at Washington. They're playing their fourth game (Wednesday night)."

The Rebels have been able to play a lot of games, as the schedule Insell inherited called for, but it has limited their practice time.

"We're having to figure some things out on the fly," he said.

Seems to be working so far. The Rebels didn't look all that assured early this season. A comeback win against Jacksonville State was for openers, followed by basically a second-half collapse and ultimate loss to Central Arkansas. Then it was on to Hawaii for three losses against West Virginia, Hawaii, and Washington State.

Now there are five straight wins, one of them a road win at Tulane last weekend. The players say they sense the progress they've made from November. The team's basically gotten tougher and focused to get better in that area, especially offensively.

"We've been working at practice, finishing around the basket, taking contact, going over our left shoulder, right shoulder," said junior Tia Faleru. "When you get in the paint, those are high-percentage shots. And we just focus on making them."

Coach Matt Insell
File Photo

"When we get paint touches, whether it's off the bounce or throwing the ball inside, any type of paint touches, something good happens for Ole Miss," Insell said. "Whatever defense they're in, drive the ball, get in there, make people help, then kick it. People are shooting the shots they are successful shooting. I'm happy they believe in that process, and they're doing that every game."

Faleru said if the defense forces a miss or even if there is a made basket, they take the ball and head to their own end of the court in a hurry.

"Tempo. When the (other) team shoots, we're just trying to get the ball out. I'm not looking back. I'm just going. I get open looks. (Point guard Valencia McFarland) hits me over the top every time. The tempo is better," she said.

"Coach believes in all of us. It's good when you have somebody in your ear all the time...well, sometimes," Faleru continued, smiling. "He just wants us to do better. Since your coach has confidence in you, you don't have a choice but to play as well as we do."

Louisiana Tech has three national titles and 16 Final Fours on its historic ledger. But lately the going has been tough. Last season was the first losing campaign in Lady Techster hoops' 39-year history.

In a couple of games, Ole Miss will travel to Baylor. The Bears could be considered the new Louisiana Tech. Baylor has been in the national spotlight lately, was an unbelievable 40-0 national champion two years ago, and has claimed two national titles since 2005.

The Bears are coached by former Louisiana Tech player and longtime assistant coach Kim Mulkey.

For now, though, the Rebels will look to continue their winning streak against Mississippi Valley State Saturday in Oxford at noon, followed by a road game after semester exams are over at South Alabama on Dec. 16. The game at Baylor is on Dec. 18.

"This is a big win for us," Insell said of the victory against Louisiana Tech. "We finished strong today, and I'm so proud of our players for getting this win and getting to 6-4 on the season."

The last time Ole Miss was its old self in the postseason was a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney in 2007. Insell realizes what the players have gone through the past few years, especially the past couple of years.

"This group of girls has been through a lot," he said. "They've had a lot of (coaches) telling them different things. We're going to do this or we're going to do that. Then all of a sudden it changes on them.

"One thing I've promised them is I'm not going to change on them," Insell continued. "We're going to coach them every day. (We said) if you guys start buying in, great things are going to happen. True credit to them. They work hard every day, and get the results on the court we're getting. They're starting to believe, and that wasn't there the first of the year. It's their toughness now, and I'm very proud of them."

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