SEC Opener

They've made some noise in pre-conference play and turned some heads locally and nationally as they host Missouri tonight to open Southeastern Conference play.

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The Matt Insell era of Ole Miss women's basketball starts a new calendar year with a SEC game against the Tigers at 6 p.m. in C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.

The Rebels are 9-5 but it's what they've done lately that's caused some to take notice. After a struggling 1-4 start, they've gone 8-1 since.

Their lone loss in the stretch was even noteworthy as they took Baylor to the wire in Waco, Texas. The final score was 87-80 Bears. But Baylor is one of the nation's powerhouse programs currently, was 40-0 and national champs two years ago, and had won 65 games in a row at home when Ole Miss played there on Dec. 18.

On Monday of this week, just before the football Rebels kicked off in the Music City Bowl and their win over Georgia Tech, the women's basketball team rolled past Austin Peay State in Oxford 99-69.

Missouri comes into the game with an impressive pre-conference mark of 11-2, its only losses at Miami (Fla.) and at Missouri State.

Last season under Rebels' interim head coach Brett Frank, Ole Miss almost pulled off the upset over Missouri but lost 73-72 in overtime in Oxford.

Valencia McFarland
Bruce Newman

Senior point guard Valencia McFarland continues to lead the Rebel attack. She scored 22 points and had nine assists against the Governor's in Monday's win.

"She's the best point guard in our league and top two in the country," said a confident Insell. "I would put her up against anyone. She brings it every day. I'm glad we have her and wish we had her for another three years."

But the Rebels are also getting contributions from newcomers like Bretta Hart. The freshman from Bay High School in Bay Saint Louis posted her first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the first Rebel freshman to have a double-double this season.

"She is a very talented player and is going to have a bright future here," Insell said. "She's making progress every day because she comes in and works every day. That's why the results are being seen more. Bretta needs to be a major part for us in SEC play."

Tonight's game is also important for Ole Miss since the Rebels will be going on the road for their next two contests, at Tennessee for a televised contest on Jan. 9, and at Alabama on Jan. 12.

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