Big Game

In early December, the Ole Miss women’s basketball team lost to Western Kentucky 98-69 and to Baylor 98-54. Since then, the Rebels have been an entirely different basketball team, going 8-2 in the 10 games since that time and getting into at least some conversation for postseason play.

It’s still a long way until the regular season finish line and Southeastern Conference Tournament, this year being played in North Little Rock, Ark. But things are looking a while lot better as Ole Miss hosts arch-rival Mississippi State tonight at 8 p.m. inside C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

Second-year head coach Matt Insell’s team is currently 14-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play, a far cry from last season’s 12-20 overall mark and 2-14 league record. But they are also a far cry from those blowouts of early December when the Hilltoppers and Bears made them look like a team headed nowhere fast.

“We didn’t have a lot of stability at the point guard position back then,” said Insell as his squad prepared for the invasion by a talented and tested Bulldogs team. “A’Queen Hayes has really grown up over the last month and over the last 10 games. She’s brought that stability to us. Shandricka Sessum has gotten a little bit older. Erika Sisk has gotten better. Tia Faleru and Danielle McCray are just being who they are. The younger players have really developed. Gracie Frizzell has started making shots. Our shooting percentage has really gone up. We’ve started to adapt better to what we’re doing offensively.

“Over the last 10 games we’re a different basketball team. And the most important thing we’ve done is we’ve starting defending. We’ve started making it real tough for teams to score on us. We’ve done a real good job defensively. We have to keep that up (tonight).”

MSU rolls in with arguably its best team ever. The Bulldogs trail the overall series with Ole Miss 63-24 and last season the two teams split regular season contests. In the Tad Pad, the Rebels own a 29-9 mark through the years vs. MSU.

The Bulldogs began the season 18-0 before losing road games at Vanderbilt and LSU. They bounced back at home in their last outing to defeat Alabama 66-50 Sunday afternoon.

Vic Schaefer is in his third season leading the Bulldogs after leaving Texas A&M where he was an assistant coach.

“Vic has done a good job with his basketball team, now in year three there,” said Insell of State, which is ranked No. 15 with its 19-2 mark and SEC record of 4-2, identical in league play to that of the Rebels.

“Mississippi State has good players and had some good players when Vic got there. Now they’ve added a couple of recruiting classes to that, and they have great depth. They’re probably the deepest team in this league. They can go nine or 10 deep and not really miss a beat. And they’re big. We’ve got to do a good job on the boards, and we have done that lately. We have to apply great ball pressure in the half court, and make them work for everything they get.”

A win for UM, which would be the 400th as a program inside the friendly confines of Tad Smith, would vault Ole Miss to 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the SEC – if the Rebels can pull off the upset. If they do, a national ranking next week is possible since they do not play again for a week when they are in action at LSU.

Beyond that there are NCAA Tournament implications for Ole Miss if a victory is accomplished.

“This is a big game for us as far as our postseason resume’ is concerned,” Insell said.

But beating MSU will take the Rebels’ best effort yet, and Insell has pulled out all the stops to get solid support in the stands for this one.

“We’ve gotten the word out pretty well,” he said. “And the students are back in class. I visited fraternity and sorority houses. We need everybody here for this one.”

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