Perpetual Belief

Coach Matt Insell did a dance in the locker room after the game Monday night. Appropriately enough, he said it was the Cat Daddy.

Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, himself a former women’s basketball coach, had given the team a pep talk earlier in the day.

The basketball band was on its feet, playing or yelling, all game long. The Kappa Sigs were there and making all kinds of noise. Those guys, and a growing number of other students, are there for the home games lending their support.

The Reb Necks, a supportive group of locals that love to dress the part and give the opponents and the refs a good bit of grief, are there every game. The floor seats opposite the benches are normally full of Rebel fans.

Ole Miss defeated No. 13 Kentucky 67-59. A lot of people seem to be jumping on board. And for Matt Insell, his women’s basketball team, and their extended staff, everybody else is welcomed to join them.

Ole Miss, now 16-11 overall and 6-8 in SEC games, started the season 14-4 and 4-1. But there were some tougher games ahead, and the Rebels fell on some hard times. Like seven losses in a row hard times.

But it didn’t bring Insell down. Ever the optimist, he just kept moving on, just like last season when his first Ole Miss team went 12-20 overall and 2-14 in the SEC.

“I appreciate everybody in Rebel Nation who kept calling me and telling me to keep my head up,” he said. “I really appreciate that. But there’s not one person with their head as high as mine every single day. Because I believe in our program. I believe in our process. And I believe we’re going to do great things here.”

And he felt that way during those seven consecutive losses. Then came a 51-46 road win at Auburn last Thursday. And now this win over Kentucky.

Insell said the reason he and his team continued to believe during the seven-game losing skid was, at least for him, that he didn’t know better. Believing is just who he is.

“I’m not smart enough to not believe,” Insell said. “I believe this program is going to be one of the top programs in the country in the future. I believe we’re going to do unbelievable things, win National titles, go to Final Fours, win SEC Championships. I believe that. I’m dumb enough to believe that, because it’s going to happen.”

On Monday night at Tad Smith Coliseum, the Ole Miss women’s basketball team landed a big one.

“We’re a good shooting basketball team,” Insell said after his team shot 29 percent in the first half and 45 percent in the second half. “Our numbers may not show it. But I watch us every day in practice, and we make shots every single day. In the games, because we’re young and they rush things a little bit, their confidence gets down. Tonight we made the shots we had to make.”

Like a 3-pointer by Gracie Frizzell at the buzzer before halftime to tie things 29-29 at intermission and give the Rebels a lift they needed. It was one of five 3-pointers she had against the Wildcats.

“You win games, and we really believe this, by owning momentum in the last four minutes of the first half and owning momentum the first four minutes of the second half,” Insell said. “Gracie’s 3-pointer before halftime got us the momentum going into the half. What a great performance by her.”

But Insell said it was also the rebounding of Danielle McCray – 12 of her 15 coming on defense – that was a major factor.

“Danielle McCray with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the league. We’re second. Danielle McCray had 12 defensive rebounds. That’s the difference in the ballgame. She owned the defensive boards for us.”

Insell said it’s all about focusing on just that one day’s practice and just that one current drill of that particular practice. Even during the seven-game losing streak, they refused to get rattled.

“Our coaching staff and myself came to practice every single day with energy and enthusiasm with our team. We told them to continue to take chances and get better. We’re young. We’ve got eight newcomers on the roster. They’ve never been in these situations before. They’re having to learn every single day. There was no need to get down.”

It was indeed a team effort against Kentucky. Tia Faleru with 16 points and eight rebounds. McCray, already mentioned above, had four blocked shots. Frizzell’s 15 points. Erika Sisk with 10 points but eight important assists. Kelsey Briggs with seven points and five rebounds. A’Queen Hayes got to the paint even though ending the contest with only four points and four rebounds. Amber Singletary with not necessarily a great stat line but she played 20 minutes.

Before coming to Ole Miss, Insell was an assistant coach at Kentucky. Wildcat head coach Matthew Mitchell said what Insell has done at Ole Miss in less than two seasons has been quite remarkable.

“Great job,” Mitchell said. “He brings a lot of energy to the place. To stay the course through a long losing streak and now find a way to keep the kids encouraged, I think that’s such a great testament to him and what he’s doing. He’s doing a heck of a job. They really out-toughed us tonight. They have a hungry basketball team.”

This Rebel “team” is coming together. Next up? LSU Thursday night in Oxford at 6 o’clock.

But Monday night was all about savoring a big one over Kentucky,

“What a great win for our program,” Insell said. “It was magical. It’s huge.”

Of course, he believes there are many more just as huge in his program's future for years to come.

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