Against Mississippi State, Liz Cansdale did what seniors are supposed to do and what every coach wants a senior to do.
She stepped up. Bigtime.
Cansdale scored a career-high 24 points including a career-tying six 3-pointers to lead Ole Miss to a 72-64 win over the Lady Bulldogs before 3,188 at Tad Smith Coliseum Thursday night.
"I wanted to contribute to this win as a senior," Cansdale said. "It's Mississippi State. It's such a big game. And it was on our homecourt. We had a lot of fans here, and I wanted to send them home happy."
Cansdale, a Nevada native who is having a solid senior season for the Lady Rebs after suffering a severe ankle injury last season and missing most of the season, said her teammates contributed to her positive performance.
"I got a lot of good screens and that made it easy to shoot," said Cansdale, whose previous career highs were 20 points and also six treys in a UM win over Vermont in the San Diego Tournament in December. "I was able to shoot the ball well tonight, and that really helped us win the game. I'm so happy to be able to do that."
Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross said Cansdale was simply being "a senior."
"I felt like our seniors were ready to roll," said Ross, whose team is now 14-5 overall and 4-2 in SEC play, the best start for a Lady Rebel basketball team since 1995-96. "Elizabeth did what she does best tonight, and that's make that net sing. She was really shooting it well."
Ross had high praise for all her seniors - Carletta Brown for her toughness and shooting, Amber Watts for her inside presence and rebounding, Amber Terrell for her improved inside play and three blocked shots.
"It was a great effort by our seniors and a great way for them to close out this rivalry at home," Ross said.
One huge key for the Lady Rebels was their play defensively on MSU All-American Tan White, who still scored 16 points in the game even though she was only 6-20 from the field. It was Lady Reb sophomore Armintie Price who got the call to guard White much of the night.
"It felt like she was scoring every time," said a smiling Price, who herself scored 16 points with four assists and nine rebounds in the contest. "My team did a great job helping. It wasn't just me. I did what I could and got some help."
Ross said it was her team's defense on White, which included Price, that was as big a key as anything else.
"We only played our zone for just a few minutes and not very well in the first half, and we finished with it late in the game," Ross said. "We played team defense behind Armintie, but she played great and gave a terrific effort in what was a very challenging assignment. She did a heck of a job, and our team backed her up well. Tan's hard to keep in front of you. It takes a lot of people to corral here. It's important not to let a player like her get into a rhythm."
White said she felt good but things didn't always fall her way.
"I just had a hard time geting into the rhythm of the game," White said. "In the second half I tried to find my way, but we just ran out of time."
The game had runs by each team early. State led 7-0 before Ole Miss got on the scoreboard. Then the Lady Rebs outscored State 13-4 to lead 13-11 at the 14:11 mark of the first half.
MSU was up 28-21 before the Lady Rebs came back to tie it at 28-28 on a 3-pointer by Brown, who ended the game with 18 points. A couple of Lady Rebel turnovers late in the half and a buzzer-beating shot by Doceide Warren gave the Lady Bulldogs a 34-33 advantage at the break.
Ole Miss began to pull away in the second half but not without a fight. A Price jumper with 13:31 left gave UM a 50-42 lead. After State trimmed it to 50-46, the Lady Rebs moved out to their first double-digit lead on a 3-pointer by Cansdale at 57-47 with 7:48 left. After a turnover by White, it was Cansdale again for three and a 60-47 lead with 7:18 to go.
The Lady Bulldogs made a late run and actually cut it to 68-64 with 31 seconds to go. But Cansdale and Brown hit two free throws each in the final half a minute and State was history.
Mississippi State head coach Sharon Fanning was visibly disappointed in her team's performance and with the loss.
"In this league you have to play for 40 minutes, and the bottom line is we didn't do it," said Fanning, whose team is now 14-5 and 3-3. "You would think we couldn't even spell the word defense. To give them the looks they had and not close out on their shooters, we didn't play hard and we didn't play smart. I'm very disappointed. But give Ole Miss credit. They got the ball to the right people at the right time."
The Lady Rebs have now won three straight in the series, which they lead 56-11. In Oxford, Ole Miss leads 27-4.
"I'm very proud of our players and our fans." Ross said. "Our crowd really helped us get through some rough spots tonight. This was a great night for Ole Miss."
Ole Miss travels to Arkansas for a Sunday game at 2 p.m.
Lady Rebs beat State 72-64
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