Lady Rebs turn back Gamecocks, 57-51

The Lady Rebel hoops team secured a fifth seeding in next week's SEC Tournament and most likely locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament by defeating South Carolina, 57-51, at Tad Smith Coliseum Sunday afternoon. The victory left the Ladies at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the SEC.

Probably not all of the 40 minutes of action between the Ole Miss Lady Rebels and South Carolina Lady Gamecocks Sunday afternoon in Oxford was what Dr. James Naismith had in mind when he invented the game of basketball.

But the host team got what they needed in the physical contest against the much taller visitors - a 57-51 win.

"This was a great way to finish the regular season," said Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross. "We wanted our four seniors - Amber Watts, Carletta Brown, Elizabeth Cansdale and Amber Terrell - to go out the right way, by winning their last home game. We wanted to celebrate a victory on Senior Day and that's what happened.

"I feel our regular season record puts us in the NCAA Tournament. We are certainly one of the best 64 teams in the nation, but now our focus must turn to the SEC Tournament this week in Greenville, SC. We will have to face USC right off the bat."

The Lady Rebs - the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament - and USC - the 12th seed with an 8-20 overall record and 2-12 SEC mark - will square off again Thursday night at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) in the third game of the tourney.

When asked if it's good, bad or doesn't matter about playing the same team back-to-back, Ross said it was a non-factor.

"The regular season is now officially over. We are headed to the greatest tournament in the nation to start a whole new season. It will be about us and about advancing and staying alive, not about who we are playing," she noted.

The fact that her squad had to battle to the end against Coach Susan Walvius' Gamecocks didn't seem to affect her.

"In this league, every game is a battle. Hopefully, we will learn from this game, correct what we did wrong and come out with the determination we showed today, but better execution," Ross noted.

Walvius, who has a big, but young, team, was highly complimentary of the Lady Rebs.

"The thing that impresses me about Ole Miss is that they play hard every second of every game," she stated. "They pushed the ball up the court on us, they had a lot of offensive rebounds and actually outrebounded us (40-33) even though we had a decided size advantage."

The Lady Gamecocks wanted to take advantage of three big foreign players - 6-5 Iva Sliskovic from Croatia, 6-6 Ilona Burgrova from the Czech Republic and 6-4 Olga Gritsaeva - and it worked for awhile, especially with the Lady Rebs' inside force, Watts, staying in foul trouble mos tof the game and being limited to just 16 minutes of action.

But sophomore Armintie Price wasn't going to allow the Lady Reb seniors to leave their home court for the last time with a loss. Price went over, under, around and through USC for 19 points and 16 rebounds, despite playing "among the trees."

"Our gameplan was to keep Armintie off the offensive boards, but she was too quick for us and too athletic for us," said Walvius. "She's a special player. She plays so hard and is such a determined athlete. She uses her quickness and strength as well as anyone in our league."

The Lady Rebs fell behind only twice - 13-10 at the 7:25 mark of the first half on a fast break bucket by Angela Hunter and 47-44 with 6:36 left in the game on a Sliskovic driving layup - but USC kept within whisper distance all the way to the final buzzer.

"I was proud of the way we played," said Walvius. "We are a young team, but we showed some heart today. Ole Miss has a nice team and we hung with them right to the end. We played hard and played with some character."

But when the Lady Rebs needed it most, they too hung tough and got the job done down the stretch. After trailing 47-44, the Lady Rebs outscored USC 13-4 with the game on the line.

Freshman F Dee Forest ignited the comeback with a steal and subsequent layup to make it 47-46 USC, then Price scored four straight and Terrell chiped in a free throw for a 51-47 advantage.

The Lady Rebs never looked back, closing out the affair with an Ashley Awkward bucket and 4-6 free throw shooting in the waning moments.

Beyond Price's heroics, Brown had 11 points. four steals and eight assists and Watts, despite limited minutes, had seven points. Awkward added five points in the low-scoring game.

The Lady Rebs were a poor 20-60 (33.3%) from the floor - missing several shots from point blank range - and 14-19 (73.7%) from the charity stripe. Ole Miss had 40 rebounds and only 11 turnovers.

USC was paced by freshman F Melanie Johnson, who came off the bench with 15 points and eight rebounds. Sliskovic rounded out the double figure scorers with 10 and also had eight rebounds.

USC was 22-53 (41.5%) from the field, but only 4-17 (23.5%) from three-point land. They were also a poor 3-8 *37.5%) from the free throw line.

For the upcoming matchup in the SEC Tournament, Cansdale said the Lady Rebs will earn from this game.

"I think we will have a better understanding of how they play and we will execute better. They gave us problems inside and were a physical team, but I think we can make some adjustments and be fine," she noted.

One definite key will be keeping Watts out of foul trouble, even though Ross was pleased with the way Terrell handled the situation off the pine.

"Amber Terrell broke them down some and was a presence inside with Watts out of the game, but really I think we beat their guards with penetration most of the game. Now we just have to make better decisions when we beat them off the dribble," she closed.

A new season starts Thursday, but the Lady Rebs will be facing a familiar foe. Hopefully, the results will be the same in the win column.

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