Lady Rebs in NCAA tourney again

Ole Miss is back in the Big Dance for the second straight year and the 16th time in 24 seasons of the NCAA Tournament, which began in 1982.

Last year may have just been for starters. Now you can call it a trend.

For the second straight year, Ole Miss will participate in March Madness – women's basketball style – following a seven-year absence from the field. The Lady Rebs are in the Big Dance for the 16th time since the tourney started in 1982.

Ole Miss (19-10), the 8th seed at the Chapel Hill (N.C.) site of the Tempe (Ariz.) Regional, will meet 9th seeded George Washington University (22-6) on Sunday, March 20 at the Dean Smith Center. Game time will most likely be announced Monday.

"It's great that we're back in the NCAA Tournament," said Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross. "It really speaks well for the program and the players and what they've been able to accomplish this season. It solidifies that we're back and a part of March Madness again, which is where we are supposed to be.

"I'm very happy for our seniors," Ross continued. "Amber Watts, Amber Terrell, Carletta Brown, and Elizabeth Cansdale now have a chance to stamp this as their team since they're the senior class. They've worked awfully hard to help this team get back to this position, which is playing in March."

Last season prior to the NCAA tourney, the Lady Rebs were 17-13. In addition to being 19-10 heading into the event this year, the other difference this season was that the Lady Rebs were 8-6 in SEC play with one SEC Tournament victory. Last year they were 7-7 during the SEC season with one win in the SEC tourney.

The Lady Rebel players were happy to be dancing again, and admitted they were a bit more confident they were in this year as opposed to last year. But until it is official, there is always that apprehension.

"I was nervous, but it's exciting to see our name up there," said sophomore guard Armintie Price. "When they called our name out, I felt better."

"Last year we just weren't sure, but this year we had a better season," said senior guard Carletta Brown. "Beating Georgia and Vanderbilt (teams that finished above Ole Miss in the regular season SEC standings) helped us out this year a lot. And we were in the top 5 in the SEC. So we were way more confident this year."

Junior forward Ellen Buchanan said the fact that the Lady Rebels are in the NCAA field is the way things ought to be.

"This needs to be a habit," she said. "We need to go every year. That should be a minimum goal. Everybody felt we were in, but we were glad to see our name up there."

Buchanan said last year's experience in Ames, Iowa, where the Lady Rebels lost 66-63 to Villanova, will help this week.

"The NCAA Tournament is a whole lot different than any other game," she said. "You can't help but be excited about being there. And I don't care how many times you go, it's always going to be exciting."

Ole Miss joins Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and Vanderbilt as NCAA tourney teams this year.

Senior center Amber Watts said it's a whole new season now as March Madness begins.

"Words can't describe how excited I am," she said. "It's my senior year, and we just had to get back there. We felt confident, but we are glad to know for sure now. The experience of last year will help us. We're just going to try to win that first game and go from there."

If the Lady Rebels beat GWU, they most likely will face the No. 1 seed in the Tempe Regional – the North Carolina Lady Tarheels on Tuesday, March 22. Host Carolina (27-3) faces 16th seeded Coppin State (23-7) also on Sunday.

Ross said she felt the Lady Rebels were in the field of 64 this year before the announcement, but she waited until she heard for sure to get too excited.

"We finished fifth in the SEC, so I felt we would get in," she said. "We've been telling people for many years how good the SEC is, and South Carolina (the last place team) proved that even the worst team in our league can beat most people most nights. It's a brutal league, and if you are in fifth place, you should be in good shape when tournament time comes around. However, I've been coaching a long time, and I've been shocked before. So I don't take anything for granted and certainly didn't today."

Ross said work on GWU begins immediately.

"I know very little about George Washington," Ross said late Sunday afternoon. "But I have coached against GW when I was with the (Florida) Gators. They're a well-coached team year in and year out. I know nothing yet about their personnel. But we'll find out about them soon."

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