It's been nearly half a year since the women's basketball team ended its 2004 season with a 60-57 loss to George Washington in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, and now that school has started, the Lady Rebels are eager to get back into the swing of things.
With All-SEC guard and preseason Wooden Award candidate Armintie Price returning to the squad, the Lady Rebels have high hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.
"We have gone to the NCAA tournament the last two years based on being competitive and playing with passion," third-year head coach Carol Ross said. "Our focus and our players' focus will be to work hard to be the best that we can be. Now whatever that is, we don't know yet, but we always want to be in the NCAA tournament."
The makeup of the 2005-06 squad will be a little different than a year ago with the departure of forwards Amber Watts and Amber Terrell and guards Carletta Brown and Elizabeth Cansdale, all due to graduation.
"We've got some good players here now," Ross said. "But we're not a one woman show. We will continue to put talented people in our lineup."
The Lady Rebels will certainly benefit from the return of Price, a junior who enjoyed an outstanding sophomore season following a stellar first season the year before.
"Armintie Price has anchored the team for the last two years, and we will continue to rely on her creativity, her athletic ability, and her production," Ross said.
Price, who led the team in scoring (16.7), rebounding (10.3), steals (92) and field goal percentage (.536) last season, is also known around the league for her defensive ability. She became the first guard to lead the conference in rebounding and the only player to lead the league in rebounding and steals in the same season, earning her the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Having only played two collegiate seasons, she has recorded 27 double-doubles and has scored 947 points in her career, leaving her just 53 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point plateau.
Assisting Price will be senior guard Ashley Johnson, who ranks as the third returning scorer from last season, and junior guard Ashley Awkward, who will get the first shot to take over the team's point guard position vacated by Carletta Brown. Sophomores Tasi Worsham and Linsday Roy should also help at the guard position.
At forward, senior LaTanya Jones, senior Ellen Buchanan, sophomores Jada Mincy, Carla Bartee and Danetra Forrest ought to see increased roles in the post with the graduation of Amber Watts and Amber Terrell. Freshman 6-3 Shawn Goff also will look to contribute in the paint as will 6-2 freshman Brandi Tipton.
According to Ross, a big key to this year's success will be defending the Lady Rebels' homecourt. The Lady Rebels went 12-2 at home last season, including a 6-1 conference mark at Tad Smith Coliseum. Their two losses came to SEC champion LSU and to women's basketball powerhouse Louisiana Tech.
"We will continue to set the tone that we're going to defend our homecourt at all costs," Ross said. "If we can defend our homecourt, a lot of our other goals take care of themselves - making the top 25, finishing in the top half of the SEC, getting into the NCAA tournament. We have to take care of what we can control, and we can control Ole Miss, our fans, our court, and our team and coaches. If the Ole Miss family decides they want this to be a hard place to play, then when all the other teams come through here, we have a great opportunity to send shockwaves across the country that Ole Miss women's basketball is back."
The Lady Rebels will again feature some marquee teams at home, including traditional powers Rutgers, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU, as well as Rice and UAB.
On the road in non-league play, among the 2005-06 UM opponents are Clemson and Louisiana Tech.
As far as the attitude of this year's team, don't expect anything less than the same mentality that has gotten the Lady Rebels to the NCAA tournament the last two years.
"The characteristics of our teams will always be about the same," Ross said. "We're going to have to work harder than any other team in our league. We're going to have to be more passionate and more enthusiastic than other teams. We're not going to be the biggest team or the fastest team to walk onto the court, but we certainly can play harder than other teams. We want to play with passion."
Ross said that's all going to be a trademark of women's basketball teams at Ole Miss..
"When you love what you do, you tend to be good at it, and we're going to try to build our team around that philosophy. Anyone who comes to see them play will recognize that quickly."
Although it's hard for the coaching staff to get a good feel this early as to how the team will progress later on this season, they are excited about a change in rules that allows coaches to be present during four out of the allowed eight preseason workouts. The implications are that Ross and her fellow coaching staff will be allowed at four preseason practices with her team and be able to start installing offensive and defensive schemes during 5-on-5 workouts.
During the remaining four workouts, players will practice a number of fundamental drills designed to strengthen their specific weaknesses, whether it be ball-handling, footwork, shooting, or passing. The remaining workouts also give the coaches the ability to work with players one-on-one, which becomes more difficult once the season starts.
NCAA rules allow women's basketball official practices to begin the night of Oct. 14, officially beginning the women's basketball season.
Ross still building in year three of program
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