Junior guard Ashley Awkward walked into the Bonnie L. "Country" Graham Press Room in Tad Smith Coliseum with a smile on her face after Ole Miss' 110-63 season-opening victory over Rice. "Is Coach Ross still going to make ya'll practice tomorrow?" a reporter asked her. "Yeah. We weren't supposed to let them score 60 points, and they scored 63," she answered.
Sometimes, that's the way it goes. But not much else seemed to go wrong for the Lady Rebels in their 47-point win against the Rice Lady Owls, who were picked in the preseason to win the C-USA in their first year in that conference.
Ole Miss went on two 25-4 runs - one in the first half and one in the second half - to break open a game that was supposed to be a tough opening-night challenge for the Lady Rebs. Instead, Ole Miss dominated and notched their first win on a schedule that has been deemed by many close to the women's basketball program to be the toughest in Lady Rebel history.
"It was a good start to a long season," third-year coach Carol Ross said. "Anytime you can win a game and make a good Rice team look not so good, that's a credit to these players and the effort they gave. There are a lot of people that will leave here thinking Rice isn't very good. They are and will be. We just played well enough to make them look like they aren't. Our crowd was enthusiastic, and our fans did a good job. It was a good Ole Miss effort all around."
Junior guard Armintie Price highlighted the Lady Rebels in scoring with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Four other Ole Miss players scored in double figures, led by Carla Bartee's 21 points, Awkward's 18 points, Danetra Forrest's 15 points, and Ashley Johnson's 11 points. The Lady Owls' star player Lauren Neaves, the preseason C-USA player of the year, was a nonfactor, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds in only 19 minutes of play. She was in foul trouble most of the game.
The Lady Rebs got off to a running start and made a point to keep the game at an up-tempo pace. They used a press for most of the first half that gave Rice fits and forced the Lady Owls into 19 turnovers in the first half alone. Rice finished the game with 31 turnovers.
Ole Miss and Rice traded buckets in the game's opening minutes, and the score was tied four times in the first half, the last at 21-21 with 8 minutes, 39 seconds to go before halftime. But four free throws by Bartee and Price, followed by a Price lay-up, sparked a 25-4 run over a six-minute span to give the Lady Rebs a double-digit lead they would never relinquish. Ten Rice turnovers fueled Ole Miss' run and led to a 48-31 lead for the Lady Rebs at halftime.
"Our team wants to run and knows they have to run," Ross said of the up-tempo style the Rebs displayed throughout the game. "They're smart enough to know we're much better going fast than we are keeping it slow because we just don't have that 6-foot-5 dominant post player that most teams have. It's to our advantage to run, and we've got players that can play that way. It's not really easy all the time, but it's fun, and this is their natural way of playing. It's also their best way of playing, and it's what we need to be doing."
Ole Miss blew the game open at the start of the second half with a 15-4 run to go up 63-35 with 16 minutes, 29 seconds to play in the game. The Lady Rebels maintained that advantage until two Price lay-ups and back-to-back threes from Bartee sparked another 25-4 run that put Ole Miss up by the final score 110-63.
It was Ole Miss' third highest point total in the program's history, the highest being 112 points scored once against Arkansas Pine-Bluff in 2003 and once against Nevada-Reno in 1983. It was also a good opening-day statement for a team that is looking to go to its third consecutive NCAA tournament despite a difficult schedule.
Ole Miss travels to Clemson (0-3) to play the Lady Tigers on Monday. Game time is set for 4:30 p.m. CST. They host No. 13 Texas Tech (1-1), a perennial power in women's basketball, on Wednesday at Tad Smith Coliseum at 7:00 p.m.
"The Texas Tech game will be a statement game, not so much for us because we've played in a lot of big games, but for this program and for this community," Ross said. "We have a chance to step it up and elevate this program from being good to being great. To do that, it takes people in the bleachers and players running up and down the floor. There's not just one thing; it's collective, and it will take people pulling together to make something special. We've got a chance to do something against Texas Tech."
Ole Miss beats Rice
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