Veterans Amber Watts and Carletta Brown were gone, their playing eligibility at Ole Miss complete. So were Elizabeth Cansdale and Amber Terrell, all four making up the departing class of 2005.
Two of four signees hadn't made the grade. LaCourtney Ratliff, who had signed with Ole Miss out of high school, didn't qualify from junior college. High School All-American Juanita Ward didn't make it either and went the juco route this fall.
Given those circumstances along with one of the toughest schedules in Lady Rebel basketball history, how has the 2005-06 version of Ole Miss women's basketball gotten off to a 3-0 start against Rice, Clemson, and Texas Tech? That's a question a lot of folks are asking themselves these days.
"First of all, we obviously like being 3-0," said Ole Miss head coach Carol Ross, whose team plays Villanova Friday night on the first day of the Rhode Island Tournament in Kingston, R.I. "I like being undefeated. The players enjoy winning. The most exciting thing is I don't think we're half as good as we can be. We're finding ourselves. We're finding our personality.
"Against Rice, we played very well. Everything went our way. We flew around, we made plays, and we dominated that game (110-63). We went to Clemson (70-66) and struggled some. We ended up playing a half-court game, which is not necessarily the thing we want to do but we can do it. Then (against Texas Tech 72-69) the game became very methodical and slow-paced for the most part, and we were able to beat a top 20 team again playing not necessarily our style of play. I think we're learning we can win with different styles, which is encouraging.
"We're an inexperienced team. Even though you see some juniors and seniors on our roster, we still have a lot of players who have not played a lot of minutes. We're learning to play with each other. Our chemistry is coming around. We're still searching for a defensive identity, even though I feel we're getting closer to it. We haven't put in half the stuff we want to yet. I'm looking forward to that week and a half gap that we have (after a home game against UAB on Dec. 3 until a home game against Rutgers on Dec. 14). There are a lot of things we can introduce to this team that will carry them into SEC play and allow them to become a better team because we have a little bit more to go to if we need it."
Last season Texas Tech gave Ole Miss a pretty good whipping in Lubbock. Then sophomore guard Armintie Price did not play because of a funeral she had to attend in Mississippi. Her 24 points, 15 rebounds, and two steals in 37 minutes certainly helped her team this season against the Lady Red Raiders as she became a member of the 1,000-point club at Ole Miss early in the second half of Wednesday night's contest.
"The difference in this year's Ole Miss team and last year's Ole Miss team for us begins with the fact that last year (Armintie) Price wasn't there," said veteran Texas Tech head coach Marsha Sharp, with a national title to her credit in 1993 as well as taking her Lady Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament for the past 16 seasons. "She didn't play against us in Lubbock. She made a difference this time. They're not quite as experienced in the post, but their guards are awfully quick and awfully good. They've got some really good, explosive offensive players on the perimeter."
Ross said the Lady Rebels remembered the lopsided setback at Texas Tech a year ago. Not only did the Lady Rebs want to make up for that, they wanted to continue their positive start to this season.
"It's really all about protecting our turf and becoming a dominant team on our homecourt," Ross said. "There are all kinds of reasons to get excited to play. We'll use every edge and every advantage we can find to motivate and to get our players focused and ready to play. It's human nature. If you're a competitor and somebody slaps you around, then you can't wait to get another chance at them."
If the first three games of 2005-06 are any indication, there will be a lot of teams looking for revenge against Ole Miss women's basketball in 2006-07.
3-0 Lady Rebs move on to Rhode Island tourney
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