Lady Rebs getting ready for Rutgers

The Ole Miss Lady Rebels, 6-1 on the season, are winding down exams and winding up toward sixth-ranked Rutgers, which visits Oxford Wednesday for a 7 p.m. contest at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.

Carol Ross walked out on the Tad Smith court this morning for practice. The scoreboards were on. Ole Miss was listed as the home team, Rutgers as the visitor.

"I guess you're trying to get the players and coaches ready for the next one, huh," I said to the third-year Lady Rebel head coach as we glanced above the playing floor to see Ole Miss' next opponent already in lights.

"Hey, the coaches stay ready," she said, smiling. "We've just got to make sure the players are."

Getting the 6-1 Lady Rebels ready for the next one won't be difficult. They know the challenge they face Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Oxford.

The Scarlet Knights are ranked No. 6 in the country currently with a 6-0 record. They actually have two more games before heading to Oxford, hosting Old Dominion Friday and traveling to Princeton Sunday in a rival game. Remember, those two New Jersey schools met for the first college football game ever played back in 1869.

While Rutgers is concerned about those two foes first, Ole Miss has had its sights set on the big home game since getting past UAB 71-52 last Saturday in Oxford.

Of course something else was on the minds of the Lady Rebels and their coaches – semester exams. Those wrap up Friday, and then it's all ball all the time, for at least a few weeks.

"It's about to be WNBA time for us," Ross mentioned after a recent game and again today. "Starting this weekend and for the next three or four weeks, it will be all basketball. You can become singular in your thoughts. They can focus on basketball. All they'll be doing is basketball."

That hasn't been the case for the past several days

"It's been all about academics lately," said Ross of her student-athletes and their exams. "But that gives us a chance to break the routine. Our practices aren't necessarily at the same time. They aren't usually as long. We add a lot of new stuff. It gives us coaches a chance to break out of the comfort of routine and get some things done. For the kids I think it's good to keep them fresh mentally. They need to focus on the classroom this week, and then we can focus on basketball."

While the Lady Rebels have been impressive in the early season with wins over Rice, Clemson, Texas Tech, Brown, Tennessee State, and UAB, and with the lone loss to Villanova, the game with the Scarlet Knights should be their biggest challenge to date. Ross said the coaches always shoot for games like this in their preparation, even before the season begins.

"You're basically always coaching for your greatest competition," Ross said. "For us in the month of December, at least on paper, that's Rutgers. Even in October we try to look at things and see if they will work against say Tennessee. If they won't fly against Tennessee, then why do it at all? You always coach to the toughest game on your schedule. The rest of it should take care of itself."

Now with exams coming to a close, the Lady Rebels will focus and prepare and practice on what they hope will work against Rutgers, the next big game.

"We've done well so far this year," said senior guard LaTanya Jones, who has drawn two starts in the Lady Rebs' first seven games. "Of course we have one loss, and we feel we should have won that game. A lot of people may have doubted us against Rice, Texas Tech and Clemson. We decided to come out (in the season opener at home against Rice, a 110-63 UM victory) and give our fans a show. We're ready to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament this year, and we are already trying to do what it takes to get there.

"Our main key so far this year has been communication," Jones continued. "It seems like we are all on the same page, and it's still early. So that's good. As Coach Ross says, if you know your role and play your role, then everything will come together. I know we'll give Rutgers our best."

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The game between the Scarlet Knights and Lady Rebels will have a special meaning for many. The two teams will join forces for "Tickled Pink In The Tad Pad" as they encourage fans to attend the game and help fight breast cancer.

The first 500 fans at the game will be given pink ribbons to wear in honor of those fighting the deadly disease. Players and coaches from both teams will also be wearing the pink ribbons. Additionally, the first 250 fans in attendance will be awarded a "Think Pink" thermos. All proceeds raised at the game will benefit the Baptist Center for Breast Health and the American Cancer Society's "Reach to Recovery" program.

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In a press release today, the 2005 USA Women's U19 World Championship Team, which dominated the 2005 FIBA U19 World Championship with a perfect 8-0 record and won the gold medal in Tunis, Tunisia, has been selected as the 2005 USA Basketball Team of the Year by the USA Basketball Executive Committee.

In addition to the U19 World Championship crown, the squad earned a 1-1 record in exhibition play against the Hungary U19 National Team and finalists for the USA squad rolled through its competition at the 2005 International Sports Invitational for a 4-0 slate and the gold medal in San Diego, Calif.

With its selection as USA Basketball's Team of the Year, the squad becomes eligible for the 2005 U.S. Olympic Team of the Year award which will be announced by the USOC at a later date.

Duke University's Gail Goestenkors served as head coach for the U.S. squad, while Hofstra University's Felisha Legette-Jack and Ole Miss' Carol Ross assisted Goestenkors on the sidelines.

"In sports there are many great moments but only a few experiences that are truly special," Ross said. "The U19 team being World Champions was one of those special moments. What a tremendous honor to share the gold medal and now the honor of being named the 2005 USA Basketball team of the year."

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Coming on Friday: A look at men's basketball as the Rebels head north to Chicago for a meeting with the Flames of the University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday at 3 p.m.

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