Ole Miss shocks No. 7 Rutgers

Armintie Price and Ashley Johnson each scored 22 points, and Ashley Awkward added 13 to propel the Lady Rebels to a 67-57 victory over No. 7 Rutgers. The win was Ole Miss' first over a top-ten team since defeating No. 3 Tennessee in 1996 and should move Ole Miss into the Top 25 for the first time this season.

It was a scene to behold. Lady Rebel basketball players danced in a circle to music blaring over the PA system; others screamed and pulled on their jerseys while walking across the court. The Ole Miss coaches all had smiles on their faces, and few of the Rebel faithful seemed ready to leave Tad Smith Coliseum.

That was the spectacle following Ole Miss' 67-57 victory over No. 7 Rutgers here Wednesday night. Preseason All-American guard Armintie Price scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Ole Miss Lady Rebels ended Rutgers' eight-game winning streak in front of 2,247 spectators at Tad Smith Coliseum. Senior Lady Rebel guard Ashley Johnson added another 22 points, while Rutgers' preseason All-American point guard Cappie Pondexter led the Scarlet Knights in scoring with 16 points.

Ole Miss improved to 7-1 with the win – two of which have come over top-15 teams at home – while Rutgers dropped to 8-1. The victory over Rutgers was Ole Miss' first over a top-ten team since defeating No. 3 Tennessee in 1996.

"This was a great win for this program," third-year Ole Miss head coach Carol Ross said. "This win showed us we're headed in the right direction and propelled our program. Rutgers is a good team with a coach I greatly admire. Anytime you beat a strong East Coast program, everybody in the country knows it. There will be a ripple effect from this game."

Defense was the name of the game Wednesday night, as Ole Miss' matchup zone gave Rutgers fits all night. The Scarlet Knights committed 23 turnovers compared to Ole Miss' 17, and the two teams combined for 22 total steals.

"As a coach who loves defense, we set a tone that allowed us to be successful," Ross said. "We ran our matchup zone with certain traps. We weren't successful because of coaching. It was just our players running around and making plays."

"They beat us soundly," Rutgers' eleventh-year head coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "They were active and played one of the best zone defenses we've seen. They came out and executed. They deserve this win."

The two teams traded buckets to open the first half as Ole Miss inched out to a 29-18 halftime lead. Rutgers' Pondexter hit a three-pointer with 15:35 left to break a 4-4 tie, but Ole Miss' Carla Bartee answered with a three-pointer of her own to tie the game 7-7.

Price and Johnson, Ole Miss' two standout guards, sparked two 7-0 Lady Rebel runs that gave Ole Miss a 21-11 first half lead.

The Scarlet Knights fought back to close the gap to 21-16 with 4:17 left in the first half, as Courtney Locke and Sammeika Thrash hit a three-pointer and layup, respectively.

But Ole Miss' defense stepped up the pressure, and Johnson added a jumper and two free throws to spark an 8-2 Lady Rebel run to end the first half. Ole Miss led 29-18 at the half.

Ole Miss extended its halftime lead to fourteen points early in the second half, as Armintie Price scored a layup and a free throw to give the Lady Rebels a 32-18 lead.

But the Rutgers offense, which had been held in check all game, finally exploded. Down 36-24, the Scarlet Knights went on a 6-0 run over a span of 24 seconds. Sparked by transition buckets and All-American point guard Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers closed the gap to 36-30. During the run, sophomore Matee Ajavon made three layups and Pondexter, who did not score from the 15:35 mark in the first half to the 12:39 mark in the second half, scored four quick points to cut the gap to six points.

But the Lady Rebels, as they seemed to do all night, responded. Coming out of a timeout, junior point guard Ashley Awkward and senior guard Ashley Johnson drained back-to-back three pointers to push the lead back into double-digits 42-30.

"I think we said, ‘If you've got it, shoot it,'" Ross quipped after the game.

Rutgers made it interesting down the stretch behind the second-half play of Pondexter, who scored 13 of her 16 points in the second period. Down 42-30, Pondexter anchored a 10-2 run that saw her score two quick transition buckets and close the gap to 44-40.

The teams traded baskets over the game's next six minutes. With Ole Miss leading 52-47 with four minutes left in the game, Pondexter sliced under the basket and between two Lady Rebel defenders to cut the lead to one possession 52-49. The Scarlet Knights stole the ensuing inbounds pass and had a chance to tie the score. But Pondexter's no-look pass under the basket went off a Rutgers player and out of bounds.

The Scarlet Knights were unable to get any closer, as two run-through steals and layups by Armintie Price and Ashley Awkward extended the lead back to double-digits 60-50 with 1:10 left in the game.

The Scarlet Knights finally succumbed to Ole Miss 67-57.

Rutgers has 16 days off before playing its next regular season game against Texas on Dec. 30 at home. Ole Miss next travels to Memphis on Friday.

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