Kentucky head coach Mickie DeMoss said, after Ole Miss missed 17 free throws in an 81-75 UK victory in Oxford on Sunday, that sometimes things like that just snowball on a team.
"What about the season as a whole?" DeMoss was asked concerning the Ole Miss team by a reporter in the postgame press conference at Tad Smith Coliseum. "Can a season snowball like that, too?"
"You get into like a little slump or a little stretch, and then your kids start feeling a little tighter and tighter, because they feel that pressure," said the veteran coach of women's college basketball – a Louisiana Tech grad and former Tennessee assistant as well as head coach at Florida. "Sometimes when you try harder, you make it even worse."
Carol Ross had become accustomed the past two seasons-plus to entering the Country Graham Media Room underneath Tad Smith with another W in the left-hand column. Lately that hasn't been the case. Ole Miss, 11-7 overall and 1-4 in league play, has lost all four of its home Southeastern Conference games this season.
That's a shocker for most, including the coaches and players. But Ross remains upbeat about her team and her program.
"It's disappointing today because the kids played hard enough to win," Ross said. "They gave great effort, which they always do. As a coach that's really all you can ask of a team. They've also shown resiliency. When times get tough, your character is exposed. The good news is that Ole Miss Lady Rebel basketball is in good shape in terms of character. They keep getting back up. They keep dusting themselves off and going right back at it. Eventually if you stay with that mindset, something good's going to happen."
Specifically concerning the Sunday loss, Ross said it mainly got back to shooting the basketball.
"We still didn't shoot it well," she said. "Only 39 percent. It's an improvement but still not very healthy. We've got to continue to help our players get better shots, get better looks, and get more consistent with what we're doing."
Another glaring statistic. Kentucky missed three of its 29 free throws in the contest. Ole Miss missed 17 of its 35.
"It's still shooting," Ross said. "It's all the same, whether it's free throws or field goals. We're not shooting it very well. Let's don't separate free throws from field goals. It's all the same. It was the same last game and the same this game, and we'll continue to work on it.
"Maybe we need to be hypnotized, I don't know," Ross quipped, almost under her breath.
Four Lady Rebels scored in double figures against the Lady Wildcats – Armintie Price with 22 points, Danetra Forrest and Tasi Worsham with 14 each, and Carla Bartee with 12.
"We had a lot of positives out there, although losses can make you forget about those positives," Ross said. "Our intensity was good, our enthusiasm was good, our energy was good. We forced 22 turnovers. We got some easier looks at the basket. We got balanced scoring and had multiple contributors on the offensive end. Those are very good things. We played well enough to win. We just didn't shoot well enough to win."
Defensively the Lady Rebels haven't been quite as effective or consistent this season as perhaps in the past. Giving up 43 points at home to Kentucky in the first half isn't what the staff was looking for. Against Florida in the previous game, a 66-58 loss to UF, the Lady Gators only had 20 points at the half – but obviously scored 46 in the second half. There's that consistency thing again.
Ross is not going to use this as an excuse, or even mention it. But it's there and should be noted. Had High School All-American guard Juanita Ward – now in a Florida juco because of not making the ACT score – and guard LaCourtney Ratliff – a juco transfer from Canton who did not qualify – made it to the Ole Miss campus, things might have been different this season. At least perhaps a couple more SEC wins, which changes everything at this point.
Of course, those two aren't here now, but they were signed and are part of the story of the season, since they were originally in the plans.
The two players of the new class who made it to campus – 6-3 Shawn Goff and 6-2 Brandi Tipton, both freshmen post players – have contributed but have no experience at this level like the two players who graduated last season – the two Ambers. Watts and Terrell have been missed inside the paint this season.
A couple of other notables: Senior guard Ashley Johnson was much more effective scoring in the pre-conference games than she has been lately. And sophomore transfer Carla Bartee, who never met a shot she didn't like, has been streaky in her first-year as a Lady Rebel – like 0-for-7 from the floor for no points against MSU when the Lady Rebs lost 70-59 to State at home, and with only two points in the UM win at Auburn, to 15 against Louisiana Tech and double figures on several occasions.
Another obvious negative for the Lady Rebs has been rebounding. Against Kentucky, as against Florida in the loss four days earlier, the Lady Rebs were without their No. 2 rebounder, Jada Mincy, out with a severe ankle sprain, status day to day.
"Rebounding is always a big issue," Ross said after UK outrebounded UM 48 to 34, including 30 to 15 on the defensive end. "We're always the shortest team on the floor. We've just got to do a better job of boxing out. We're not going to grow and other teams in the league aren't shrinking. We've got to find ways to somehow neutralize the height and keep people off the boards from getting second shots. We can't let teams get second shots every time. They will make you pay."
DeMoss, her team now 14-4 and 3-2, said Ole Miss is in good shape and will recover. She acknowledged it's been a tough stretch for the Lady Rebs.
"They'll get their rhythm back," she said. "They've had some great wins this season. Jada Mincy not playing hurt them inside tonight. They'll be fine."
Price said although things are rough right now, it's all about the next game, not the last one.
The next game: A revenge game, a rival game, at Mississippi State Thursday night. But more than that, the Lady Rebs need a win over anybody they face at this point.
"We're not giving up," the junior guard said. "We'll bounce back again. We just have to keep going at it."
"This team has not experienced losing," Ross said. "They've not experienced adversity in the heaping handful they are now. I continually admire them, because they come back to work ready to solve their problems. I'm not sure we were ever as good as people thought we were, and I'm not sure we're as bad as people think we are now. We're trying to get back to that middle ground."
There are some other reasons that the Lady Rebs had some early success they are not seeing now.
"The good news is we're playing as hard as we did against those earlier teams," said Ross, whose team beat Rice, Rutgers, Clemson, and Texas Tech during a 9-1 start and a 24th national ranking in the polls. "The bad news is there are about 14 tapes flying around now that people are scouting. So the things we were able to do against those teams, now people have a week to figure out what to do against us."
Ross says some changes have been made to try to compensate for things teams are doing to the Lady Rebs now.
"They're hitting us at some different spots," she said. "If we take away what we normally take away, we get beat on the inside. If we hang back on the inside, then our traps become irrelevant, because they can reverse the ball right out with no pressure. So we've trapped a lot less recently trying to get the middle of the floor back under control, which is where the games are going to be won and lost eventually. But we also have to create some turnovers to take some heat off our offense. It's a little harder right now for us to hide our weaknesses than it has been the past two and a half years."
The Lady Rebs haven't won at home in league play. Their only league win was at Auburn. Heading on the road for the next couple of games might not be a bad thing, according to Ross.
"The road's the only place we've won, so let's try it again somewhere else," Ross said. "Maybe that won't be a negative. The next game's against Mississippi State and that makes it important for a multitude of reasons. Right now for us it's important because they're the next SEC opportunity that we have.
"So we'll give it a shot somewhere else," she concluded. "We can see some positives, and we're still searching for others. So let's load up and go."
Lady Rebels press on as losses mount
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