Will Valley be Happy for Rebels?

Ole Miss (4-3) has staggered out of the gate with three losses in its first seven games including an 0-2 mark versus the Big Ten. Today at 7 p.m. (EST), the Rebels have one more opportunity to solve the baffling Big Ten as they are in University Park, Pa., for a date with Penn State (7-3).

The Rebels' four wins won't make any headlines, but a victory over the Nittany Lions would be the first quality triumph on the young season. Ole Miss has already been shutout in three games against major-conference competition. Nebraska, of the Big XII, disposed of the Rebels first before the Big Ten did damage with losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Adversity has played a part because of injuries, but first-year head coach Renee Ladner isn't talking about being banged up. Instead, Ladner says mental focus has to improve against quality teams.

"We hung with and outplayed nationally ranked Ohio State for 35 minutes before absolutely collapsing," Ladner said. "Maybe the team is feeling effects from last season still. I don't know, but it is a 40-minute game. With our schedule, anything else will be a loss."

The Rebels led Ohio State by six at halftime and clung to a 51-49 advantage late in the second half. However, the Buckeyes responded in crunch time and doused Ole Miss with a 17-4 run and a double-digit win. Multi-minute collapses on the road equal losses.

"It is still early, and there is time to get it together," said Carla Bartee, who leads the SEC in rebounding. "I don't think you ever know all about your team until the end of December, but at the same time, you can't dig yourselves into a huge hole. That is why right now is important, to find ourselves."

The roles on the team have changed since the beginning of the season thanks to injuries. Top returning scorer Alliesha Easley tore her ACL at Nebraska, and freshman post player Kayla Holloway also suffered a knee injury that ended her season. Those along with injuries of differing degrees to Shantell Black, Bianca Thomas and Brandi Tipton have had Ole Miss resembling a MASH unit thus far with all those missing some floor time.

The injuries have Bartee shifting her role. The preseason talk was to move her inside and let the strong forward worry about rebounding and being physical. Bartee has endured shooting woes since coming to Oxford because of poor shot selection. Ladner even went so far as to tell her not to shoot 3-pointers early on.

But with the problems keeping scorers healthy, that view has changed. Bartee was 3-5 shooting from behind the arc in Ole Miss' win over Arkansas- Pine Bluff Monday. Her new strategy is to take quality shots and not be bashful if the opportunity is presented.

"I just have to be selective," the senior from Waynesboro said. "It is tough with people hurt, but we have talent. It is just getting everybody in the correct roles."

The tough part tonight will also be taming the Nittany Lions, who are undefeated at home this season and only lost one game there last year. Penn State boasts four players in double figures for scoring and have already knocked off one SEC team this season – at South Carolina 70-63.

Prior to this winless slump against the Big Ten, Ole Miss had won three out of four against the conference including a home 17-point shellacking of Penn State last season.

"It is going to be a battle," Ladner said. "Or I hope it is a battle. We have to come to play.We have to learn from these road losses and put it all together."

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