A slow nonconference start set Ole Miss (8-8) back in its quest to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, but back-to-back victories over Arkansas and South Carolina have put that goal back in focus.
The Lady Rebs are 2-1 in the SEC and headed to Starkville Thursday for a 7 p.m. tip against rival Mississippi State (12-6). The Bulldogs are 0-3 during league play after falling to No. 9 LSU and former Ole Miss coach Van Chancellor 84-31 Sunday. It was the fewest points scored for Mississippi State in program history.
"This is the next step to get to eight," guard Shantell Black said. "We need the eight to get to the tournament, and this is a road game we can go in and win. Taking three in a row would be great for our momentum and our confidence."
The Lady Rebels are doing a much better job of taking care of the basketball and are quelling the second half blunders that have been a problem much of the season. Thanks to a tremendous nonconference road schedule, Ole Miss is confident and prepared for Thursday.
"When you go to Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State, there isn't much else to be scared of," Black said. It is a big game because it is our rival and bragging rights and all, but it is a big game because we know we can win on the road and it puts us one step closer to our goal."
Ole Miss seems to finally found its identity after struggling early with injuries, most notably Alliesha Easley being out for the season. A platoon of players have stepped up in her absence and filled portions of her game. Elizabeth Robertson and Bianca Thomas have both shown flashes of scoring potential from outside, while Black has moved from the point position to the shooting guard spot.
"It isn't one person, and that is what the team had to understand," Renee Ladner said. "We can be successful but only if the individual players understand their roles and work toward doing only what they can. We have moved players around and have a freshman point guard (Kayla Melson), but they are starting to get it."
Ole Miss owns a 58-14 overall record in the all-time series against Mississippi State that dates back to the 1974-75 season. The Lady Rebels have had the most success of any school in the SEC against Mississippi State as evident by their 58 career victories. Ole Miss has 21 more victories over MSU than any other SEC school.
Ole Miss also boasts an impressive 28-6 all-time record inside Humphrey Coliseum. The Lady Rebels have won the last two meetings in Starkville, and have won three of the last four at the Hump. Most recently, the Lady Rebels won last year's meeting in Starkville as former Ole Miss All-American Armintie Price hit a jumper in the lane with 1.8 seconds left to play to lift the Lady Rebels to an 86-84 overtime victory. Overall, the last three games in the series have all been decided by five points or less.
MSU is 0-2 at home this SEC season with losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
"You can throw out the records and the stats with Ole Miss and Mississippi State," Ladner said. "We always say it, but it is an important game. The girls are buying into getting to eight wins, and Thursday is a major step."
Lady Rebs set to invade Starkville
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