Lady Rebs win over Auburn with complete game

It's been tough not to look back to before New Year's Day for the Ole Miss women's basketball team. But who could blame the Lady Rebels if they did just that.

Ole Miss got past Auburn 76-68 at home Thursday night to improve to 11-14 overall and 5-7 in Southeastern Conference play.

With a road game at 12th-place Alabama up next, a team the Lady Rebs beat 76-47 in Oxford on Super Bowl Sunday, and a .500 Florida team at home for Senior Day in the regular season finale, this Ole Miss team has a chance to finish 7-7 in league play.

That's usually a good enough record to get an SEC team into the NCAA Tournament, especially one coming off an Elite Eight finish last season.

That also means the "looking back" part for this team is all about the non-conference.

The Lady Rebels faced 2007-08 with some substantial losses through graduation, namely Armintie Price, Jada Mincy, and Ashley Awkward, and then played through a slate of out of conference games Tennessee or Connecticut might have struggled with.

Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina State, California-Santa Barbara, and Montana all beat the Lady Rebels before the calendar year 2007 ended.

This UM team has rebounded from not only that stretch of games, which left them 6-7 back then, but has shown resiliency to come back from some one-sided losses against the likes of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and LSU.

It's a trait that Coach Renee Ladner likes from her first Ole Miss team. It's also a characteristic that would indicate they are getting better as the season progresses, a good sign for the future, both in the next couple of weeks and in the seasons to come.

"We've gotten a little bit better each game," she said. "It's not always been pretty, but the one thing has been that if they lose by 30 or win by two, they come back and practice hard tomorrow. That makes a coach's job very enjoyable. This team always gives us more."

The Auburn game was a case of everybody giving more and also contributing. Eight players played. Eight players scored.

"Incredible," Ladner said, as her team had four players in double figures, led by sophomore guard Bianca Thomas with 16 points. "It appeared everybody who came into the game played their best game."

Ole Miss has known adversity much of this season. Three players are out for the season with injury, the most significant being sophomore guard Alliesha Easley, who suffered a season-ender in the season opener at Nebraska.

Ladner said she called on the team before this contest to give it all they had once again.

"I asked them before the game to make one more play," she said. "I truly believe if we'd have made one more play, just one more play, in most of our games, then we wouldn't have a lopsided record right now. And tonight they responded once again."

The Lady Rebels trailed 17-8 early but outscored the Lady Tigers 29-9 to take a 37-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Auburn, which fell to 18-8 and 6-5, cut it to four points twice in the second half. But each time the Lady Rebels pushed the lead back out to double digits.

Ole Miss was 8-of-9 from the free throw line midway through the second half. The Lady Rebs wound up 20-of-25 for the game.

Ole Miss was 6-of-10 from 3-point range. The Lady Tigers were just 4-of-16.

Auburn had been averaging 16 turnovers a game. The Lady Rebels caused them to turn it over 24 times.

"We're undersized, so we have to do most of our damage in the backcourt," Ladner said. "We know we have to play pressure defense to win games and to score. Our defense is our offense. We're not a real good half-court team. By pressuring the ball, the kids played our gameplan to perfection."

A plan she knew had to include a complete game.

"I've been begging these kids to play for 40 minutes, and tonight we put a 40-minute game together," said the former Lady Rebel player and UM assistant coach for the past four seasons. "We weathered some storms out there. We didn't make back to back mistakes. And our kids had that look in their eye that they believed they were going to finish the game. We beat a very good basketball team tonight."

And it appears they've become a pretty good one themselves.

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