Searching for Consistency

Renee Ladner has been searching for a little more consistency from her team. Monday's 92-64 win over Northwestern State on opening night of The Ole Miss Holiday Classic gave her a glimpse of what she's been looking for from the Rebels.

Make that more than a glimpse. How about three-fourths of a game?

"I thought we played extremely well for about 30 minutes," the second-year UM head coach said after her team improved to 9-4 on the season. "We were focused, we understood our roles, we got the ball inside in the paint, and we dominated on the boards. We had good shot selection and played very good defense."

If only things were like that every game for all 40 minutes.

"But I thought we got sloppy at the 10-minute mark of the second half and allowed them to get some easy shots," Ladner said.

In some tougher games, like Tuesday night's encounter with Rice in the finals or against traditional power Old Dominion Friday at 6 p.m. in Oxford, that might have mattered. Against the Demons, the outcome hadn't been in doubt since early in the first half.

Three minutes into the game, Ole Miss led 10-0 and rolled on from there. It was 52-23 home team at halftime, and although the Rebs were outscored 41-40 in the second half, they were never threatened.

There was one heart-stopping moment. Key substitute sophomore guard Kayla Melson was defending during a one on one play near the Northwestern State goal as a Demon drove in for a layup.

Melson was called for a foul, fell to the floor, and appeared to slide head-first into the padded lower portion of the goal. She moved slightly throughout the next few minutes but was lifted onto a board and rolled off the court on a stretcher.

There was 5:45 left in the game at that point. The UM lead, which had been as much as 39 points, was 26 points at 80-54 at that particular moment. The Rebels stretched the lead back out to as much as 32 points before coasting home.

"Right now we have taken her to the hospital for precautionary measures," Ladner said of Melson. "There will be an MRI. We know that she hit the goal post and heard a pop in her neck. I don't know if she was fearful to move it or couldn't, but the good news is she was conscious and she could move her hands and her feet. So I feel good about that."

A couple of hours after the game was over, there was still no word on Melson's condition. A report is expected Tuesday.

As for the game, the 92 points was the highest scoring output of the season for the Rebels. Ole Miss shot 51.5 percent from the field to mark the fourth time this season the Rebels have shot over 50 percent.

Ole Miss finished the game with 52 points in the paint. It was the ninth time this season Ole Miss has registered more points in the paint than its opponent. Senior center Shawn Goff is one of the main reasons for that inside presence and success.

Goff, at 6-foot-3, led her team with 20 points, had six rebounds, four blocks, and six steals for an all-star night.

Junior 6-2 forward Katorra Lewis had 15 points, nine rebounds, and four steals. Junior guard Bianca Thomas had 15 points as well, and sophomore guard Alliesha Easley had 11.

Ole Miss outrebounded Northwestern State 49-29.

"We pounded them on the boards," Ladner said. "If you rebound and defend and score most of your points in the paint, you're going to win games."

A couple of the Rebs' four losses continue to haunt. Ole Miss had a shot to win at North Carolina State but lost by four points on a day of celebration for legendary Wolfpack head coach, Kay Yow, coaching her 1,000 game. Ole Miss led late but wasn't able to finish.

And a home loss to UALR in overtime is a setback Ladner can't shake.

It's all been a part of that consistency, or the lack thereof, that Ladner hopes she sees changing.

"At this point in a season, you should be growing and maturing as a team," she said. "Hopefully we are doing that."

Ole Miss and Rice (4-6), which defeated Tennessee-Martin 66-57 in the day's first game, play at 7 p.m. Tuesday. UT-Martin (1-10) and Northwestern State (6-4) play in a contest that begins at 4:30 p.m.

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