Still Breathing

The Lady Rebels pulled off their biggest win of the season Sunday, topping No. 18 Vanderbilt 71-69. Read about it inside.

Ole Miss has a unique flair for late game dramatics.

May it be a close loss to Tennessee or last second win against South Carolina, the Lady Rebels always seem to find themselves in tight contests whether at home or on the road.

That trend continued Sunday, but the Rebels came out on top, defeating No. 18 Vanderbilt 71-69 in front of 1,047 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum.

"This was an incredible win for our team," said Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner. "It was a total team effort. With the streak we've been in as of late, you never know how your team is going to come out.

"I really believe we came out focused and stayed focused for most of the game. We had plays made by everybody at some point in time, but it was a great team effort."

Having suffered a painful setback at Alabama Thursday, there was a sense of urgency for Ladner and her squad to get a win over the Commodores.

With the Rebels one of five schools separated by two games or less in the league standings, today's win provides some breathing room in preparation for the SEC Tournament.

Also, topping such a quality opponent could give the group some added momentum heading into their final regular season game against LSU next week.

"This is the biggest win since I've been coaching," Ladner said. "I have the utmost respect for Melanie Balcomb and her defensive mindset. She's an incredible coach. Her style of play is very difficult to defend. So when you can put together a game like this, even against a team of that caliber, you really feel good about yourself. But more importantly, I feel really good about my team."

A tight affair throughout, the Lady Rebs fell behind early, as a three-pointer from senior Christina Wirth gave the Commodores a 10-2 lead.

However, Ole Miss (16-12, 5-8) reeled off an 11-3 run shortly after, nodding the game at 13 apiece with a little over 13 minutes in the first half.

The ladies took their first lead of the game at 19-18, with a layup from junior Shantell Black. But Vanderbilt (21-7, 10-3) continued to challenge, tying the score on two occasions, before taking the lead again at 21-23.

From that point, the Commodores began to build a lead, with their biggest advantage eight at 36-28. The Rebels battled back, using five-straight points to pull within three at halftime.

To open the second half, junior Bianca Thomas nailed three consecutive shots from long distance to give the ladies a six point lead at 42-36. Black connected on a layup, aiding in the Lady Rebels 11-0 run.

"It's tough when you talk about their best player at halftime and then she comes out and knocks down those threes," Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Our focus was just not where it should be. Our focus hasn't been there on the road all year. It's very frustrating. I don't think her threes were the turning point. They just beat us. Their effort was better. They out-rebounded us."

Merideth Marsh stopped the bleeding with a three of her own, but senior Shawn Goff got the free throw line and converted two foul shots to keep the Rebel advantage at seven with the score 46-39.

After a 7-0 run gave Vanderbilt a one point lead, Alliesha Easley made good on a three-point attempt to put the ladies back on top and spark a 10-3 run. When the dust settled, Ole Miss led 56-50.

The teams exchanged multiple baskets down the stretch, with the Rebels leading by as much as 10 at 66-56 with 4:30 to play. However, Vandy made an 8-0 run to pull within two with almost two minutes left in regulation.

With the Rebels holding a three point advantage at 69-66, Black was at the free throw line with a chance to put the game away. However, she missed both attempts, giving the Commodores life.

With 22 seconds left on the clock, Wirth caught a pass on the perimeter and connected on a three to tie the game at 69 with 12 seconds to play.

But Kayla Melson raced down the floor for a layup with only six seconds on the clock, to give the Rebels a 71-69 advantage.

A last second layup as time expired from Jence Rhoads was ruled no good, giving Ole Miss their biggest win of the season.

"We had talked about that in the timeout," Ladner said of Rhoads futile attempt with no time remaining. "We had two fouls to give and I said to foul. I don't think we could catch her. That plan didn't work. When it went up, I thought it was no good.

"I was ripping my team quite nicely when the announcement came, and then we all just hugged and said I love you."

Thomas led all Rebel scorers with 25 points on the afternoon and added five rebounds. Goff added 17 points and nine rebounds of her own, while Black had 10 points and 11 assists in the effort.

Ole Miss wraps up their regular season schedule in Oxford Sunday against LSU at 2 p.m.

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