The journey has been long-and-winding for lone senior Shawn Goff, but her final regular season game for the Lady Rebels has finally arrived.
The Tallahassee, Fla. native was a valued contributor in Ole Miss' epic Elite Eight run in 2007 and has been equally important to her team's successes this season.
Goff averages 13.5 points per game, along with 6.3 rebounds for the year. She was also selected All-SEC second team by both the league's coaches and the Associated Press as a junior, while setting the single-season record for blocks (67).
Goff will finish her career as one of the all-time greats to ever wear an Ole Miss uniform. During her four years in Red and Blue, she has scored 1,103 points and grabbed 661 rebounds.
Earlier this year, she became just the 22nd player in school history to score over 1,000 career points and currently ranks 20th all-time at Ole Miss in scoring.
"It'll be a bittersweet moment for us, naturally, because we've had such an outstanding young lady in a Rebel uniform," Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner said of Goff. "She means a lot to our program and to our team. But as you do every year, you have to let some good ones go. She's ready to go out and take on the world."
While Sunday's game carries underlying significance in Goff's home finale, the Rebels remain focused on their possible run towards the postseason.
Following a last-second upset over then-ranked No. 18 Vanderbilt a week ago, the team now welcomes LSU. The Rebels have an overall record of 16-12 and 5-8 mark in conference play.
"You can't tell (which team will come out each game)," said Ladner. "It's the last regular season game, but I hope we have many, many more games to play. I hope they don't come out with the pressure of ‘We have to get this one for Shawn (Goff).' Everybody should always play for each other and should play for the name on the uniform – Ole Miss Lady Rebel.
"I think they look at this game as one we need to get. It is our last home game, which is always hard to think about, but I hope we have a lot more games (to play)."
The Tigers are one of the hotter teams in the Southeastern Conference, having won four-straight games. After defeating Tennessee 63-61 in their most recent action, the Bayou Bengals roll into Oxford sporting an impressive 16-9, 9-4 record.
They also clinched a first round bye in next week's SEC Tournament with the Lady Vol win.
"LSU's on a four-game win streak. They had a big win against Tennessee, and a game where they won by one point against Kentucky. They're playing much better," Ladner explained. "They're a group of talented freshmen that have gotten a little bit better as the season's progressed. Again, they're playing with that LSU tradition, which is ‘We're supposed to win.' They're starting to believe that a little bit more. They're going to come in and give us their best game Sunday afternoon."
Leading LSU offensively is junior Allison Hightower. The 5-foot-10 guard tops all Tigers in points at 14.4 ppg and also adds 4.5 rebounds.
The Rebels will counter with junior Bianca Thomas, who tops Ole Miss in scoring (15.4 ppg) and also in average minutes (30.4).
"I think we matchup quite well," said Ladner. "We're a pretty good matchup in the post. Hightower's their leading scorer and Bianca Thomas is our leading scorer, so there's the three matchup. I think I have some really good on-ball defenders in my point and two guard positions, so that helps us a good deal.
"They play a sagging man-to-man (defense). That's why the scores are so low, because it makes it difficult to get the ball inside. That's something we haven't seen this year. We've been able to open up the lanes and use a lot of dribble-drives. We'll have to run offense, understand our reads and set some good screens."
Win or lose, the Lady Rebels will enter Little Rock as either the eight or nine seed in the SEC Tournament. However, if they are able to claim victory over LSU and Georgia loses to Florida, Ole Miss will claim the higher seed.
No matter the outcome, Ladner would like to see her team gain consistency as the regular season draws to a close.
"Where we haven't been strong this year is mentally," she said. "We haven't had that mental toughness to finish games. But I've seen a resurgence of toughness toward the end of this season – something I hadn't seen earlier. I thought we saw it against Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is a good basketball team, but our kids found a way to get it done.
"LSU will be hard for 40 minutes. There won't be anything easy about it. They'll play a style of play we probably don't like to play against; where they get back and we don't get transition baskets. So we've got to find other ways to score."
Former Ole Miss head coach Van Chancellor will be making his first return to Tad Smith Coliseum since his departure in 1997. Chancellor served as head coach at Ole Miss from 1978-97 and comprised a 439-154 record in 19 years.
In addition, Chancellor led Ole Miss to the Elite Eight at the NCAA Tournament four times, while his teams made the Sweet 16 on three other occasions.
The Lady Tigers have won three straight meetings with Ole Miss and 14 of the last 15 overall.
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Sunday.
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