Emotional Day

Ole Miss lost to LSU 59-48 Sunday afternoon in an emotional day for several involved. Shawn Goff was one. Van Chancellor was another. So was Renee Ladner. There were probably others in the building who felt different than normal.

They all had their own reasons. It was Senior Day for Goff. It was homecoming for Chancellor. Ladner admitted it was just another game, even though she was competing head to head against her old mentor, when she played for the Lady Rebels and Chancellor coached them. She also played for him in high school at Harrison Central on the coast.

"But I think we're past all that now, and I'm sure he is, too," Ladner said after her team fell to 16-13 overall and 5-9 in Southeastern Conference play. "It's just another game. This week it's LSU. Next week it's Arkansas. I don't think he feels too emotional playing me. I just think he wants to win. So do I."

Chancellor, whose wife, daughter, and two of his grandchildren were in the building as well as a number of his former Ole Miss players and also players he coached in high school, said it was more than a game. And it had to be.

"We spent 19 great years here. This ain't like I'm passing through. Now let's get that straight," said the man, emphatically, who coached Ole Miss women's basketball from 1978-97. "For me, home is Oxford, Mississippi. It was good to come in here and get a win."

After those 19 years, he left for the WNBA and had success there. Then it was to LSU prior to last season and his first trip to the Final Four.

Even with all those experiences, the Naismith Hall of Famer said this one was different.

"My nerves were really bad," he said. "Probably the worst my nerves had been all year, if you want to know the truth. Really, really nervous coming in here for the game. A lot of my friends were here for the game. I thought we needed this game to make sure we were in the NCAA Tournament."

Chancellor, his team now 17-9 and 10-4, said it wasn't natural to enter the visiting locker room in Tad Smith, and a little odd to be sitting on the "other" end of the court coaching a team.

But the story for Ole Miss on this day, while losing this one, was the improvement the team and program made this season. Ladner, in just her second season, turned 13-16 into 16-13, and the Rebels have a chance to make the NIT field.

One of those reasons is Goff. She didn't have her best day, only scoring seven points and claiming four rebounds. During her four years in Red and Blue, she scored 1,110 points and grabbed 665 rebounds.

Earlier this year, she had become 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.

Ladner was glowing in her comments about Goff.

"You don't get gems like this very often," Ladner said. "She very quietly did her job, and that's why she is loved and respected by this team."

Now the Rebels, seeded ninth, move on to North Little Rock and the SEC Tournament. They face the homestate team Arkansas at 12 p.m. Thursday. The Razorbacks are the eighth seed.

On Feb. 15 in Fayetteville, Arkansas beat Ole Miss 70-59.

The Rebels might need a win to get into the NIT. That would be a nice accomplishment for this program, now just two years removed from the NCAA Elite Eight.

It wasn't necessarily a stellar year for the Ole Miss women, but it was an improvement over last year.

They aren't where they want to be, but they aren't where they used to be – at least not this time last year.

And now they look to a brighter future.

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