No. 9 seeded Ole Miss took its first step towards the first SEC Tournament Championship in school history Thursday, downing No. 8 Arkansas 65-60 in North Little Rock, Ark.
Junior Bianca Thomas led the Lady Rebels offensively, scoring a career-high 31 points in the game. With the win, Ole Miss advances to a second round matchup with No. 1 overall seed Auburn Friday at noon.
"First of all, I'm extremely proud of my players. I didn't think we came into favorable conditions. We had to come into Arkansas and play Arkansas in what is their home court," said Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner. "That's always a disadvantage. But most importantly, I just believed in our kids and they competed for forty minutes."
The Lady Rebels are now 17-13 on the season, with a 6-9 record in conference action. Overall, Ole Miss is 24-29 all-time in the SEC Tournament and has won its first round game in each of the last six seasons.
The Rebs have gone on to bow out in the second round in each of those years, but has not lost in the first round since falling to South Carolina in 2003.
"I thought our zone really shut down the three and (Arkansas) began looking around," Ladner said. "We came into the game knowing that (Ceira) Ricketts didn't want to particularly shoot the three, but she would set a lot of screens. We started out in man and that lasted about one minute.
"As a coach, you want to make the shooters move and the drivers shoot outside. Our kids followed the game plan."
With her 31-point effort against the Razorbacks, Thomas has now topped 20 points for the ninth time this season.
After being named to the All-SEC First Team Tuesday, the junior proved brilliant yet again, scoring 18 of the team's 33 first half points.
"Today, my teammates were making screens, and I was coming off of them and knocking down the shot," said Thomas. "It was just a total team effort."
Ole Miss was outrebounded 40-26, marking only the second time this season that the Rebels came away with a win after losing the battle on the boards. The previous win came after being outrebounded by Old Dominion in a 79-72 victory on January 2nd.
The Lady Rebels forced 19 Razorback turnovers, producing 22 points.
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