As I walked into Tad Smith Coliseum Thursday, there was a different feel than days before.
Ole Miss was rather loose, as the starters and reserves were split on opposite ends of the floor, casually participating in a mid-afternoon shootaround.
These last few weeks have been odd for Renee Ladner and the Lady Rebels. They haven't seen live game action in almost two weeks – a far cry from their usual every-third-day SEC schedule.
"What I know right now is not so much about each team, but about my team," said Ladner. "My biggest concern is we've been off for two weeks now and the two teams we might play just finished playing last week. I'm trying to get us back in game shape and get our mentality right.
"Both (UALR and Murray State) are good teams. That's why they're in the WNIT. There are a lot of teams in the tournament that are just like us – they just left too much on the table."
Ole Miss won't know its Sunday opponent until Murray State and UALR face-off Friday. The Rebels will get another home game if the Racers were to claim a road victory, but will have to travel to Little Rock with a Trojan win.
Such scenarios are what make the WNIT one of the more bizarre tournaments in college basketball, as the Lady Rebels received a first round bye upon selection.
But their fate hasn't been decided, with Ladner having to prepare her team for both during a relaxed week of practice.
"UALR we played earlier in the year and I didn't think we gave them our best game," Ladner said. "But I know we're a better team and so are they. If we have to play there, that's home court advantage for them. They have 5-7 solid players that are very good. They're very well coached.
"Murray State, on the other hand, has won some games that have put them in this position once again. They will have to go into a hornets' nest in UALR and try and win a game there. If you're playing percentages, you're preparing for the home team."
Ole Miss is 3-0 all-time against Murray State, but has not played the Lady Racers since 2001. The Rebels are 4-1 all-time against UALR after the Trojans defeated Ole Miss 64-61 in overtime earlier in the season.
The Rebels enter the WNIT following a strong showing at the 2009 SEC Tournament. Ole Miss reached the second round of the event for the sixth-straight season after knocking off eighth-seeded Arkansas 65-60 in the first round.
Regardless of opponent, however, Ladner is excited the Lady Rebels get to experience postseason play for the fifth time in six years.
"I think we've had some of the best practices of the year over the last two weeks," said Ladner. "They've come out ready to play and I hope that's something we can continue to build on. I don't know if they understand there's a sense of urgency or if they're simply coming together. But I've seen some real positive things. I like where we are as a team. Now we just need a game."
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