Sweet Redemption

Even Kayla Melson, Ole Miss' second-leading scorer for the season, will admit playing her home-state school in Alabama carries a little more weight than others.

A native of Montgomery, Ala., the 5-foot-8 junior was passed over by the Crimson Tide in the recruiting process. Instead, she landed in Oxford, and has become a pivotal member of an Ole Miss squad that sits 10-5 overall and 1-1 in SEC play on the year.

Though she again took a backseat to dynamic senior Bianca Thomas, Melson slashed and gashed the Alabama defense to the tune of 19 points, five assists and four steals in a 70-56 win for the Lady Rebels Wednesday.

"With any kid that's not recruited from their home state, it is a bittersweet thing – especially when you're able to win," Melson said. "They beat us last year, which really cost us our chance at the NCAA Tournament. I was kind of on the edge and ready to play, because I am from the state of Alabama."

With both teams in search of their first conference win, Ole Miss held an early advantage, 9-8, with 11:03 showing on the scoreboard in the first half. The Lady Rebels didn't trail for the remainder of the period, as they continued to build their lead with the help of an 18-5 run.

At 27-13, Ole Miss coasted to halftime. The team outscored Alabama 9-6 the rest of the way for a 36-19 advantage as the horn sounded for intermission. For the half, senior Bianca Thomas paced the team in points and rebounds with 14 and 5, respectively.

In the second half, the Crimson Tide came out firing, with six quick points by way of 3-point makes. However, Alabama (8-7, 0-2 SEC) still trailed by a wide margin at 38-25.

Ole Miss answered with consecutive 2-point buckets by Thomas and Melson. And though the Tide attempted to claw back into contention, the Rebels held them at arm's length. As the clock read 11:47 remaining, and with timeout on the floor, Ole Miss stood comfortably with a 50-31 lead.

Alabama made a final comeback bid with just over six minutes left to play. Sophomore Ericka Russell, who connected on 5-of-11 attempts from behind the arc in the loss, dialed long distance to cut the deficit to 58-46.

An Ole Miss turnover on the other end gave the ball back to the Crimson Tide a possession later, and Carmen McCoy turned the mistake into points. Her 2-point bucket brought the team within 10, before Ole Miss' Elizabeth Robertson was good from the floor to silence the threat.

"Any win in the conference is a good win," said Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner, after her team finished off the Crimson Tide and led by no less than 10 points for most of the game. "We played outstanding defense in the first half and took their shooters out of the game. But we knew they could come back, which they did."

Russell led the Tide in scoring with 22 points, the only Alabama player to total double-digits. Varisia Raffington and Tierney Jenkins followed with nine points apiece.

Ole Miss shot 35.7 percent for the game to 37.3 percent for Alabama. The Crimson Tide held a slight edge in rebounds, 42-41. The Rebels were 78.8 percent from the free throw line, including 11-of-13 in the second half. Ole Miss also forced 21 Alabama turnovers.

Melson was briefly sidelined with injury after falling hard to the floor midway through the second period. She later returned, however, and finished the game as the team's second-leading scorer. Thomas notched a game-high 25 points in the win.

The Lady Rebels return to action Sunday, as they play host to Arkansas at 2 p.m.

"We lost to Alabama on their home court after beating them here by 30 (last season)," Ladner said. "That never leaves. That stays with you. Whenever you play them again, it comes back. Alabama is a much-improved team. They're a year older and they may very well beat some folks down the line. I feel very fortunate we got out of here with a win."


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