VIDEO: Lady Rebels expect to be NCAA tourney team
Expectations have risen for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team to the point that anything other than being one of the 68 teams to get a shot at playing for a national championship come March would be a disappointment.
“We feel like we have a team that can make the NCAA Tournament,” said head coach Matt Insell, who’s hit the fast forward button on the Rebels’ rebuilding job as he enters his third season at the helm. “That’s something that we’re shooting for. We will be upset if we don’t.”
Ole Miss was picked to finish sixth in the Southeastern Conference in the 2015-16 season by media members last week, a sign of just how far Insell has brought the program since the Rebels were pegged to finish last the previous two seasons. But the Rebels won 19 games a season ago and advanced to the third round of the WNIT after logging just nine wins the year before Insell was hired.
The Rebels’ attempt to get to the tournament that matters will start Nov. 13 when they open the season against Mississippi Valley State.
Returning a trio of starters is a good starting point with guards Erika Sisk, A’Queen Hayes and Shandricka Sessom all back, but Ole Miss has perhaps the biggest void of any team in the league to fill with the graduation of All-SEC forward Tia Faleru, who nearly averaged a double-double last season (14.6 points, 9.8 rebounds) and finished fifth all-time in program history in that category by the time she was done.
Insell has had his players go up against men more often in preseason practice to try to get his remaining post players ready for the physicality they’ll need on the boards. Sophomores Kelsey Briggs and Bretta Hart, junior Shequila Joseph and freshman Cecilia Muhate Pena will try to collectively pick up the rebounding slack.
“As far as replacing Tia on the boards, I feel real good with where we’re at with our post players,” Insell said. “A lot better than I thought I would at this time.”
The Rebels also have to replace the 3-point acumen of Gracie Frizzell and the dirty work of Danielle McCray.
“Every day, I knew what I was getting in practices and in the games (with McCray), so trying to find that steady player who’s going to be there every day that’s not going to have ups and downs, that’s something we’re looking for.”
Watch Insell, Sisk and Hayes talk about the upcoming season in the videos below.