Ole Miss women prepare for ‘very good’ Grambling team in WNIT

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The season for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team is not over just yet. There is still some March Madness for them to experience. While it is not the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels will be playing in the postseason, hosting Grambling State Thursday in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (6 p.m., SEC Network+).

The winner of Thursday’s game will face the winner of Tulane and UT-Arlington in the second round at a date to be determined.

It was a long wait for Ole Miss (17-13) in finding out if their season had ended in South Carolina at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Rebels fell to LSU in the second round on March 2 and had to wait 11 days to see their name among the field of 64 in the WNIT.

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“You always get a little nervous,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell said of the wait. “We left (the SEC Tournament) knowing there was a possibility of playing in the postseason. I gave them four or five days off then got back to work the middle of last week. They’ve been excited. Been anticipating it.”

It is the second time in the past four years Ole Miss has reached the postseason, making it to the third round of the 2015 WNIT before being eliminated by Insell’s father Rick’s Middle Tennessee State team.

The teams were announced around 8 p.m. Monday night, but with the way the WNIT works, the matchups and bracket were not revealed until a couple hours later into the night. That meant Insell and his staff were not preparing for Grambling (18-14) until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

“I had no clue who we were going to play,” Insell said. “Once we got the draw, came up to the office got some film on them. Was up until about two or three o’clock in the morning watching some things so we could get a good game plan on Grambling. We feel good about our bracket.”

Grambling fell to Texas Southern in the SWAC championship game Saturday, leaving them only two days to sweat out their fate. The Tigers were the SWAC automatic bid due to winning the regular-season championship and have won 13 of their last 15 games. Shakyla Hill leads Grambling with 15.1 points per game. Two other Tigers are in double figures with Jazmin Boyd (11.8) and Monisha Neal (10.9).

“(Grambling) is a very good SWAC team,” Insell said. “We’ve played some SWAC teams and had some success this year. They’re one of the better ones. … We’re going to have to be locked in defensively on how we’re going to guard them. They’re a team that could cause some chaos against us in how they play defense.”

One last time?

The chances of the Rebels making the WNIT were good. It is the unknown of if a team will host or travel that is up in the air until the bracket is released. With Ole Miss earning a home game, and potentially another depending on other games’ outcomes, it allows the seniors another game in their home gym.

Oxford native Erika Sisk, Shequila Joseph, Taylor Manuel and Bretta Hart will play inside The Pavilion at least one more time.

“They have (earned this),” Insell said of his seniors. “That’s something that we won’t take lightly. Erika Sisk is going to leave here, Shequila Joseph is going to leave here with two postseasons that they’ve played in. That’s an achievement for them.”