Ole Miss Women’s Basketball set to open SEC play at Florida

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Ole Miss women’s basketball team will put it’s 12-game win streak on the line Thursday as they travel to Florida to take on the Gators in the SEC opener.

The Rebels were scheduled to start SEC play at home last week against Arkansas, but that game was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Ole Miss program. The Rebels were also forced to postpone their game against No. 1 South Carolina this past weekend.

“I really hate that we didn’t play, we were really pumped for that game, Arkansas at home, but with COVID and the pandemic era you have to pivot and I think our team will do that,” head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin told reporters this week.

Ole Miss was red-hot before the COVID pause, winning 12 straight after dropping their season opener to Belmont at home on Nov. 11.

They won their first three road games of the season for the first time since 2000 en route to their longest winning streak since 1991.

The streak, the third-longest in program history, was capped off with a victory in the championship of the Palm Beach Invitational against No. 18 USF.

That victory marked the first win over a ranked opponent for Ole Miss this season and their first win over a ranked non-conference opponent since 2007.

It was the second tournament victory for the Rebels this season after defeating Cal to win the Raising the B.A.R. Invitational. Before that, the team had not won a regular-season tournament since 2014.

Defense has been the calling card this season as the Rebels average 11.1 steals per game, second in the SEC. They have recorded 10 or more steals in nine of their 13 games this season, including a season-high 17 against Samford on Dec. 17.

Graduate transfer Lashonda Monk ranks second in the nation in career steals among active players with 393, and is seven away from becoming the 31st player in NCAA history to reach 400 career steals.

Ole Miss has scored 16.3 points off turnovers in their last four games, utilizing their defense to generate plenty of fast-break opportunities.

The Rebels are among the top 10 in the country in scoring defense and rank first in the SEC, surrendering just 49.5 points per game. They have held eight opponents to under 50 points in eight of their 13 games this season, a school record.

Wright State transfer Angel Baker was superb for the Rebels before the pause, earning co-SEC Player of the Week honors for the last week of December.

Baker leads one of the most prolific benches in the SEC, one that has contributed 20 or more points in 11 games this season.

Coach Yo’s squad features 10 players that average at least 10 minutes per game and seven who average five or more points per game. Nine players have appeared in all 13 games this season.

The Rebels are led by superstar center Shakira Austin, who leads the team with 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and two blocks in just 24.6 minutes per game.

Austin was named to the Wooden Award Mid-Season Top 25 Watch List for the second season in a row, and appears on three midseason watch lists for the best player in college basketball. She is also a favorite to land the Lisa Leslie Award for best center in women’s college basketball.

The Rebels look to continue their winning ways against a Florida squad that won 10 non-conference games for the first time since the 2015-2016 season.

“Florida is aggressive, they’re experienced, they’re well balanced. They want to shoot the three or get to the basket so we’re gonna have to do a good job protecting both,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I just think every game in the SEC is a fight… this SEC is something else so we’re gonna go down there and be prepared for a fight.”

Ole Miss has lost each of its last three SEC openers, and is seeking its first road win to start conference play since 2007.