Ole Miss women’s basketball falls to No. 7 Tennessee 70-58

Published 3:45 pm Sunday, January 9, 2022

OXFORD, Miss — Unable to get into a rhythm offensively all afternoon, Ole Miss (13-2, 1-1 SEC) fell to No. 7  Tennessee (15-1, 4-0 SEC) Sunday despite an impressive outing from star center Shakira Austin.

The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Rebels and marked them their first defeat in conference play this season.

“Tennessee is a top-10 team in the country for a reason… when you win a lot of games you don’t get punched a lot, and we got punched,” said head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin.

Austin was the only bright spot for Ole Miss, pouring in a season-high 26 points on 8-10 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds. She was aggressive driving to the rim and drawing fouls throughout the afternoon, going 10-12 from the free throw line in the losing effort.

Coach Yo’s squad was content to let Tennessee fire away from deep, packing the paint and helping on every drive while forcing the Volunteers to shoot over their zone.

The strategy paid off initially, as the Rebels took the lead early in the first quarter thanks in part to a 1-9 start from the field for the Vols. Everything changed in the second quarter when Tennessee caught fire from deep, nailing four of their five attempts from beyond the arc in the quarter and extending their lead to 18.

The Volunteers locked in defensively as well, switching to a 2-3 zone that perplexed the Rebels and slowed their offense to a halt. Ole Miss struggled to space the floor effectively against the zone, forcing the ball into narrow passing windows and crowding drivers nearly every time down the floor.

Ole Miss entered the half down 39-21 after being outscored 23-10 in the second quarter.

“We gave Tennessee, the No. 7-ranked team in the country, 23 points and only scored 10… that’s why I kept calling timeouts just trying to get us to fight,” McPhee-McCuin said.

“I think we were really undisciplined… we just had a few possessions where people came in and didn’t do their job and didn’t compete hard enough… that second quarter really messed us up,” Austin said.

The Rebels continued to struggle in the second half, unable to find a rhythm offensively.

McPhee-McCuin was assessed a technical foul halfway through the third period for arguing a controversial blocking foul, which prompted an offensive burst from her squad.

“You know what I told the ref? I said ‘why’d you take so long to call it? Hurry up I’m trying to get my team fired up,'” McPhee-McCuin said. “He didn’t want to give me a tech I wanted to get a tech… that’s just an old-school coaching move.”

The Rebels knocked down five of their next seven shots following the technical, trimming the deficit to 11 late in the quarter. Austin scored seven points during that stretch, including an impressive finish through contact that netted her the bucket plus a foul.

The Volunteers proved too much however, starting the final period with a 9-2 run that pushed the lead back out to 18.

Ole Miss was unable to come up with an answer for Tennessee’s zone all afternoon, turning the ball over 13 times in a game that got out of hand quickly. They turned the ball over six times in the second quarter alone, failing to execute and playing sloppy with the ball.

“I thought that second quarter we lost our identity,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We had to dig deep in the third and fourth to even make the game somewhat competitive.”

Ole Miss players others than Austin shot a combined 12-49 from the field, including just 2-18 from three point range.

“My wings didn’t show up this game. They didn’t.” McPhee-McCuin said. “There’s seven of them and they did not show up… we needed them.”

McPhee-McCuin said the loss was painful, but was also an important step towards becoming a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender.

“This program hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 2007. We’re trying to get into the tournament so for me, this was great for us,” she said. “We needed to see where we were, we [as coaches] knew where we were but our players needed to see where we were because rebounding has been an issue for us and they just annihilated us on the glass.”

“I think it was a great learning experience… hopefully we know how important it is to lock in on scouting now, so hopefully we’ll transition that into the next couple games,” Austin said.

Ole Miss moves on to face Alabama on Thursday in the second of three straight home games.