Ole Miss will rely on defense in first-round matchup against Gonzaga in NCAA Tournament
March 13, 2023 Updated Mon., March 13, 2023 at 8:50 p.m.
At first glance, the Gonzaga women should feel pretty good about their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup Friday night against Ole Miss.
The Rebels shoot poorly from long range and haven’t beaten a top-tier opponent all season. They’re also traveling across country for only their second NCAA appearance in the last 16 years.
However, a closer look reveals a team that probably deserved a better fate than ninth-seeded Ole Miss will carry into Stanford’s Maples Pavilion.
The Rebels (23-8 overall) finished third in the tough Southeastern Conference at 11-5 – good enough to earn a 25 ranking in the NCAA’s NET algorithm.
It was earned mostly with one of the nation’s best defenses, which held opponents to an average of 56.8 points a game. The Rebels also have a plus-7.6 rebounding margin.
“I just think we gotta stay true to who we are,” coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin told the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger on Sunday.
“We won 23 games, and we’ve done it only one kind of way,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Any time we don’t, we lose. It sounds simple, but we have to stick to our recipe, which is defending, rebounding, running and sharing the ball. I think if we do that, we’ll have success.”
Success at the other end of the court has been more elusive. Ole Miss ranks 108th nationally in field-goal percentage and 251st in 3-point shooting at 29.4%.
Ole Miss is 0-5 against teams with a top-25 NET ranking. However, the Rebels took defending NCAA champ South Carolina to overtime three weeks ago at Ole Miss.
Three days earlier they took then-No. 2 LSU to the limit in Baton Rouge before losing 69-60.
The Zags and Rebels have one common opponent: Tennessee. The Zags beat Tennessee, 73-72, in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, while Mississippi lost to the Lady Vols by 14 last month in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Rebels are led by senior guard Angel Baker, a reserve last year who has blossomed into a first-team All-SEC honoree. Averaging 15.1 points per game, she shoots 45.3% from the field.
Junior forward Madison Scott (11.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and senior guard Marquesha Davis (10.2ppg, 4.7 rpg) are the Rebels’ other top threats.
The Rebels have plenty of tradition, but most of it was made in the previous century. Overall, the program has made 19 tournament appearances, including 10 Sweet 16s and five Elite Eights.
McPhee-McCuin, a native of the Bahamas, has spent most of her career in the South. For one year, 2006-07, she was an assistant at Portland of the West Coast Conference.
That was also the last time Ole Miss won an NCAA Tournament game, reaching the Elite Eight before falling to Tennessee.
McPhee-McCuin coached the Bahamas national team from 2013 to 2017 before coming to Ole Miss.
Inheriting a program that hadn’t been to March Madness since 2007, she went 7-39 in SEC games in her first three years. Last year the Rebels made it back to the tournament as a No. 7 seed only to lose to South Dakota in the first round.
“We don’t want to be one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament,” she said last month. “I don’t care what seed they give us.”
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