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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Gonzaga women wary of Ole Miss despite shooting struggles

Laeticia Amihere #15 of the South Carolina Gamecocks loses control of the ball while guarded by Myah Taylor #1 and Angel Baker #15 of the Ole Miss Rebels in the third quarter during the semifinals of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 04, 2023 in Greenville, South Carolina.  (Getty Images)
By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

STANFORD, Calif. – Surprise: Ole Miss can knock down a few 3-pointers, and Gonzaga can play tough defense in the paint.

With all the talk of Gonzaga’s shooting and the rugged defense of Ole Miss, the other end of the court has received little attention ahead of their first-round NCAA Tournament game Friday at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.

That changed Thursday afternoon when Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin was asked about her team’s lowly average (29.4%) from beyond the arc.

“I just want to go on record that we’ve made some 3s here and there, too,” McPhee-McCuin said.

As the audience laughed, she reinforced her point.

“That was a joke,” McPhee-McCuin said. “But we really have. I mean, versus Missouri we made nine, so don’t let the Rebs get hot. This will become a 3-point shootout battle.”

Ninth-seeded Gonzaga (28-4) already faces a tough challenge in the paint from a physical Rebel frontcourt.

If Ole Miss gets hot from outside … well, Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier didn’t want to think about that.

“They’re great offensive attackers,” Fortier said. “They’re a slashing team and they of course have players that can shoot the ball well.”

The offense starts with All-Southeastern Conference guard Angel Baker, who averages 15.5 points and shot 39.6% from long range in SEC play, and point guard Myah Taylor (107 assists).

Ole Miss (23-8) enters the game averaging 69.3 points a game, almost 10 more than the 59.6 Gonzaga gives up per contest. The Rebels are 20-3 in games in which they score at least 60 points.

The Rebels are not a strong foul-shooting team, hitting just 67.2% to Gonzaga’s 79.1%.

Ole Miss shoots well enough from the field at 42.4%, impressive considering that 18 of the Rebels’ games came against SEC opponents.

Gonzaga’s approach won’t change, Fortier said.

“I think it’s going to be us trying to keep them out of the paint, keep them off the glass and do what we normally do, which is try to defend as a team.” Fortier said.

“They’ve got some pretty talented and athletic offensive players, and we’re going to just try to stop them as a group.”

That’s also the defensive strategy at Ole Miss, which puts a premium on disrupting offensive flow, shutting down inside shots and 3-pointers while conceding the midrange jumper.

The result: Opponents are shooting just 35.5% from the floor. Only 11 teams in Division 1 did better this season. Another impressive stat is their plus-7.1 margin on the boards in SEC games.

“I feel like y’all talked a lot about Gonzaga’s 3-point ability, but you can talk more about Ole Miss defense for sure,” Baker said Thursday.

Gonzaga counters with the best 3-point shooting percentage (41.4) in Division I. More concerning for Ole Miss, the Zags have several players who could get hot from outside.

Brynna Maxwell took 176 long-range shots this year and made 49.6% to rank second in the nation. Kaylynne Truong wasn’t far behind at 42.2%, and Eliza Hollingsworth is at 40%.

The Ole Miss coaches didn’t need much time to see the threat.

“They do a great job of spreading the floor and getting it into the hands of their shooters, and so I think they take good shots as well,” McPhee-McCuin said.

“Lisa runs great stuff, spearheaded by the point guard (Truong) who is just incredibly smart and runs the show for them and sets them up for success,” McPhee-McCuin said.

The Zags are shooting 45.3% overall, which ranks 28th nationally. Paying too much attention could open the lane for forward Yvonne Ejim, who is shooting a team-best 53.3%.

The Gonzaga-Ole Miss game will be preceded by the Stanford-Sacred Heart contest, which begins at 4:30 p.m. The winners will play Sunday.