The Ole Miss women’s basketball team lost in the first round of the SEC tournament on Wednesday, falling to the No. 13-seeded Florida Gators with a final score of 64-57 and ending the Rebels’ season.
The team finished the season with six straight losses, bringing the Rebels’ final record to 9-22 (3-14). Their three wins in SEC play came as a surprise to many, but they provide a foundation upon which first year head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin can build a respectable program.
The No. 12-seeded Rebels underperformed in the SEC tournament opener, falling behind early and failing to catch up despite a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter. Early on, it looked like the game would be quite the defensive battle, as both teams appeared locked in on the defensive end.
Crystal Allen led the way for the Rebels in the final game of her collegiate career, finishing with 22 points and 3 rebounds. This performance came just a day after she was named Second-Team All-SEC. She is the first Rebel to earn All-SEC honors since 2014-15.
The Rebels struggled offensively on Wednesday, shooting just 29 percent from the field in the first half, and missed both of their attempts from 3-point range. However, they held the Gators to just 18 points and 23 percent shooting in the first half. Both teams pounded the ball into the paint, and the Rebels’ offensive rebounding kept them in the game by providing the second-chance points that are so often demoralizing to stout defenses.
With the Rebels down just two points at the half, it looked like this game would be a close battle to the end.
Florida looked like a different team after the break, putting the pedal to the metal and finally breaking through its own offensive struggles. The Gators shot 55 percent from the field in the period, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Ole Miss lagged behind, jacking up unnecessary outside shots that hindered the flow of the offense and allowed Florida to attack on the fast break. The Rebels were 3-for-12 from the field in the quarter and 0-for-4 from deep.
Turnovers proved to be costly, and the Rebels’ inability to get back in transition defense gave the Gators a massive advantage with their points off turnovers. Florida outscored Ole Miss 25-14 in the period, and gave themselves a significant cushion heading into the final quarter.
The Rebels finally broke through offensively in the fourth, moving the ball more efficiently and cutting down on the backbreaking turnovers that had plagued them in the first three quarters. They shot 9-18 in the period, including 2-for-7 from beyond the arc, but failed to slow the Florida offense enough to mount an effective comeback.
Senior La’Karis Salter recorded 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting and grabbed 7 boards. Shandricka Sessom struggled in her final game in an Ole Miss uniform, scoring just 4 points on 2-for-8 from the field and 0-5 from the 3-point range, but she did record 5 rebounds.
The Rebels finished with just 4 assists as a whole as a result of their stagnant offense, and they were outscored 22-8 in points off turnovers. They also failed to record a single bucket on the fast break.
With a few key young players still on the roster, the Rebels now look to build for the future. McPhee-McCuin did what she could in her first year as head coach and should continue to improve the program in years to come.