Women’s basketball hopes to create early season momentum

Posted on Nov 9 2018 - 5:50am by Flint Christian

The Ole Miss women’s basketball team plays the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars at home on Friday night, a game in which the Rebels have the opportunity to start the season 2-0 and build early momentum in the Yolett McPhee-McCuin era.

Cecilia Muhate shoots over a Lemoyne-Owen defender during the team’s exhibition game last week. Ole Miss won the game 73-45. File photo by Christian Johnson

While Ole Miss hopes to continue its strong start after winning the season opener, however, IUPUI is not a pushover on the Rebels’ non-conference schedule. IUPUI is a strong member of the Horizon League, which Ole Miss is 5-2 against in school history. The 1-0 Jaguars also displayed a devastating three-point attack in their opening game over Purdue Northwest, coming within one three-point shot of the school record after knocking down 15 threes. IUPUI has been invited to the Women’s NIT the past three years and five out of the last six.

The Rebels will be forced to contend with a group of talented young players from IUPUI. Sophomore forward Macee Williams was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-Horizon after averaging 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Jaguars also welcome redshirt sophomore Katelyn O’Reilly, who led the team with 22 points on eight of nine shots in their first game of the season. O’Reilly transferred from FAU, where she shot 49.8 percent from the floor as a true freshman forward.

The Rebels’ 18-point victory against Norfolk State on Tuesday was an encouraging sign for a team that has a lot of new moving parts to figure out as the season moves along. After going 1-15 in conference play last year, the Rebels brought in McPhee-McCuin to be the next head coach, who won 31 games in her last three years at Jacksonville. McPhee-McCuin brings a sense of excitement and optimism to the program, and early success could build on itself for the new coach.

“We’re gonna be tough,” McPhee-McCuin said, following the win over Norfolk State. “I never said we were going to win games. I said we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to act like we enjoy playing the game, and when you watch us, you will be able to see that.”

However, Ole Miss will need to prove they can shoot better in order to win on Friday night. The Rebels were 2 of 13 from the three-point line on Tuesday, and 12 of 21 from the free-throw line.

The Rebels are deep at the guard spot, which places an even greater emphasis on making jump shots. Crystal Allen leads the team in scoring, Mimi Reid led the team with 6 assists in the first half alone against Norfolk State, and Shannon Dozier put up an efficient 11 points in 23 minutes against Norfolk State. This doesn’t even include the return of redshirt senior guard Shandricka Sessom, a preseason Second-Team All-SEC and two-time team captain, who was granted a fifth-year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending knee injury early into the 2017-2018 campaign.

Newcomers Allen, Jhileiya Dunlap, Dozier, Lakaris Salter and Reid were the top five scorers on Tuesday night, and their ability to gel alongside Sessom and other key players will be a development to keep an eye on during the non-conference schedule.

The early games of the season are important for the Rebels to begin to develop chemistry and familiarity. McPhee-McCuin inherited a team with a host of newcomers who will play important roles throughout the season, and fans can look forward to seeing what they’re capable of Friday night and as the season continues.