March 22, 2009
Renee Ladner hoped a loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament earlier this month wasn''t the end to her team''s season.
The University of Mississippi coach learned Monday that the Lady Rebels will play at least one more game.
Trouble is, Ole Miss didn''t find out until Friday night who and where they were playing.
Murray State defeated Arkansas-Little Rock 67-65 in a first-round game at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock, Ark. The victory means Murray State (23-8) will play at Ole Miss (17-14) at 4 p.m. today.
Murray State is only the second non-Sun Belt Conference team to defeat UALR in The Jack Stephens Center since it opened in 2005. The victory was just the second in the WNIT for the Lady Racers in school history.
Ladner, whose team received a first-round by like Mississippi State did last year, would have enjoyed playing at home, but she is just glad to still be playing after a week of practicing and waiting.
In fact, she feels her team might have had an epiphany Monday as it watched the NCAA tournament selection show. She said her players were "aghast" when they saw Georgia, a team they beat in Oxford, earn an at-large bid.
Ladner didn''t begrudge the Lady Bulldogs for earning the Southeastern Conference''s seventh bid. She said it helped her players realize how close the Rebels were to being one of the final teams considered.
Losses to South Carolina and Alabama, the SEC''s 11th- and 12th-place teams, coupled with close losses to Auburn in the SEC tournament and to Mississippi State and to Tennessee, just to name two, in the regular season left Ole Miss with too many what-ifs.
Ladner said it became clear to the players after watching the NCAA tournament selection show that they could have played their way in with a few more victories.
"I think we had a tendency to let any loss affect us in the next game, and somehow we never could overcome what we did previously," Ladner said. "It never came together until we all looked back on close we really were. Hopefully we learned a lot and the importance of playing every minute of every possession of every game.
"But we can''t talk about where we should have been. We have to talk about what we need to do."
Ladner is pleased her team is still alive because it means senior center Shawn Goff doesn''t have to hand in her jersey.
Goff, who was a honorable mention pick to the Associated Press'' All-SEC team earlier this week, is eighth in the SEC in scoring (13.4 points per game), 11th in rebounding (6.3 rpg.), and third in blocked shots (2.1 bpg.).
She enters the postseason having scored in double figures in 21 of the 28 games, including a career-high 25-point performance in a 71-65 March 6 against top-seeded Auburn in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. Goff also had 10 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
Earlier this season, Goff became the 22nd player in school history to score 1,000 career points. She is 19th all-time at Ole Miss in scoring. She also has grabbed 680 rebounds and is just 20 rebounds shy of becoming the 10th player at Ole Miss with 1,000 career points and 700 career rebounds.
Junior guard/forward Bianca Thomas also will have a chance to extend a season in which she was named first-team All-SEC by the coaches and second-team All-SEC by the AP.
Thomas, one of two Rebels to start every game this season, enters the postseason tied for third in the SEC (15.8 ppg.) and has scored in double figures in 26 of 31 games.
Ladner said the Lady Rebels have had a solid week of practice. She hopes the players are ready to take what they have learned to make a run at a title.
"I think they''re excited about getting a chance to play," Ladner said. "I like where are. Maybe it''s a good thing that we have not played in two weeks. We gave Auburn our best but we didn''t finish the game. I think they''re just now feeling good about themselves. I think it has taken the conference schedule for them to understand just how close we are and that we can play with anybody, we just didn''t finish the task at hand. Maybe that''s what we''re seeing. If it is, I hope it will continue."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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