Second-Half Surge Puts Florida Over Ole Miss, 78-68
OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss women’s basketball team entered the break in good position after a blistering second quarter, but a slow start in the back half proved to be the difference as Florida pulled ahead for a 78-68 win over the Rebels at The Pavilion on Sunday.
One look at the stat sheet tells a relatively balanced contest between the Rebels (7-5, 1-5 SEC) and Gators (9-6, 2-5 SEC). Ole Miss shot 47.5 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc while also pouring in 40 points in the paint, but the divergence comes from a 25-12 edge to Florida in the third quarter, as well as eight additional free throws (16-of-19) and a hot Gator effort from beyond the arc (8-of-16).
“At halftime, we talked about the next three minutes being crucial,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “We’re going to either take the lead or get smacked in the face. We have to learn through adverse moments. That’s just what has to happen.”
Ole Miss received four double-digit performances, led by senior Valerie Nesbitt with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Nesbitt, in her third start of the year at point guard, also led with a career-high seven assists. Other Rebels in double-digits included Madison Scott (14 points, four rebounds, two assists), Snudda Collins (11 points, two rebounds) and Shakira Austin (10 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two steals).
Collins was on fire from deep, draining three of the four Rebel trifectas on the day – her sixth game with at least three this season. She entered Sunday leading all SEC freshmen in threes made and third nationally among freshmen in three-point shooting percentage (.449).
Conversely, Florida’s Kiara Smith (25 points) and Lavender Briggs (16 points) combined for 41 points on the day, 28 of which came in the second half and 20 of which came in that high-octane third quarter. Smith was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, and her 16-point second half allowed the Gators to take control after playing from behind for the majority of the first half.
In her third start of the season, Iyanla Kitchens (four points, one rebound) got involved in the paint early with a pair of baskets, giving her team an early 4-0 lead. Going into the first media timeout, the Rebels forced Florida to commit three turnovers. Both teams struggled to score, as they shot under 30 percent from the floor. Ole Miss had a 6-4 lead when the Gators proceeded to make four straight and take their first lead of the game late in the opening frame. Defensively, Florida ended the quarter just as hot, forcing Ole Miss to miss six straight and using a 7-0 run to take a five-point lead. Nesbit’s last-second layup cut her team’s deficit to three, 13-10, at the end of the first quarter.
Austin began to heat up with three consecutive baskets, scoring six of Ole Miss’ first eight to begin the second quarter. That allowed Ole Miss to have a 24-21 lead with 4:53 left in the first half. The Rebels began the quarter making 7-of-11 from the field. The game proceeded to go back and forth for the reminder of the first half, with Ole Miss answering the majority of opposition baskets. Scott blocked a last second layup to hold the Rebel lead at 37-33, giving Ole Miss a surge of energy into halftime.
After a sluggish offensive start, the Rebels ended the first half shooting 48 percent from the floor (16-of-33) and scored 27 points in the second quarter alone. They held a 20-15 edge and a 24-16 advantage in the paint. Nesbit led the way for Ole Miss with 10 points, her largest first half total since Nov. 26, 2019 against Sam Houston State (12). Nesbit also had a team-high five rebounds and six assists, already tying a career high. Austin wasn’t too far behind with eight points. Both players finished 4-of-5 from the field in the opening half.
The Gator defense came fierce out of the locker room, forcing several turnovers as Smith lit the fuse offensively with a pair of threes on a 10-0 Florida run. Mimi Reid (seven points, two assists, one rebound) ended the slide with a three at the 6:10 mark, but an efficient Gator offense would not relent, closing the frame on another key run of 13-4 to take a 58-49 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
Another Florida three-pointer by Jordyn Merritt (seven points) gave them a 12-point lead right off the bat to begin the final quarter. The Rebels would cut their deficit to eight after a Collins three with 6:50 to play, but that would be as close as Ole Miss would get the remainder of the contest as Florida held a double-digit lead until the final buzzer.
“Every time we step up on the floor, we have to fight, we have to compete and we have to grow,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Until we get through it, we’re going to come up short.”
The Rebels will now begin a two-game road stretch on Jan. 28, traveling to Knoxville to face No. 25 Tennessee (10-3, 4-1), which just upset No. 12 Kentucky, 70-53. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network+.
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