Rebels Hang On in Thriller Over Alabama, 67-62
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – One of the NCAA’s youngest teams was tested after letting a 14-point lead slip in the second half, but a strong fourth quarter by the red-hot Ole Miss women’s basketball team helped the Rebels pull through over Alabama, 67-62, on Thursday night.
Ole Miss (9-7, 3-7 SEC), fresh off an upset over No. 14 Kentucky on Feb. 4, were dominant in the first half, extending to a 37-26 halftime lead over Alabama (12-6, 5-6 SEC) and led by as many as 14 in the second quarter. The Tide pushed back with a strong 21-8 edge in the third quarter, but the Rebels countered with a 22-15 flurry in the fourth to seal victory – their first over Alabama since 2015 and first in Tuscaloosa since 2012.
“Super proud of these young women tonight,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “We’ve been knocking on the door for a road win for some time. Really glad we were able to stave off Alabama’s run and come away with the victory.”
Shakira Austin was once again a force from the opening tip with her third straight double-double, the first Rebel to do so since Tia Faleru in 2014-2015. The Lisa Leslie Award Top-10 list member finished with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting and an Ole Miss career-high 13 rebounds. Madison Scott also finished with her third career double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Ole Miss shot 41 percent from the floor while outdoing the Crimson Tide in the paint (32-28) and on the glass (45-42). Besides Austin’s dominant night, the Rebels showed off their depth by outscoring Alabama’s bench 12-6, something that proved crucial at Coleman Coliseum on Thursday night.
After giving up a jump shot from Megan Abrams on the game’s opening possession, the Rebels used a 12-2 run to seize control early while getting three steals a halfway through the first quarter. Ole Miss controlled the pace of the game offensively and forced a 4:27 scoring drought to conclude the first quarter with an 18-9 lead. Six different Rebels found the scoreboard as they shot 41 percent from the floor.
The Tide cut the deficit to five to begin the second quarter thanks to an offensive burst from Abrams, but the Rebels answered most threats to keep a multi-possession, 27-18 lead with 4:38 left in the first half. Both teams proceeded to go back-and-fourth before a couple easy baskets from Austin and Scott gave Ole Miss a 14-point lead. A three-pointer from Hannah Barber made it a 37-26 game going into the locker room.
Ole Miss shot 48 percent from the floor and had their way in the paint with a 22-12 advantage. Austin finished another dominant first half with 12 points (5-of-8 FG) ,while Collins had six, all of which came from the three-point line. Scott’s five rebounds gave Ole Miss a plus-five advantage on the boards (22-17). Defensively, they forced the Crimson Tide to shoot 30 percent and forced six turnovers to along with three blocks, two of which came from Caitlin McGee.
Alabama made it a point to attack the basket to begin the second half as they drew fouls and cut the deficit to five just a few minutes in. Valerie Nesbitt also picked up her third personal foul during that stretch. After seeing their big lead dwindle down to three, McGee ended an 8-0 Tide run in the second half with a corner jump shot. The Rebels staved Alabama off for the next five minutes, but an Abrams three-pointer and free throws from Jordan Lewis gave Alabama their first lead since the game’s opening possession to go into the final quarter up 47-45.
The Tide continued to attack the basket, extending their lead to five before Austin kicked into another gear as Ole Miss stormed back with a 12-0 run and took a 59-52 lead with 5:40 remaining in the contest. Alabama rallied, cutting the deficit to two with 2:08 to go after a pair of free throws. Austin went 1-of-2 from the free throw line on the following possession and got a rebound with her team up by three with a minute left. After a free throw from Scott, Alabama called a timeout down 64-60 with 42 seconds left. Lewis nailed two free throws to make it a one possession game again 10 seconds later. Four seconds separated the shot and game clock as the Rebels possessed the ball. Mimi Reid was intentionally fouled, sending her to the free throw line. Reid connected on both with 26.2 seconds to go. Ariyah Copeland’s layup went off the mark, and Donnetta Johnson’s rebound free throw sealed the deal for the visitors from Oxford.
“We’re coming together and we’re connected,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Our team trusts each other. I played 11 kids tonight. There is strength in our bench. They like the experience, and I don’t believe they want that to fade anytime soon. Our team is primed to play really good basketball right now.”
The Rebels look to keep rolling this Sunday (Feb. 14) when it will host in-state rival Mississippi State at The Pavilion for a Valentine’s Day showdown on SEC Network.