By TENAJH SWEETING
Tribune Sports Reporter
The University of Mississippi Ole Miss Rebels are headed to their first Battle 4 Atlantis finals after completing a 9-point comeback victory against the University of Arizona Wildcats at the Imperial Arena, Paradise Island, in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis women’s semifinals yesterday.
The Ole Miss Rebels dropped the Wildcats 56-47 over the weekend to make their debut in the final round.
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) D1 team is slated to face the University of Michigan Wolverines in the championship game today at noon.
The third women’s basketball tournament got off to a rousing start for the Ole Miss Rebels, led by Grand Bahama native Yolett ‘Coach Yo’ McPhee-McCuin, on Saturday where they knocked off the Howard University Bison in the tourney opener 67-54. Following this showing in game one, they reeled off a gritty win in the semifinals against the Wildcats who came into the matchup sporting a 5-0 win/loss record. Coach Yo, who was overjoyed to be back on home soil, credited the come-from-behind victory to a last minute defensive change in preparation for yesterday’s semifinals against the Wildcats.
“I was so proud of our team, they really just believed in our game plan that we just put in, in the wee hours of the night. My heart was like you need to play zone and that is what our culture is about, the four ins - believe in, buy in, lock in and be all in - and that is what you saw,” the Grand Bahamian said.
Over the weekend, it was a common theme for the Ole Miss Rebels to get off to a sluggish start on offence in the first half but ramp up their intensity on defence in the second half.
Coach Yo’s team stayed true to the narrative against the Wildcats, who they trailed 22-16 to conclude the first half of the semifinals. Within the first two quarters, the Wildcats ran out to their biggest lead of the game, 11, at the 4:13 mark in the second period to take charge against the no.23 ranked team.
However, after the halftime break the momentum shifted in favour of the Ole Miss Rebels. Forward Marquesha Davis was electric and turned in a game-high 17 points, complemented by six rebounds and two steals. Davis shot an efficient 7-for-11 on a 63 per cent shooting clip from the field.
Madison Scott was also instrumental for the Ole Miss Rebels, putting up her second consecutive double-double in two days with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
In the third period, Coach Yo’s women’s team turned up the heat on offence and defence. They opened the quarter on a 13-0 run to secure their first lead of the bout and clamped down defensively to stall the Wildcats offence for almost six minutes.
At the end of the third quarter, they outscored the Wildcats 25-11 and were in the driver’s seat 41-33 headed into the final segment of the game.
Coach Yo talked about her message and adjustment to the team’s strategy during the halftime break.
“That was the biggest team we have seen this season and we were trying to play their game because that is our game getting to the paint, and creating fouls but they were so big and long that they were dominating us and it kind of got us rattled.
“We made adjustments to open up the floor for our team because they were so big. Usually when someone is big, laterally they are not as good.
“Our zone held up that we just put in place last night, and we were able to get in the paint and create offence from our defence because they were missing in the zone and we were able to get out in transition,” the head coach said.
The Rebels bested the Wildcats in the paint 32 to 26. Additionally, they earned 12 points from fastbreak opportunities compared to eight from their opponents.
Despite it being an ugly offensive game for both teams, with both squads shooting under 40 per cent, the Ole Miss Rebels now have their sights set on the 4-0 Wolverines.
The latter solidified their finals spot after defeating the South Dakota Coyotes 70-52 for an 18-point win yesterday.
Coach Yo was ecstatic for the Rebels to hold a spot in the championship game and she is expecting big results from her team today. “We like to win so we want to win a championship, that is something as a staff we promise our players and that is something I know team 49 really wants. It will be huge for our programme, continue to help our numbers in the net, and give our team something to be proud of,” she said.
As previously mentioned, the Michigan Wolverines and Ole Miss Rebels battle for championship bragging rights today at noon in the Imperial Arena, Paradise Island.