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‘Coach Yo’ leads Ole Miss Rebels to No.24 ranking

Enters AP women’s poll for 1st time in 15 years

YOLETT McPhee-McCuin (AP)

YOLETT McPhee-McCuin (AP)

By RENALDO DORSETT

Tribune Sports Reporter

rdorsett@tribunemedia.net

Yolett McPhee-McCuin and her Ole Miss Rebels women’s basketball programme continue their climb toward national recognition and are off to their best start in over a decade.

The Rebels are ranked No.24 in the latest edition in the Associated Press Poll. It is the programme’s first top 25 ranking since 2007.

Ole Miss improved to 17-2 record Sunday afternoon with a 63-54 win on the road over the previously No.23 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

“It means a lot for the programme. Personally, not for me so much, just because there’s so much more basketball we have to go. But for the programme, it means a lot. For these players it means a lot,” said McPhee-McCuin. “You know why? Because this is why they came here to just change…be legendary.”

Ole Miss is also 5-1 in the Southeastern conference, its best five-game start since 2007. The SEC is host to five teams ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll, including No. 1 South Carolina, No. 4 Tennessee, No. 12 LSU, No. 15 Georgia, and Ole Miss.

The Rebels led nearly wire to wire in Sunday’s win over Kentucky. Defensively, they held Kentucky without a made three-point field goal and scored 20 points off 18 Kentucky turnovers. It marked their second win over a ranked opponent this season after a December win over No.18 South Florida.

“There are moments where I have to give my team a chance to figure things out on their own. So that is what I did in the first half, and still we were able to defend at a high level. That just goes to show that this is who we want to be. Because offensively, the shot may not go in all the time, but that is how we were able to continue to stay consistent,” McPhee- McCuin said. “We talked at halftime about the things that we were seeing and how we needed to handle that pressure better, and I thought our team responded well.”

The Rebels’ season thus far has been highlighted by a 13-game win streak. It was the third longest win streak in programme history. After a loss to Tennessee, they have also won four consecutive SEC games.

“Five wins is not going to get us in the NCAA Tournament and we have so much more work to do, but I thought this was a character check for us. And I am really glad we succeeded,” she said.

“I think it’s important to note that a lot of success has been happening very quickly in this season. For our team and the way these young ladies have handled it and have been mature about it, you know just makes me just be even more proud as a coach.”

Ole Miss finished 9-22, 3-13 in the SEC in McPhee- McCuin’s first season at the helm. She followed with a 7-23 record in year two, winless in the SEC at 0-16. Last season, the Rebels finished 15-12, 4-10 in the SEC. Ole Miss will head to South Carolina Thursday for its first test as a ranked opponent against the No. 1 Gamecocks. The tip time and broadcast information will be announced later this week.

The Rebels were originally scheduled to face the Gamecocks in its SEC home opener on January 2 but the game was postponed due to COVID health and safety protocols.

The Gamecocks were expected to play No.10 UConn, but South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said the conference matchup with the Rebels took precedent.

“I know our fans always enjoy the UConn game, and our team enjoys the rivalry. But I have always said that our conference season and especially our goal of another SEC championship is more central to our programme,” Staley stated in a school release.

“As we approach the second half of league play next month, it has become more important to complete our SEC schedule to keep ourselves in the running for a conference title.

“This Thursday is one of the few dates Ole Miss has open, so, with my team’s best interest at heart, I started the conversations that led us to this point,” he added.

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