OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – The Rebels put up a fight, but the defending national champions South Carolina pulled away in the fourth quarter to take an 88-62 win over the Ole Miss women’s basketball team at The Pavilion on Thursday night.
Ole Miss (10-5, 0-2 SEC) was within nine points heading into the final frame, but No. 4/5 South Carolina (13-1, 2-0 SEC) – led by Preseason ESPNW National Player of the Year A’ja Wilson (25 points, 15 rebounds) – went off for a 29-12 advantage in the final frame to keep the Rebels at bay.
“I thought for three quarters we played really, really well,” said Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell. “We played against a team that is the defending national champion, a team that has the best player in college basketball – probably one of the top 12 players in the world. I watch a lot of basketball, and A’ja Wilson will be on the Olympic team in 2020.”
The Rebels came out with an immense intensity right from tipoff, scrapping for loose balls and rebounds, holding the Gamecocks to just a 16-10 advantage after the first quarter. Ole Miss closed the gap a bit in the second quarter, going into halftime with the South Carolina lead at just seven at 35-28.
Helping bridge that gap was sophomore Shelby Gibson, who nailed all three of her three-pointers in the second quarter. Gibson, who was coming off two career days vs. Texas Southern (20 points) and at Arkansas (21 points), ended as one of three Rebels in double digits with 10 points and four rebounds. However, the story for her tonight was her newly-found proficiency from beyond the arc. Gibson entered 2-of-3 from three-point land this season, but she doubled her season total tonight in an offensive ploy to pull Wilson out on the perimeter.
“She shoots it really well in practice,” Insell said. “We were trying to get Wilson out of the paint. A lot of what we do drives the ball into the paint, and Wilson just hangs out in there. If you don’t force her out, you’re not going to score in there. I thought Shelby was really good for us in terms of stretching it.”
The Gamecocks were the ones that came out swinging to start the second half, ripping off an 8-0 run in the opening stages of the third quarter. The Rebels responded in kind with a 7-0 run to close the quarter and make it a 59-50 game heading into the fourth. That run was thanks to a swing of momentum when freshman Promise Taylor (four points, two rebounds) entered the game for the first time in relief of Shelby Gibson and blocked Wilson in the paint – eliciting the biggest cheer of the night from the Pavilion faithful.
“Promise Taylor came in during the second half and didn’t play scared,” Insell said. “She played hard, and got back to the way we think she needs to play, the way she played early in the year.”
That third quarter was also key for junior Madinah Muhammad, who scored 10 of her 29 points in the third. Muhammad continued her torrid pace this season, recording her 13th double-digit game out of 15 and her sixth 20-point game of the season in the effort. Muhammad was just one point shy of her career-high 30 set against Arkansas State on Dec. 2, and she now sits at 869 career points. At her current season pace of 18.5 points per game, she will come close to passing the 1,000 point mark for her career around the first week of February.
Fellow junior Alissa Alston was also in double-digits for a career-long seventh game in a row now at 11 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Alston played all 40 minutes for the Rebels tonight, her second straight game of going wire-to-wire. Sophomore Bree Glover also put in another strong outing on the glass with seven rebounds and a season-high four points. Glover has had at least seven boards in six games now this season.
Ole Miss will have to have a short memory, though, as the Florida Gators (8-7, 0-2 SEC) come to Oxford on Sunday afternoon for a noon tipoff inside The Pavilion.
“We can’t let this discourage us and let it carry into the Florida game on Sunday,” Insell said. “We’ve got to be aggressive in our gameplan. We’re 0-2 in the league, we let one get away at Arkansas. But we have a lot of opportunities. It’s a long season. We have to have a short-term memory. I feel confident we’ll get through this.”