Rebels Return Home to Host Defending NCAA Champions South Carolina
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss women's basketball will play host to the defending NCAA champions for the first time since 2008 when No. 4/5 South Carolina comes to town on Thursday night for a 6 p.m. tipoff inside The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss Rebels (10-4, 0-1 SEC)
#4/5 South Carolina Gamecocks (12-1, 1-0 SEC)
ON THE AIR
Television/Online: SEC Network + | Play-by-Play: Seth Austin; Color: Lindsay Roy
At Oxford: Ole Miss leads 8-7
DEFENDING CHAMPS COME TO TOWN
That last occurrence was on Jan. 31, 2008, when Tennessee came to the Tad Smith Coliseum and won, 68-44. Current assistant coach Alex Simmons (then Alex Fuller) was a member of that Tennessee team in 2008, scoring 11 points with six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in the Lady Vol victory.
Ole Miss is 2-8 all-time against defending national champions, but this Thursday's tilt vs. South Carolina will mark the first against a team not named Tennessee or Maryland. The Rebels beat Maryland in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007 (89-78) to avenge a neutral site loss earlier in the year. Ole Miss also beat Tennessee, 80-78, in overtime on Jan. 18, 1992, in Oxford.
VS. SOUTH CAROLINA ALL-TIME
Ole Miss holds an 8-7 edge in Oxford, but South Carolina holds an 11-5 advantage in Columbia.
VS. RANKED COMPETITION
That victory was the fourth top-25 win for head coach Matt Insell at Ole Miss, with other top-25 wins coming vs. No. 25 Oregon (Dec. 14, 2016; 83-67), No. 13 Kentucky (Feb. 23, 2015; 67-59) and No. 18 Georgia (Jan. 15, 2015; 55-52).
This will be the seventh all-time matchup against a top-10 South Carolina squad.
REBELS IN SEC OPENERS
In home SEC openers, Ole Miss is 28-10 all-time. The Rebels and Gamecocks have never met for the SEC home or SEC overall opener in their histories.
The Rebels square off against three opponents currently ranked in the national top-15 over the next five games: vs. No. 4/5 South Carolina on Jan. 4 (12-1, RPI 12), at No. 3/5 Mississippi State on Jan. 11 (15-0, RPI 3) and vs. No. 15 Missouri on Jan. 18 (13-1, RPI 14).
The SEC sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and ended with the two in the title game: defending national champions South Carolina and reigning NCAA runners-up Mississippi State.
In the non-conference season, the SEC went 132-39 (.772) overall -- the 13th-best conference winning percentage since 1990-91 and the 28th season in a row that the conference has won at least 70 percent of its non-conference games.
LAST TIME OUT (at Arkansas)
The Rebels had the ball twice in the final 25 seconds, but a floater by Alissa Alston bounced off the rim and a gutsy in-bounds pass strategy by Alston backfired, giving Arkansas the ball as time expired.
After a back-and-forth battle, it was the fourth quarter where the Rebels made their last stand and erased the Razorback lead, tying the game 67-67 with 4:18 left to play.
ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL NON-CON
The Rebels have beaten three teams currently in the NCAA RPI Top-150: Middle Tennessee (118), South Alabama (124) and Temple (145). At the moment, Ole Miss ranks No. 86 in the RPI.
Since the injury to senior Preseason All-SEC selection Shandricka Sessom on Nov. 29, Muhammad and Alston are averaging a combined 33.8 PPG.
GETTING TO THE LINE
The Rebels were only able to get to the line a total of 66 times in the first four games of the season, which then skyrocketed to 164 times over the following six games. With the first four games taken out, the Rebels are averaging 25.5 trips to the free throw line in the following 10 games.
The surge began with 37 against Troy on Nov. 21 -- the most since Ole Miss attempted 38 vs. Florida on Jan. 8, 2015. The Rebels also sank 29 of those 37 free throw attempts, the most conversions since hitting 25 that same game vs. Florida in 2014-15. Madinah Muhammad was 12-of-13 from the line in that game alone, the most in a game in the SEC at the time and the most by a Rebel since Alissa Alston sank 12 vs. Auburn on Feb. 16, 2017.
The Rebels followed that up with a crucial game on the free throw line vs. Middle Tennessee, going 26-of-31. Much of that came from Alston, who went 14-of-16 -- the most makes since Tia Faleru hit 15 at Missouri on Feb. 15, 2015. Alston was just two shy of the single-game record set by Armintie Price at UAB in 2006-07.
WINNING WHEN IT COUNTS
In those games, junior Alissa Alston is the Rebels' top scorer by far with 22.4 PPG and a .540 clip from the field and an .816 mark from the free throw line. Fellow junior Madinah Muhammad is second at 17.8 PPG with a blistering .907 mark from the charity stripe.
Last season, Ole Miss went 5-6 in such games.
Because of the surge in blocked shots, the Rebels -- at 5.6 blocks per game -- are currently on pace for 162 total blocks by season's end, potentially destroying the current single-season record of 129 set in 1982-83.
SHELBY'S HEATING UP
In her last two games, Gibson has scored 41 total points on 16-of-21 shooting (.762) in career-high outings vs. Texas Southern (20 points) and at Arkansas (21 points). The back-to-back performances constitute the first consecutive games of Gibson's career with at least 15 points scored, and her first games leading Ole Miss in points since scoring 15 at Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2017.
#SplashSisters, PART DEUX?
At the time of her injury, both Sessom and Muhammad were scoring a combined 38.2 points per game -- 45.7 percent of all Rebel scoring at that point. Since that game vs. Middle Tennessee, Alston has given Ole Miss a boost with 17.6 PPG in those eight games -- including a career-high 27 points vs. South Alabama and additional 20-point outings vs. Middle Tennessee (22) and at Portland State (21).
Since Sessom's injury, both Alston and Muhammad have combined for 33.4 PPG and are shooting a combined .396 from the field and .824 from the free throw line for 80 total free throws.
SLICE AND DICE
She is currently in the midst of a career-long six-game streak in double-digit scoring.
OH MY, SHE'S ON FIRE
Muhammad currently ranks sixth in the SEC at 17.8 points per game and has only been held under double-digit twice in 14 games played this year. Additionally, Muhammad has scored at least 19 points seven times this season, she has eclipsed 20 five times and she recorded the first 30-point game at Ole Miss since 2015 with a career-high 30 vs. Arkansas State.
She opened the season with five straight games in double-digits, the second streak in her career of at least five in a row (her career-long streak is six from Jan. 22 to Feb. 12 last season). Muhammad also scored three straight games with at least 20 points for the first time in her Rebel career during that time.
ON PACE FOR GREATNESS
TOURNAMENT TEAMS ON THE DOCKET
Troy (Nov. 21, W, 96-93)
Temple (Nov. 25, W, 64-48)
Oregon (Dec. 17, L, 90-46)
Texas Southern (Dec. 28, W, 73-58)
South Carolina (Jan. 4, at home)
Mississippi State (Jan. 11; Jan. 28)
Missouri (Jan. 18, at home)
Tennessee (Jan. 25, in Knoxville)
Texas A&M (Feb. 8, in College Station)
LSU (Feb. 15, in Baton Rouge)
Kentucky (Feb. 22, at home)
Auburn (Feb. 25, in Auburn)
Follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissWBB, Facebook at Ole Miss WBB on Instagram at Ole MissWBB and on Snapchat with the handle @OleMissWBB. Fans can also follow Ole Miss women's basketball head coach Matt Insell on Twitter at @minsell.
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