March 6, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
DULUTH, Ga. — Year One of the process under first-year head coach Matt Insell is complete, as Auburn closed the game on a 16-2 run over the last 7:56 en route to a 70-54 win in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday.
Some of it may have the quick turnaround from the emotional high of the previous day’s come-from behind win over Arkansas in the first round, some of it may have been heavy legs from back-to-back games, but progress this season, Insell said, won’t be judged by those eight minutes.
“We’re not going to judge our season on what happened in the last eight minutes of this basketball game,” Insell said. “We’re judging our season on the progress that we made throughout the whole year.
“We’ll look back on this year, Kenyotta (Jenkins), myself, Diara (Moore) and Valencia (McFarland), we’ll look back five to six years from now, pop this tape in and all get mad at each other while we’re watching it. We’ll pop this one in and have a good time. We’ll also pop that Arkansas one in and really have a good time.”
For the three seniors, Jenkins, McFarland and Moore, it marks the last games of their Ole Miss careers. The 12-20 record, Insell said, doesn’t indicate everything that they accomplished this year with those three seniors.
“We didn’t come out with the win that we wanted to, but I’m very proud of the things that we accomplished this year as a team,” Moore said. “I know that people are noticing us now and that’s all that we wanted to accomplish. People respect us now. Next year’s team is going to come back and be even better and stronger. I will always be an Ole Miss Rebel. I’m proud of that.”
“The first stage of getting a full team to buy in is your seniors have to buy in, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors, on and off the floor, and the way they led our basketball team and the way they carried themselves. I have so much respect for them. They’re the ground floor of what we’re building here at Ole Miss. They’re going to come back 10 years from now, and we’ll honor what we are going to accomplish over the next 10 years, and it’s going to be a true credit to them. I’m real proud of them and I’m glad to be their coach.”
There were flashes of what the Ole Miss program could be again over the last six games, highlighted by the 73-71 overtime win over the same Auburn team on Senior Day last Sunday, followed by the 63-62 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. And it started with those same three seniors, and then the younger players who followed their lead.
“When you’re remodeling the program, there’s so much you have to get accomplished and there’s so much you have to do,” Insell said. “We were kind of late getting going the way we started playing the last five or six games. The last five or six games, we played really well. You take out the last eight minutes of tonight’s game, and we played about as well as anybody in this league over the last five or six games.
“I have three seniors who kept fighting every single day and that will be something I use in the future with all of our seniors and continue to show them examples of what these three girls have done. They continued to bring it every single day, which then motivated the younger players to continue to bring it every single day and not quit on their season.”
With the end of one season, comes the promise of the next season, and Insell will do something special with his team to continue the process and set a precedent for future success.
“We have Spring Break this week, so our girls are going to go home,” Insell said. “We are going to rest. We are going to get away from each other. It’s been a long year for us. We’ll get back together the following Monday and we’ll begin the phases to start next year, and the first thing we will do is watch the Selection Show two Monday nights from now. We’ll get used to watching that because that’s where we’re going in our program.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller