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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lady Rebels need someone to step up

COLUMN: It has sort of been the Ole Miss women’s basketball team’s “thing” this season to get behind early, then make a late run to make games interesting.On Thursday evening Ole Miss once again got behind early (15-2 to start the game).

And once again they made a few runs to make things interesting at times — enough to hang around for a bit, at least.

But for the seventh time in nine games the Lady Rebels came up short, losing to in-state rival Mississippi State 59-43 at the C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

“I don’t think my players quit playing or quit fighting,” Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “I just didn’t think we did anything particularly well and it really didn’t matter what combination we brought in off the bench. We struggled offensively.”

Credit Ole Miss’ inability to rally to Mississippi State’s Mary Kathryn Govero.

Like LSU’s Matt Derenbecker the night before, the MSU senior was nearly perfect from behind the 3-point arc, scoring 12 of her 20 points via a 4-for-5 night from long range.

“I have a lot respect for her game,” Ladner said. “She is probably one of the best catch-and-shoot players in our league. She’s unfazed. It doesn’t matter about the score, she has a toughness about her and did just that.”

Ole Miss (10-13 overall, 3-8 Southeastern Conference) may be getting a glimpse at what life without senior guard Kayla Melson will be like — and it isn’t pretty.

In the two games since Melson — the SEC’s third-leading scorer — went down with a concussion, the Lady Rebels have scored 81 total points.

In Melson’s absence, freshman Valencia McFarland has answered the call, leading Ole Miss in scoring with 16 points in both games against LSU and MSU. But she hasn’t received much help.

Looking for scoring
Against the ladies of LSU and Mississippi State (10-13, 2-9), McFarland has been Ole Miss’ only scorer in double digits.

“I think we are going through a period right now where we’re trying to find our identity without our leading scorer and verbal floor leader,” Ladner said. “I think we’re struggling and looking around, hoping someone else will do it. When Valencia McFarland can not deliver, and Shae (Nelson) has an off shooting night, we have a tendency to look around the room and say who’s next or who is going to help us?”

All season the Lady Rebs have looked to Nelson, a freshman forward from Cordova, Tenn., to provide that long-range offense and be the complementary scorer to Melson and McFarland.

And like the rest of the team, she’s had an up and down freshman year with Thursday’s scoreless performance one of the lows.

“Obviously as it appears, we’re still searching,” Ladner said. “Shae is a shooter and tonight she was 0-for-8 and when those shots aren’t falling it’s hard to open anything else up.”

Games like on Sunday and Thursday night are when veterans like Nikki Byrd, one of the lone players who has been around long enough to know how to persevere and overcome adversity, are supposed to step up and fill voids.

Instead, Byrd disappeared against Mississippi State, scoring three points on 1-for-4 shooting in 11 minutes with zero rebounds, two turnovers and two personal fouls.

Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the cavalry doesn’t appear to be just over the horizon.

“I have no idea when she’ll return,” Ladner said of Melson. “She’s not practicing right now, we’re just keeping her off the floor. She had a pretty good injury and it’s day-to-day.

“She had a pretty good injury (against Florida) and hopefully she’ll return quickly for her sake as well as ours.”

Ole Miss returns to the hardwood on Sunday, hosting No. 24 Georgia for a 1 p.m. start. The game will be televised on CSS. (February 11, 2011, Page 6A)

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