The Ole Miss women take on Christian Brothers in an exhibition game today at 5 at Tad Smith.
OXFORD – From the never would have thought that department guess what player Ole Miss coach Matt Insell will miss most from last year’s 19-14 Rebels women’s basketball team?
The answer is not Tia Faleru.
Faleru had the SEC’s top two rebounding performances last year with 19 in one game and 17 in another.
She finished her senior season ranked No. 3 among active SEC players in career rebounds with 851.
She is one of four Ole Miss players to compile at least 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 100 assists and 150 steals for a career.
She was unanimous All-SEC and honorable mention All-America but did not finish No. 1 on her coach’s irreplaceable list.
“I’m more concerned about Danielle McCray’s loss than any we have. I know you guys are like, ‘Man, Danielle McCray,’ but Danielle brought a lot of stability to us,” Insell said. “She was someone that every game I knew what I was getting, someone who played really hard defensively, someone that we ran a lot of our offense through to get other people shots. We need to find that steady player who will be there every day.”
The Rebels were 7-9 in conference play last season and had a couple of close games turned differently would have found themselves in the NCAA tournament. That fact was not lost on SEC coaches who picked them to finish sixth after having them last for Insell’s first two seasons as coach.
Ole Miss reached the WNIT quarterfinals last year.
While Insell searches for the stability McCray provided he’ll search for Faleru’s rebounds as well.
Three new faces to keep an eye on there are 6-foot-3 freshman Jonell Williams, a three-star recruit and four-time Florida Class 5A all-state player, and 6-2 Cecilia Muhate Pena, a four-star recruit from Madrid.
Precious Person, a 6-1 transfer from Rutgers, could also help.
Guard Erika Sisk and A’Queen Hayes are the leading returning rebounders, both at less than five a game last year.
“We’ve been working on replacing what Tia did with rebounding drills every day, sending four and five players to the goal,” Sisk said.
The Ole Miss roster includes eight freshman or sophomores and four juniors without a senior to be found.
Insell and his players believe they can overcome the lack of experience and reach the NCAA tournament, something the program hasn’t done since 2007.
Insell inherited a program on probation in 2013 and increased its win total by seven from the first year to the second.
“The last two years we were picked last unanimously. Being picked sixth brings a little more expectation. It shows the respect our girls have earned the last two seasons, but sixth is not where we want to be,” he said.