By Todd Vinyard
Ole Miss’ Lady Rebels will try to erase any doubts from NCAA selection committee members’ minds today at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn., while Mississippi State’s Lady Bulldogs hope to create some.
Mississippi State, which is seeded No. 9, opens the tournament with a game against No. 8 seed LSU at 1 p.m. Ole Miss, ranked No. 23 by the Associated Press and seeded No. 7 in the tournament, will face No. 10 seed Arkansas at 3 p.m.
Ole Miss assistant coach Steve Curtis feels the Rebels 17-9 overall record and 6-5 SEC mark are good enough for the Lady Rebels’ 14th NCCA appearance, but there is one way to make sure.
“I wish I knew for sure,” Curtis said. “But one thing is for sure: If we play hard and take care of business we can take some of the guess work out of it for the selection committee.”
Ole Miss faces an Arkansas team which it beat two weeks ago in Oxford 73-62. Arkansas coach Gary Blair knows what he will face.
“I just hope some of our post players have grown up enough to compete with Yolanda Moore inside,” Blair said. “The key will be stopping Lisa Miller.”
Not many SEC foes have even slowed Miller, who has scored in double figures in 10 of 11 conference games this season. Moore, a unanimous 1996 All-SEC selection, is equally difficult to control as she leads the team in scoring (16.1 ppg), rebounding (6.9) and field goal percentage (50.8).
The Lady Razorbacks (20-10, 3-8) are still recovering from the loss of All-SEC guard Christy Smith, but still have weapons like Kimberly Wilson, who is averaging 19.5 points per game.
“Arkansas is playing well,” Curtis said. “They lost Christy Smith to injury, but now they seem to have developed an even more balanced attack.”
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning is hoping the health of two of her players (Sharon Thompson and forward Sabrina Scott) improves so they can mount a balanced attack around super senior guard LaCharlotte Smith.
Thompson, a 1994-95 All-SEC freshman, has battled stress fractures in both legs early in the season. Just when it appeared she was back, Thompson suffered a hairline fracture in her right toe, causing her to miss two games and only average 17 minutes in MSU’s last four games.
Scott had surgery on her right knee Feb. 8 to repair a torn meniscus cartilage sustained against Vanderbilt. She saw limited action in the Lady Bulldogs last two contests.
Neither player is listed as a probable starter.
Despite the injuries the Lady Bulldogs (13-13, 4-7) have tied or broken 22 single-season records this year, and now Smith is three points away from becoming MSU’s all-time leading scorer.
“We talked about finishing strong in February,” Fanning said. “This has been a good year, and we need to continue to make strides as a program.”
State was beginning to take some steps back on Dec. 4 when it lost to LSU (17-9, 4-7) 85-64 in Baton Rouge.
“That game was so long ago you really can throw it out as far as this one goes,” LSU head coach Sue Gunter said. “They are a much better team now.”
Mississippi State women’s basketball can be heard on 106.1 FM in Starkville, while Lady Rebel basketball is carried on 93.7 FM in Oxford.
All four coaches think as many as eight teams could win the four-day event. SEC women’s teams have earned appearances in 13 of 14 NCAA Final Fours, an accomplishment unmatched by any other league.
“Winning this tournament might be tougher than winning the NCAA,” Blair said. “I am bringing four sports coats just in case, though.”