By Todd Vinyard
CHATTANOOGA The Ole Miss Lady Rebels can pull that party dress out of storage, because thanks to a 76-73 victory over Arkansas they are probably returning to the Big Dance.
No one will know for sure until the NCAA selection committee makes its announcement of the field for the tourney starting March 15. And Ole Miss is still in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference’s automatic bid if it can get by No. 5 Tennessee at 2 p.m. today.
The win over Arkansas will more than likely mean Ole Miss gets one of the NCAA’s 31 at-large bids even if it loses to Tennessee.
At least that is how Lady Rebel coach Van Chancellor sees it.
“If we can’t get in after this win there shouldn’t even be an NCAA Tournament,” Chancellor said.
Chancellor’s team improved to 18-10 after coming back three times to beat Arkansas Friday at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Arena.
The Lady Rebels think they will write some new chapters in a history that includes 15 seasons of 20 or more wins and four NCAA regional finals.
“In the second half today we played as good as we have all year,” Chancellor said. “I think the committee can look at our record and conference and see we deserve a bid.”
The record includes wins over three teams ranked in the top 12 in the nation (Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Alabama).
The SEC, which calls itself America’s premier women’s basketball conference, has teams which have a record of 148-31 against non-conference opponents.
LSU’s Sue Gunter, in her 14th year in the SEC, says this is the conference’s strongest year ever.
“I think our conference will get seven bids,” Gunter said. “I’m not sure we’ll get eight.”
Since Ole Miss was seeded No. 7 in the tournament a win was vital for the Lady Rebels to be in position to earn one of 64 tournament invitations.
Coaches like Gunter, whose team is the eighth seed, and Arkansas’ Gary Blair, whose team was seeded No. 10, now rest on the bubble.
“I hope the people who make those decisions will look at the incredible strength of our conference and then select the best teams from the country, not just political or regional choices,” Blair said. “We have to wait and see.”
Chancellor and his Lady Rebels think they know.