By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – After posting five straight SEC wins, the Ole Miss women’s basketball team is streaking in the other direction.
Visiting Florida watched Bianca Thomas get her points on Sunday afternoon, but not the biggest buckets at the most crucial times.
The Gators hit 11 3-point shots, their season-best in an SECgame, and went 8-for-8 at the free throw line to win 67-64 before 2,198 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum. It was the second loss in a row for the Rebels.
Thomas scored 21 for Ole Miss, and Liz Robertson had 12 on 4-for-6 3-point shooting. But Thomas drew even more attention when the Rebels needed a 3-pointer to tie on their last possession, because Robertson wasn’t in the game.
Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner had reserve post LaKendra Phillips on the floor, because she thought Lewis sets better screens.
“In a lot of our sets the 4 (forward) sets the screen. People had been doing a lot of switching, and that was giving us trouble,” Ladner said.
The personnel grouping was the same Ladner used at Georgia when Thomas hit a game-winning 3 with 5.1 seconds left.
This time, the ball went into the post, and Nikki Byrd threw it back out to guard Shantell Black, a 47.5 percent 3-point shooter, who missed an open look.
Kayla Melson had 20 for the Rebels, but Byrd, the reigning SEC player of the week, was held to two points on 1-for-6 shooting and four rebounds in 33 minutes.
The loss drops Ole Miss (14-7, 5-3) further into the pack in the SEC. The Rebels were in a first-place tie with Tennessee at the beginning of the week.
Florida’s normally placid offense caught fire in the first half. The Gators, averaging just 59.7 points per game in SEC play, hit 7-for-14 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, the key factor in what became a 17-point first-half lead.
Ole Miss rallied and led 61-59 when Thomas tripled from the corner with 3 minutes, 54 seconds to play. The Rebels had a chance to extend the lead, but Thomas missed a pull-up jumper from 15 feet, and the Gators (12-9, 5-3) followed that errant shot with a 3-pointer from the corner from Steffi Sorensen. Sorensen led four Florida players in double figures with 18 points.
“We were tentative in the first half,” Ladner said. “We never got after anybody, never put a hand in their face. The minute we put pressure on them they struggled.”