By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
A painful season, physically and emotionally, is winding down for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team.
After the pain comes, the gain Rebels coach Renee Ladner hopes.
“It’s been a very difficult season for us due to circumstances beyond our control with injuries,” Ladner said. “I really believe my young Rebels have played extremely hard and been in every game except the Tennessees and LSUs.”
Ole Miss (10-18, 3-13 SEC) has one more chance for a win when it faces No. 5 seed South Carolina (16-13, 8-8) tonight at 6:30 in an SEC women’s tournament first-round game.
Ladner is hoping the return of her leading scorer, senior guard Kayla Melson, will spark her team.
The Rebels have lost 13 of their last 15 games including the last seven. The last win for Ole Miss was a 61-59 decision at Florida in which Melson sustained a knee injury that kept her out of the next six games.
Some of the games have gotten out of hand. The South Carolina game on Jan. 16 in Oxford was close, however, a 63-58 Gamecocks victory in overtime.
Melson had 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting, three assists and three steals in that game. Melson, a senior, returned for the regular-season finale at Mississippi State, a 65-55 MSU win. Melson had 15 points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes.
“I realized how young we were after Kayla had been out for 25 days. She stepped back in at her first practice, and we were suddenly playing at a new level with a new speed,” Ladner said. “I didn’t realize we had been playing at high school speed vs. collegiate speed.”
Even with Melson, the Rebels’ eight-person playing rotation includes three true freshmen and sophomore walk-on Maggie McFerrin of Tupelo, who is in her first season of college basketball.
With Melson back, McFerrin has returned to her role as one of the team’s top subs.
“Freshmen have to learn the physicality and speed of the league,” Ladner said. “They’ve had a lot of game experience, and that will help them overall. We played South Carolina to overtime, and we’re in a position now where we have to pull the pieces back together and try to make a little run.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600