By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – First-year Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Matt Insell has gotten his players believing they can win, and he says that won’t change after dropping their SEC opener.
The Rebels’ restoration project bounced back from a 1-4 start to close 2013 on a high note.
Against the stronger teams on their schedule, the Rebels are still trying to find ways to make the game’s biggest plays.
And stronger teams are what they’ll face most nights now that the pre-conference schedule is behind them.
Down by four with a chance to take possession with less than 2 minutes to play Thursday night, Ole Miss couldn’t grab the key rebound and ultimately lost 85-76 to Missouri.
The Rebels (9-6, 0-1 SEC) now face a road trip at Tennessee on Thursday.
“You’re one rebound away here. We’re down four and get two great defensive possessions, make them shoot two tough shots and just can’t corral the rebound, and that’s not just the person that was in the box out. … The other four stood out there and watched her,” Insell said.
It was a similar situation and a similar unfortunate result when the Rebels lost 87-80 at No. 9 Baylor in mid-December.
Going into the SEC opener against Missouri the Rebels had won eight of their last nine.
“Since we got back from Hawaii and beat Tulane … we’re just a new team since then,” said forward Shequila Joseph, a freshman from London who had a career-high 21 points against Missouri. She was 4-for-7 from 3-point range.
In Honolulu, the Rebels lost to West Virginia, Hawaii and Washington State by an average margin of 20 points.
Missouri went into Thursday’s game leading the SEC in 3-point goals but was shooting only 38.3 percent before shooting 62.5 percent against the Rebels, its last make the back-breaker after the rebound got away from the Rebels.
“We need to be aggressive, and we need to play the whole 40 minutes. We’re not just a (one) half team. It will take the whole game to get the win,” Joseph said.
Ole Miss hasn’t gone .500 in the SEC since its Elite Eight run in 2007.
Over the last three seasons, the Rebels are 7-41 in conference games but Insell says he’s been able to instill confidence in his players.
“These kids expect to win,” he said. “That’s the big thing that’s changed with this basketball team. I’ve seen it change in them in the way they prepare themselves. I’ve seen it change in them in the way that they play and go about their business off the floor and on the court.”
He doesn’t believe it’s a fragile confidence that took a blow with a loss to Missouri.
“I’m not concerned about that, because I’m not going to let my confidence go down in them because I believe in every one of them. I believe that we have a good basketball team.”