By Adam Brown
The Ole Miss basketball team saw their season come to a close in the Women’s NIT Championship game against the Rice Owls falling 71-58 on Sunday.
“Super proud of my team,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, who willed this team to an incredible turnaround from an 0-16 SEC season in 2019-20 to a postseason tournament runner-up this year. “When I went out with COVID, some of my close friends told me we wouldn’t get out of the first round, just because my team depends on my effort and energy so much.
“Yet, we’re playing in the championship game against a Rice team that was ultra-experienced. Of course, we wanted to win, but in hindsight, if we couldn’t win then I still feel like I got a victory for this program out of this. I know that may sound cheesy to some people. I could list the wins that we got from this experience and this season. Obviously, my team is heartbroken, but I talked to them about the good things that they did, and I am very appreciative of them.”
Ole Miss (15-12) made a late push against the Owls in the fourth quarter to cut it down to a four-point game 58-54 with 4:25 remaining as Donnetta Johnson made a layup. Johnson finished the day with eight points.
“Those same kids (Rice) played in the NCAA Tournament two years ago,” McPhee-McCuin said. “Even when we made a run back I felt that they were in control the whole 40 minutes.”
The Rebels were led on the floor by Shakira Austin with 25 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals against Rice.
“Shakira is special — we have one more year with Shakira,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We have to make it work. She is going to go in the draft hopefully top three next year. There are some things we are going to do to improve her game.”
Rice was led by Nancy Mulkey a 6’ 9” senior with 19 points. Her teammate Lauren Schwartz also had 19 points.
“Mulkey did some great stuff,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I forgot she was there when they did go to the tournament.”
The Owls held the Rebels to shot 0-for-6 from beyond the arc and 21-for-70 from the field for 30 percent. Rice shot 50 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from deep and 100 percent from the free-throw line.