Ole Miss Lady Rebels fall to Rice in WNIT title game

NO CEILINGS – Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, center, and the Ole Miss Lady Rebels celebrated after defeating the UNI Panthers in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament semifinals on March 26. The Lady Rebels subsequently lost to the Rice Owls, March 28, in the championship. (PHOTO: OLE MISS ATHLETICS)

Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin and the Ole Miss Lady Rebels nearly capped off their incredible turnaround with a postseason championship but fell short in the 2021 Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) title contest against Rice University. 

The Lady Rebels fell to the Owls, 71-58 on Sunday, March 28 in Collierville, Tennessee. The ladies finished the season 15-12 overall for the season and bounced back with a 4-10 record in Southeastern Conference (SEC) play, after going winless during last year’s campaign. 

Bahamian guard Valerie Nesbitt finished the game with four points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals. Shakira Austin was the only Rebels to finish in double-figure scoring, with 25 points, and nine rebounds.

The Lady Rebels proved that they are certainly a program trending in the right direction, something Coach Yo set out to do when she promised a turn around when hired three years ago. Despite the team having its roster affected by the COVID-19 earlier in the season, the Lady Rebels still managed to come away with the first winning season since 2016-2017. 

According to Ole Miss Athletics.com, the team received an even bigger boost once Coach Yo was able to rejoin the team for the semifinals of the tournament. It was announced that McPhee-McCuin would not be able to join the team after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the start of the tournament. 

While some feared the Lady Rebels would not make it out of the first round at that point, it was gratifying for Coach Yo that the girls proved otherwise.

According to Ole Miss Athletics.com, Coach Yo was quoted saying the following: “Super proud of my team. 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. 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 good things that they did, and I am very appreciative of them."

Granted that the season did not end on the high-note they would have liked, Coach Yo is already looking forward to next season and seeing how this year’s experience will push the team forward. 

“We really needed this experience. I feel good about saying that if you're going to place a bet, we'll be a part of the 64 (NCAA Tournament) next year as we continue to grow."

Over the course of that WNIT run, the Lady Rebels defeated the Samford Bulldogs 64-45, the Tulane Green Wave, 72-61, Colorado Buffaloes 65-56 and UNI Panthers 60-50 in the semi-finals. 

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