Rebels advance to WNIT semis without ‘Coach Yo’

For the first time in school history, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Lady Rebels are regional champions in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) and are moving on to the semifinals of the postseason classic.

The Rebels (14-11, 4-10 SEC), still without Bahamian Head Coach Yolett “Coach Yo” McPhee-McCuin due to a positive test for the coronavirus COVID-19, held off the resilient Colorado Buffaloes (12-11, 8-8 Pac-12), 65-56, at My Town Movers Fieldhouse in Collierville, Tennessee, on Monday night.

As winners of the Memphis Regional, the Rebels now move on to the tournament semifinals and will take on the University of Northern Iowa Panthers (17-12, 11-7 MVC) on Friday. The Panthers are the Rockford Regional Champions, and come into the WNIT semis as winners of seven of their last eight games, dating back to the regular season.

McPhee-McCuin is expected to be back for the semifinal game as her quarantine period ends this week.

She wrote on Facebook: “We are headed to the Final Four! So proud of my whole program! This is what this whole thing is about man! TEAM! #NoCeilings.”

The game on Friday is set for 7 p.m. at My Town Movers Fieldhouse in Collierville. The championship game will be played at 2 p.m. at the same venue.

Acting Head Coach Shay Robinson said he’s proud of the team and the staff for coming together to get the job done.

“First of all, great challenge and game by Colorado – two of the top NET teams in the tournament 

battling it out. We knew even if we did get a lead that they were going to come back swinging and try to get us uncomfortable. With Coach Yo being apart, it was just about us upholding a standard, and representing Ole Miss the way we’ve been doing all year.”

Colorado erased nearly all of what was an 18-point deficit to force an exciting finish, but the Rebels defense stepped up when it needed to the most.

Ole Miss started off slow but a spectacular second quarter run in which they shot 73.3 percent from the field and executed a killer 28-4 scoring run turned the game around in their favor. The Rebels trailed 13-11 after the first quarter, but were ahead 39-23 at the break. The Buffaloes still trailed by a significant margin, 54-39 after three, and got to within three points, 58-55, in the fourth, but ran out of energy down the stretch.

Rebels redshirt junior guard Mimi Reid made five free shots in the final two minutes of the game to seal the win for Ole Miss.

Redshirt sophomore guard Donetta Johnson, an All-WNIT Regional Team member, led the Rebels in scoring with 15 points and added five rebounds. Junior forward Shakira Austin, another All-Regional Team member, and freshman forward Madison Scott both contributed double-doubles with Austin scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 rebounds and Scott contributing 11 and 12. It was the third straight double-double for Austin. Freshman forward Silentianna “Snudda” Collins was their only other player in double figures for the Rebels with 11 points and she added two steals. Reid finished with nine points, four assists and three rebounds.

Bahamian Valerie Nesbitt, a reserve senior guard with the team, came off the bench and dropped in five points to go along with three assists, two rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes of play.

Freshman guard Frida Formann led the Buffaloes with a game-high 19 points and added four rebounds, two assists and a steal. Sophomore forward Charlotte Whittaker added 11 points off the bench.

McPhee-McCuin missed her third straight game of the tournament, but the Rebels’ defense, particularly on the perimeter, has been stellar in her absence. Their opponents in their last three games are a combined 7-of-38 from beyond the three-point arc.

“I think this team always wants to win, but sometimes when adversity hits or circumstances hit you find a deeper level of why. Everyone that was here within the team and the staff, our why was to uphold Ole Miss, to uphold Coach Yo,” Robinson said. “We did not want to let her down. We refused to not get through these three games so she can get back with us and we can finish the mission.”

The semifinal appearance for the Rebels is their best-ever showing in the WNIT.

The Rebels were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship and just missed being selected as one of the 32 at-large teams for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.