STANFORD, Calif. – Snudda Collins knew exactly how many shots she had missed, having carefully kept track of her stat lines through the Southeastern Conference Tournament: 0 for 22.
“I was in a slump,” she said.
“I did not know that, every time Snudda shoots I think it’s going in,” teammate Angel Baker said.
Collins found her groove again and scored 15 points, and eighth-seeded Mississippi once again leaned on its stingy defense to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament this time after last year’s big disappointment, beating No. 9 seed Gonzaga 71-48 on Friday night.
The Rebels shut down one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the country.
“Coming into this game I think I was 0 for 22 and I knew that, and I kind of took it personal,” Collins said.
Now, bring on top-seeded Stanford on its home court.
Ole Miss will face the Cardinal (29-5) on Sunday for a spot at the Sweet Sixteen in Seattle next weekend. Stanford topped No. 16 seed Sacred Heart 92-49 in Friday’s first game at Maples Pavilion.
Already tested twice by No. 1 South Carolina, coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s Rebels showed off their signature defense that has held opponents to just 56.8 points per game by shutting down one of the nation’s top 3-point-shooting teams. The Zags (28-5) scored a season-low points – and their only loss with fewer points was a 64-60 defeat to Portland in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game March 7.
This Ole Miss group is determined to take another step toward erasing the memory of last season’s 75-61 first-round loss to 10th-seeded South Dakota playing as a No. 7 seed and back in the tournament for the first time in 15 years.
Madison Scott had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Angel Baker added 11 points and five boards for Ole Miss, which grabbed 24 offensive rebounds.
The Rebels earned back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time under McPhee-McCuin and it hadn’t been done since the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. Making consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time since 2004-05, the Rebels held WCC Player of the Year Kaylynne Truong to six points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“As far as our defensive performance, elite. We wanted to hold them to 12 or less each quarter and we did that,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I was just in awe watching our team defend. That is who we are. We wear shirts in practice that say ‘We Defend.’”
Yvonne Ejim led the Zags with 19 points and eight rebounds but her star teammates were stymied. Gonzaga came in shooting 42% from 3-point range and Brynna Maxwell held the second-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation coming in at 49.43%, but the team finished just 1 for 17 and Maxwell scored four points on 1-of-10 shooting missing all five of her 3s.
“Kudos to them, they guard the 3-point well,” Truong said. “Coming into the game we knew that.”
The Zags missed six straight shots spanning halftime and made a forgettable showing in their sixth straight NCAA Tournament.
“What a bummer,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “We think that we’re a good enough to compete with that team, I know that we are. My team is tough but we’re only good enough to compete today if it’s under our terms. The game was definitely played under Ole Miss’ terms.”
Ole Miss used a 9-0 run late in the first half to build a 26-16 lead as the Zags missed four straight shots. Collins’ three-point play 1:13 before halftime helped put the Rebels ahead 34-21 at the break.
A physical, defensive game, both teams took a while to find any offensive rhythm and began 7 for 22. They combined to miss the first 10 3-pointers before Baker connected at the 5:52 mark of the second quarter for Ole Miss.
The Rebels didn’t want to let Gonzaga get 50 points.
“Poetic, that’s all I can say, it was poetic,” McPhee-McCuin said of her team winning with defense.
Gonzaga: Ejim picked up her third foul with 3:52 left in the second quarter. … Gonzaga’s three seniors – Truong, twin sister Kayleigh and Maxwell – and redshirt junior Eliza Hollingsworth all announced after the final regular-season game they plan to return for one more season.
Ole Miss: The Rebels improved to 21-0 when holding teams to 60 or fewer points. … The Ole Miss bench outscored the Gonzaga reserves 33-6 and crashed the boards to hold a 51-36 overall rebounding advantage.
Ole Miss and Stanford have met just once previously, and that matchup also came on the big March stage. Tara VanDerveer’s Cardinal beat the Rebels 78-65 in the 1990 Sweet Sixteen at Stanford on the way to the program’s first national title.