COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. - Colorado erased nearly all of what was an 18-point deficit to force an exhilarating finish, but the Rebel defense stood firm to secure the first WNIT semifinal appearance in Ole Miss women's basketball history in a 65-56 victory on Monday night.
Ole Miss (14-11) started off slow against a deep Colorado (12-11) team that had beaten No. 1 Stanford, but a spectacular second quarter in which the Rebels shot 73.3 percent and went on a 28-4 run helped push the Rebels to a 16-point halftime lead (39-23) and a 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter (54-39).
Colorado, despite being in immense foul trouble, would not go quietly, though. The Buffaloes slowly chipped away at that lead to cut it to a three-point game with 2:13 to play.
That was when an already ferocious Rebel defense reemerged, with a crucial block by Madison Scott at the 1:18 mark.
A momentum-shifting putback by Caitlin McGee (two points, three rebounds) with 37.8 seconds left started to seal the door shut, but it was Rebel stalwart and point guard Mimi Reid (nine points, four assists, three rebounds) who helped ice the game with a 5-of-8 clip from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter alone.
"First of all, great challenge and game by Colorado," said acting head coach Shay Robinson. "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. I'm so proud of this team, I'm so proud of the staff coming together. 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."
Head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin missed her third straight game of the WNIT due to a positive COVID-19 test last week, but the Rebels proved resilient all week long, completely shutting down WNIT opponents to only 54 points per game and a paltry 7-of-38 from beyond the arc.
Key in that effort, though, was Reid, who took command on the floor as one of the elder statesmen who has been through the ups and downs of the program throughout her career. In three games, she averaged 7.0 points, 5.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game to go along with a 10-of-14 clip from the free throw line.
"Mimi stepped up in the absence of Coach Yo," Robinson said. "We are so proud of Mimi. Her leadership and her guidance on the floor has been top-notch. There is no way we're sitting here right now without Mimi Reid. I gave her a shoutout the last game, and I'm gonna give her another one because Mimi has been absolutely outstanding with her leadership and her discipline and her energy and her communication. Even pregame when we're going through the scouts, she's talking and getting us huddled up and making sure we understand what's going on."
"I was definitely there for those low-lows, but you have to trust the process and stick with it," Reid said. "I happen to be one who stuck with Coach Yo and this staff and just believed in the program and believed that she was going to turn this program around. We didn't think it was gonna happen this quick, but we're gonna ride with it and keep doing what we need to do every single day."
Four Rebels were in double-digits on Monday night, led by another superb outing from All-WNIT Regional team member Donnetta Johnson and her 15 points. Across three games she averaged 13.3 points and shot 47 percent from the floor. Joining her on the All-Region team was Shakira Austin, who recorded her third straight double-double of the tournament at 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Ole Miss also received two big time performances from freshmen Madison Scott (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Snudda Collins (11 points). Collins knocked down three trifectas for the ninth time this season in a game that featured her as one of two top-10 ranked freshmen in three-point shooting alongside Colorado's Frida Formann (19 points).
"I just want to do well for my teammates and my coaches," Scott said. "My coaches challenged me to do well from the beginning, I have a tendency to ease into things and take the slow route sometimes where it takes me until the second half or the fourth quarter to get going."
Ole Miss heads home for a brief break before heading back up to Collierville for the semifinal and final rounds of the WNIT. Up first for the Rebels in the semifinal are the UNI Panthers (17-12). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on Friday night (March 26) at Collierville High School, with the game also set to once again air live on the subscription streaming service FloHoops.
Friday will also mark the return of Coach Yo, who exits her COVID-19 quarantine later this week.
"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."