WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Ole Miss women's basketball rode an offensive explosion from Angel Baker and another lockdown defensive effort to a 65-50 victory over Texas Tech on Monday afternoon to open its stay at the West Palm Beach Invitational.
The Rebels (11-1) have now won 11 games in a row, tying for the third-best winning streak in program history with the 2000-01, 1982-83 and 1975-76 Rebel teams. The only winning streaks longer in the history of Ole Miss women's basketball are from two Elite Eight squads: a 25-game tear during the 1991-92 SEC Championship season, and a 24-game streak during the 1984-85 season.
Ole Miss' stout defense that entered the day ranked atop the SEC and No. 7 in the NCAA at 49.2 points allowed per game showed again why it is one of the elite units nationally, forcing 23 Texas Tech (7-3) turnovers that ended up as 19 Rebel points while also forcing several shot-clock violations with a stifling perimeter defense. That defense coupled with a monster 24-point outing from Baker and two big runs in the middle quarters helped the Rebels separate for good despite national player of the year candidate Shakira Austin being triple-teamed all game.
"Definitely grateful for another win," said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. "We started off slow. The gameplan for them was to stop Kira, and open the floor up for our wings, so I had to get wings that were looking for their shot and wanted to be aggressive. That was something that was important for us. I told the team afterwards that I feel like any team that thinks that they can just triple-team Kira and not have to guard anybody else it's just disrespectful of everybody else on the team, and so they have to take pride in knocking down those shots."
Baker - a senior transfer from Wright State - took that to heart, dropping a season-high 24 points off the bench on 11-of-13 shooting and a 2-of-3 clip from beyond the arc. It was the second 20-point game and third double-digit game this season for Baker, who averages 13.7 points per game across her career.
"(Coach Yo) is always on me about playing aggressive," Baker said. "My role here for the team was to be a scorer, so when I'm not shooting the ball I'm not adding to the team. Once I saw the first one and second one go in, the basket got a little wider."
"Teams that don't really pressure us and don't make us have to execute under duress, it allows me to free (Baker) up even more and play her at the point because she can handle the rock," McPhee-McCuin said. "She makes the right passes, but she needs to hit shots and sometimes at the point guard position I'm not getting offense. So when I'm able to play her at the point, it opens up the floor because now I have multiple shooters on the floor."
Austin was kept out of double-digit scoring for just fourth time this season at eight points amid intense defensive focus from Texas Tech, but still contributed with five rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Graduate transfer Lashonda Monk also tallied her third double-digit game of the season with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with three assists and two boards.
The Rebels actually trailed 15-10 following the first quarter, but responded in the quarters to follow, winning the second and third frames by a combined score of 37-19. A 10-0 Rebel run in the second quarter in the midst of a massive 7:31 scoring drought by the Lady Raiders helped Ole Miss take the lead for good with 2:40 to go in the first half. The Rebels would lead by as many as 22 with 2:01 to play, but a late 9-2 run over the final 1:51 helped Texas Tech pull the game within 15 points at the final buzzer.
Ole Miss now has a chance to notch its longest win streak since 1991-92 in grand fashion, with a looming showdown against No. 16 South Florida set for Tuesday (Dec. 21) at 12:15 p.m. CT. It will be a battle of two NCAA top-25 defenses, with the Bulls pitting their 25th-ranked unit at 53.5 points allowed per game against the 7th-ranked Rebel squad.
"I am very familiar with South Florida," McPhee-McCuin said. "They run a lot of actions, they're going to try and make us play their pace, so we're gonna have to be extremely disciplined. They're gonna pack the paint on us and make us make shots, and then they shoot the three at a high clip and they rebound the ball very well. I'm very comfortable with this matchup, but it will be a challenge for this group because of how they play. We're gonna have to really lock-in defensively and take away the three-ball or it's gonna be a long night."