OXFORD • SEC play begins tonight for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team, with second-year coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin looking for a lot of wins.
But not in the traditional sense.
McPhee-McCuin inherited a program that had gone 18-62 in SEC play in five seasons under Matt Insell and just 1-15 the year before she arrived.
Her first Ole Miss team went 9-22 overall, 3-13 in conference play.
The Rebels (7-6) face Georgia (9-4) in a 6:45 p.m. tip at The Pavilion.
With an eye on Year 3 and an incoming recruiting class that was ranked No. 9 on signing day with two five-star players, McPhee-McCuin sees this season as important in continuing to lay a foundation for the future.
“I just know for me, I’m working on staying encouraged. We’re on the right track for where we want to go. I’ve just got to keep our kids uplifted through this,” McPhee-McCuin said.
This year’s track includes another transitional roster with six players who weren’t in the program last year and two more who are transfers sitting out this season. That’s what DePaul transfer Deja Cage was last season when she watched from the bench.
This time around adversity hit in late November when 6-foot freshman Sarah Dumitrescu was lost for the season with a torn ACL. She was averaging 7.3 rebounds at the time.
Still, spirits remain high after last Saturday’s 93-66 win over Alabama State.
“Our attitude about going into SEC play is rising, especially after today’s win,” Cage said after putting up 20 points and seven rebounds against the Hornets. “We scored a lot of points. Everybody was involved. We were defending, getting steals and getting out in transition.”
Cage, a 5-foot-8 guard, is the team’s leading scorer at 13.0 points a game while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor.
Sophomore point guard MiMi Reid was one who went through the SEC schedule with last year’s team. She had 16 points with 10 assists and no turnovers against Alabama State.
“We started preparing for SEC play the day this team was formed because that’s the bigger goal. We want to win some games. The confidence level in this team is rising,” she said.
Georgia had a 17-point win against East Carolina its last time out. Opponents are shooting just 36.3 percent against the Bulldogs.
Knowing their role
McPhee-McCuin knows her team will be an underdog tonight and every night. While seeking wins on the scoreboard she’s focusing on wins within the games.
“There are some things when we get into SEC play that physically we won’t be able to sustain. We’re going to be prepared. I want us to feel confident,” she said. “In order to do that we have to find wins within the game whether it’s keeping the team at a certain point for a quarter or it’s us getting a certain number of assists or transition points.”
For now, McPhee-McCuin is encouraged.
“Last year we won six (in the pre-conference). Now we’ve won seven. For me, that’s a victory within itself.”