n Ole Miss' pesky defense records 25 takeaways in rout of Alabama.

By CHARLES ODUM

The Associated Press

DULUTH, Ga. - Ole Miss didn't expect to be playing on the first day of the SEC tournament, but it was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Ole Miss set a Southeastern Conference tournament record with 25 steals and Alabama topped the previous tournament high mark by committing 42 turnovers as the Rebels rolled to a 78-49 victory over the Crimson Tide on Thursday night.

Armintie Price scored 26 points as Ole Miss (21-9) advanced to today's quarterfinal game against Louisiana State.

Ole Miss fell out of a first-round bye and dropped to the No. 5 seed in the tournament by losing to Auburn in its final regular-season game.

"When that happened you've got to look for the silver lining, for the positive," said Ole Miss coach Carol Ross. "I love being here. ... I told the team 'We get to stay longer."'

Alabama (10-20) finished its season with 15 straight SEC losses, including an 0-14 conference mark in the regular season.

From the start of the game, Ole Miss extended its defense, putting two or more defenders on the ball when possible.

"It's a great way to start a great tournament," Ross said. "Our defense ... was very effective with our deflections. Our speed and quickness really came into play."

The margin of victory would have been larger if not for poor free-throw shooting by the Rebels, who made only 12 of 27 attempts. Ole Miss committed 28 turnovers for a combined 70 giveaways by the two teams.

The Rebels, who led the SEC in the regular season with 13.4 steals per game and a plus-8.45 turnover ratio, forced 13 turnovers in the first eight minutes.

Alabama was last in the league with its minus-5.86 turnover ratio while averaging 24 turnovers per game. It saved its worst for last, setting a season high in giveaways.

"Obviously, it's been a very difficult season," said Alabama coach Stephany Smith. "The thing that has plagued us all SEC play was definitely an Achilles' heel tonight with the 42 turnovers."

The previous high mark for turnovers in an SEC tournament game was 36 by Alabama against Tennessee in 1989. The old record for steals in a game was 20 by Tennessee against both Florida and Auburn in the 1980 tournament.

Dedrea Magee, one of three freshman starters for Alabama, was the Tide's only scorer in double figures with 15 points.

Ashley Awkward had 11 points and Shawn Goff added 10 for Ole Miss.

Ole Miss forced 40 turnovers in an 84-43 win over Alabama on Feb. 11, and it was ahead of that pace while forcing 23 turnovers in the first half Thursday night.

Alabama managed to stay close in the first 12 minutes before wearing down under the Rebels' relentless defensive pressure.

A basket by Navonda Moore pulled Alabama to within four points at 18-14 with 8:30 left in the first half. Ole Miss then scored 14 straight points while outscoring Alabama 24-6 the rest of the half.

Price had 20 points in the first half.

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