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As SEC play approaches, defensive-minded Rebels hitting their stride

As SEC play approaches, defensive-minded Rebels hitting their stride

Prior to the start of this year’s season, Ole Miss was sitting in the No. 9 spot in the Southeastern Conference preseason rankings—out of 14 teams. The Rebels are not yet considered among the elite in the SEC, but that does not bother them one bit as the young team is improving with every game.

Sisk points

Sisk finished with a game-high 23 points and eight steals in the Rebels’ 96-56 win over McNeese State. (Photo credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)

With SEC play right around the corner, Ole Miss (7-5) has been hitting its stride defensively. Though the Rebels lost to Tulane, 61-59, last Wednesday, they forced the Green Wave into 25 turnovers which led to 19 points for Ole Miss.

The Rebels’ solid defensive efforts continued on Saturday afternoon when they hosted McNeese State, forcing the Cowgirls into 33 turnovers,which led to 40 points the other way.

Ole Miss junior guard Erika Sisk started the turnover frenzy, recording three consecutive steals early in the first period which led to easy transition points.

Sisk finished with a game-high 23 points and a career-high, eight steals in the Rebels’ 96-56 win over McNeese State (7-4), which was Ole Miss’ third consecutive opponent from the state of Louisiana. Thanks to their stubborn defense, the Rebels improved to 2-2 overall this season against teams from Louisiana.

And Sisk is loving every bit of it.

“In the last month, we have gotten better in each and every game,” said Sisk, who’s fifth in the SEC in steals per game (2.3). “Coach Matt (Insell) probably said it best, ‘once we click, it’s going to be something serious.’”

Sick sets the tone for the Rebels

Their focus on getting stops has turned the Rebels into a potential sleeper team in the SEC. Coach Insell makes it clear to those watching that Ole Miss is a good basketball team and will continue to get better as the season progresses. He relies on Sisk to set the tone early for the team, and she seems to have a knack for creating opponents’ turnovers.

Sisk watches the waist of her opponent, already knowing where the ball is heading. As she is playing close attention to the basketball, she keeps her arms spread out, waiting on the opportunity for a quick steal that could follow with an easy transition bucket.

“Erika Sisk set the tone from the start; what an incredible game she had,” Insell said following the win over the Cowgirls. “She was just locked in defensively.”

Ole Miss pressed a lot against McNeese State, with Sisk being upfront on the basketball. But with a 55-21 lead heading into the third period, the Rebels relaxed a bit and allowed the Cowgirls to score 14 straight points. Insell just looked on and didn’t call timeout, because he wanted his team to fight through it.

Insell feels letting his team fight through slumps will only help them get mentally stronger:

I said let’s go back to doing what we do. Let’s get back up to trapping; let’s get back to pressing a little bit, playing full-court man-to-man defense and let’s get back to playing our game. And we did that. We locked back in and ended up winning the second half. We had a total team effort.

Coach Matt Insell

Next Up:
The Rebels will be back in action on Dec. 29 when they host Alabama A&M (6 p.m. CT, SEC Network) to close out the first half of the season and their time inside Tad Smith Coliseum. Ole Miss will host SEC foe Vanderbilt on Jan. 3 inside its new arena, The Pavilion.

Featured image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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