Ole Miss zigs past Zags in NCAA Tournament opener

Published 11:46 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Snudda Collins scored 15 points and eighth-seeded Ole Miss once again leaned on its stingy defense to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament this time after last year’s big disappointment, beating No. 9 seed Gonzaga 71-48 on Friday night.

Now, bring on top-seeded Stanford on its home court.

Ole Miss will face the Cardinal (29-5) on Sunday for a spot at the Sweet Sixteen in Seattle next weekend. Stanford topped No. 16 seed Sacred Heart 92-49 in Friday’s first game at Maples Pavilion.

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Already tested twice by No. 1 South Carolina, coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s Rebels showed off their signature defense that has held opponents to just 56.8 points per game by shutting down one of the nation’s top 3-point-shooting teams. The Zags (28-5) scored a season-low points — and their only loss with fewer points was a 64-60 defeat to Portland in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game March 7.

The Rebels improved to 21-0 when holding teams to 60 or fewer points.

This Ole Miss group is determined to take another step toward erasing the memory of last season’s 75-61 first-round loss to 10th-seeded South Dakota playing as a No. 7 seed. Friday’s win was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament since 2007.

Madison Scott had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Angel Baker added 11 points and five boards for Ole Miss, which grabbed 24 offensive rebounds.

The Rebels earned back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time under McPhee-McCuin and it hadn’t been done since the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. Making consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time since 2004-05, the Rebels held WCC Player of the Year Kaylynne Truong to six points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Yvonne Ejim led the Zags with 19 points and eight rebounds but her star teammates were stymied. Gonzaga came in shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and Brynna Maxwell held the second-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation at 49.43 percent, but the team finished just 1-for-17. Maxwell scored four points on 1-of-10 shooting, missing all five of her 3s.

The Zags missed six straight shots spanning halftime and made a forgettable showing in their sixth straight NCAA Tournament.

Ole Miss used a 9-0 run late in the first half to build a 26-16 lead as the Zags missed four straight shots. Collins’ three-point play 1:13 before halftime helped put the Rebels ahead 34-21 at the break.

Ole Miss shot 50 percent combined in the second and third quarters and outscored Gonzaga 47-22 in those two periods to turn the game into a rout.