Mar. 17—March has a funny way of flipping the script.
No. 8 seed Ole Miss entered Friday night's first round NCAA Tournament matchup with No. 9 seed Gonzaga making less than five 3-pointers per game. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, came into the game leading the nation in 3-point percentage at 41.5%.
Gonzaga was held without a 3-pointer in the entire first half and made just one all game, while Ole Miss nearly hit its per game average in the second quarter alone, as the Rebels built a double-digit halftime deficit and took down the Bulldogs 71-48. It is the Rebels' (24-8) first NCAA Tournament win since 2007.
Junior forward Snudda Collins — who hadn't hit a single shot in the Rebels' last three games — came through when it mattered most, hitting three 3-pointers in the second quarter on the way to a team-high 15 points. Junior forward Madison Scott and senior guard Angel Baker each finished with 11 points.
The Rebels held the Bulldogs to 29% from the field and 1 of 17 from 3 in the game. Ole Miss, meanwhile, hit four in from deep in the first half and finished with seven overall.
All year, the Rebels' manta has been "We Defend." They certainly did that Friday night.
"(It was) poetic. That's all I can say, it was poetic. We clinched fourth place in the SEC outright by getting a defensive stop, Snudda got a block, and that's how we claimed fourth," fifth-year head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. "And so today, to be able to do it in a fashion (like this), and to hear our team like, they really didn't want Gonzaga to get 50 points. ... It was poetic.
"And it's something that makes me proud. Because, here's the thing ... We don't want to have an identity crisis right now. We want to be who we are. And that's defense. And our defense is the engine to our offense. And that is what we intend to do on Sunday. We intend to guard."
After a back-and-forth start to the game, Collins hit back-to-back 3-pointers that put the Rebels up by eight with 3:32 left in the second. She hit another 3 from the corner while getting fouled with just over a minute left in the half, and her free throw make put Ole Miss up 14. The Rebels finished the half on a 17-5 run and led by 13 at the break.
Gonzaga (28-5) didn't hit its first 3-pointer until more than three minutes into the third quarter. Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 25-10 in the third; Gonzaga went just 3 of 18 in the period.
The Rebels went through an 0 for 10 shooting drought in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs were only able to make up five-points worth of ground. The Rebels outrebounded the Bulldogs 51-36 and led for more than 36 minutes.
To take away the thing a team does best — hitting 3s — by doing one of the things you do best — defending, particularly the 3-point line? It doesn't get much better than that.
The Rebels entered the game with the ninth-best 3-point percentage defense in college basketball.
"Absolutely. We want to take away their 3-ball. We know they shoot the 3-ball very well," Baker said. "But, like coach said, we pack our defense, and we take pride in defense, in defending the ball."
Collins committed to Ole Miss at a time when the Rebels were far from postseason shoe-ins. The year prior to her arrival, the Rebels went 0-16 in SEC play. To see how far the program has come — and to be a part of some of the major steps — was special.
"It means a lot to me. I've been here when we weren't the absolute best — but we weren't the worst either — last year, we came here, went in the first round, we lost. Me and Madi, we took that personal," Collins said. "We were like, 'Next year, when we come back, we're not losing in the first game.' So, that's been our goal from the beginning of the season. And now we've accomplished it."
The Rebels play No. 1 seed host Stanford (29-5) Sunday. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m.