March 8, 2009
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Shawn Goff did everything she could to make sure she didn''t play her final college basketball game Friday afternoon.
If the ninth-seeded University of Mississippi women''s basketball team''s 71-65 loss to top-seeded Auburn at the Southeastern Conference tournament at Alltel Arena proves to be Goff''s last, she made a statement.
The senior center scored a career-high 25 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds for her 21st double-figure game of the season. It was her fifth double-double of the season.
"Shawn knew going in this game that Bianca Thomas was going to be shut down," Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. "That either works on your psyche one way or the other, and today she stepped up."
Unfortunately for the Rebels (17-14), the effort wasn''t enough and left them in a holding pattern. Ole Miss won''t receive a bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament but it likely will receive a bid to the Women''s National Invitational Tournament.
Ladner said the Rebels would welcome the chance to play in the postseason, if only to allow Goff an opportunity to continue her career.
Auburn (28-2) held on thanks to SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner. The senior guard/forward led everyone with 32 points and 13 rebounds. She also had three blocked shots in 39 minutes.
Senior guard Whitney Boddie, another first-team All-SEC performer, added 15 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists, and three steals, and Alli Smalley had 10 points.
Ole Miss junior Bianca Thomas, who had a career-high 31 points Thursday in a victory against Arkansas, had 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting. She was only 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
Goff the school''s all-time leader in blocked shots, was a preseason first-team All-SEC pick. Ladner admitted that Goff might not have had as consistent a season as she would have wanted, but she was a key in the middle throughout her four years.
"She played as a senior and as an all-conference player," Ladner said. "She had a sub-par year and at times she played inconsistently, but today she played as Shawn Goff can play. I am very proud of her."
Katorra Lewis and Tori Slusher will be senior post players next season, while 6-4 freshmen Nikki Byrd and Kayla Holloway will be a sophomores.
The Rebels also will return Thomas and guards Shantell Black, Alliesha Easley, and Liz Robertson and figure to be one of the SEC''s most experienced team.
Factor in a strong recruiting class that includes Raymond High School point guard Valencia McFarland and Ole Miss could be in position to improve on its 5-9 finish in the league.
Despite all of that experience, Ladner said the Rebels learned valuable lessons this season.
"This year really was a defining year for this team because they have had to play a lot of minutes and in every fire," Ladner said. "They have seen a little bit of everything and they learned as the season progressed to work through it. We finished the game yesterday (against Arkansas), and I thought if we had a few breaks down the stretch we would have finished against Auburn. I never saw that I think I am going to get beat look."
Not having that look might be the first step, but Ladner wants consistency to be the focus for next season, especially given how close Ole Miss came in games against Tennessee, Auburn, and Mississippi State in the regular season and against Auburn on Friday.
"We''re a team sitting right here and we could not completely get over the hump," Ladner said. "Maybe we''re just now deciding who we are. I don''t know because I never knew as a coach what we were going to get when we hit the floor. I just decided to start fussing and fighting and working them extremely hard on the sidelines because I thought I had to be their fire, and they responded.
"When you''re a coach and you start the season you play big and you have some bumps in the road, you worry about them being fragile. I think I backed off instead of putting the hammer down. I am raising my expectations, and I think that will help them raise theirs."
Ole Miss raised its level in the second half. Trailing 60-44 with 6 minutes, 19 seconds remaining, a layup by Kayla Melson capped a 17-4 run that helped the Rebels creep to within 64-61.
Goff had four points in the five-minute run in which Ole Miss used its defense to generate some easy offense.
"I just went in knowing that I wanted to play as hard as I could," Goff said. "You don''t want to go into what could be your last game and know you didn''t play hard for the team. That is what I tried to do."
Ole Miss twice cut Auburn''s lead to three, the final time with 26 seconds left, but Bonner helped ice the victory with two free throws.
Ladner said Bonner showed why she is the SEC Player of the Year and likely will be an Associated Press All-American.
While the loss was disappointing, Ladner takes solace in the fact that the Rebels have plenty of weapons coming back next season. She hopes the team can learn a few more lessons this season to make it even better in 2009-10.
"We hope we can feed off this," Ladner said. "We hope the young post players on our bench can see what Shawn has done and that they have gotten better playing every day against them."
"I think we still have something left. We fell a little short. I like to say we didn''t fail we only partially succeeded. I love Shawn Goff and I love this team, so I would like them to make a deep run and win a NIT championship."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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