The outcome already had been decided, but Rokila Wallace and the Mississippi University for Women’s women’s basketball team weren’t going to stop.
The former Columbus High School standout collected the pass and shifted into fifth gear. The junior guard raced down the lane and converted the up-tempo move with a layup.
In front of The W bench, coach Howard White Jr.’s clapping reverberated throughout Pohl Gymnasium as he said, “Let’s go baby. That’s the way we play.”
The W’s aggressive style produced 42 points in the paint en route to a 61-36 victory against NAIA-member Blue Mountain College in the team’s home opener.
“Coach is all motivation,” Wallace said. “We know who we can outrun and we can’t outrun. We look over there at him to know when we should do it. Nine times out of 10 our speed compared to somebody else’s speed we know we can outrun, we don’t hesitate to look. We just go with it.”
Wallace led the charge with 17 points and six rebounds, while former West Point High standout Qiayon Bailey had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Autumn Taylor added 11 points and eight rebounds to help The W (3-0), which is ranked No. 2 in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) poll, kick off the night in style.
Wallace smiled and said White Jr. fusses at the Owls when they don’t push the tempo and try to beat opponents down the court. The proof came in the final quarter, as the Owls, who led 44-30 entering the final quarter, scored 14 of their final 17 points in the paint.
“It just depends on who we have on the floor,” White Jr. said. “I try to put two big people on the floor at the same time. Keke (Jones) runs the floor pretty well. She has asthma, so I have to monitor her minutes. If we start to push too much, we have to get her out of the game. … We don’t really have a big dropoff when we bring them off the bench.”
Wallace is one of a handful of guards in a deep backcourt. Bailey, Keyahna (KeKe) Jones, and Tenazhia Hinkson give the Owls balance in the front court and willing participants to run with the guards. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Jones ran the court and rebounded a missed drive by Wallace and scored. The putback was just another instance of the Owls helping each other. During a stoppage of play prior to that sequence, Wallace earned an unofficial “assist” when she bent down and tied the sneaker of Jones, who apparently had jammed a pinkie finger earlier in the game.
Wallace, who is coming off the bench, used the word “chemistry” to describe the success the Owls have had in the first week of the season. She said all of the players have fit into their roles thanks to the work they have done in practice.
“We know our teammates when we’re on the floor together,” Wallace said. “Coach just lets us play. He knows when we’re in our game and when we’re not in our game. … Everybody has a role. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the bench. If you’re on the bench, you cheer with your team because when we go to the national championship it ain’t going to be the five on the floor who are going to get a ring. Everybody is going to get one.”
White Jr. said the Owls hope to add even more depth to their front court as Meosha Barnum gets healthy. He didn’t deny, though, that the backcourt is the strength of team. He said that lends itself to an attacking brand of basketball.
“I preach that to them all of the time,” White Jr. said. “You have to put pressure on the defense. You have to be in attack mode. We can shoot the ball. We’re not a great, great shooting team, but we’re better — that’s our strength — attacking the basket and getting the ball inside.”
The W had a 55-38 rebounding edge to solidify White Jr.’s point about his team’s strength. The Owls also limited their turnovers to 13, which enabled them to get more opportunities to score on a night when they were 23-for-59 (39 percent) from the field. The W limited Blue Mountain (1-2) to 22.9-percent shooting (16-for-70) from the field.
“Our matchup zone is probably our best defense right now,” White Jr. said. “We figured some things out in Denver about how we need to play. We still have to get some rotations down and everything, but other than that, they’re doing a pretty good job at it.”
The W will return to action at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Rust College in Holly Springs.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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