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7-seed Ole Miss women’s basketball face 10-seed South Dakota on Friday

Four years of work have been building to this.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Coach Yo and Co. travel to Waco, Tex. for a Friday match up against the South Dakota Coyotes, who won the Summit League tournament.

The Rebs will have its hands full in the first round matchup, as the Coyotes (27-5, 17-1 Summit) are the type of annoying high seed that can give good teams fits in the Big Dance. They shoot 39 percent from three as a team, an average that is better than any single player on Ole Miss’ roster. Likewise, they’re efficient from the field (48 percent) and the charity stripe (74 percent) as well.

The Rebels (23-8, 10-8 SEC) will have the size advantage though, as the Coyotes tallest contributor is only 6-foot-1. The uber-athletic, do-everything Shakira Austin is 6-foot-5, but past her there’s plenty of length among just the starters, with Snudda Collins and Madison Scott both registering at 6-foot-1. The Rebs will have to use its advantages in size and athleticism to attack the Jackrabbits on defense and force easy points on the other side. I expect that to happen, given what we’ve seen all season when this team goes up against a team it outmatches physically.

After the first round it’s on to face Baylor, a two-seed and a bit of a buzzsaw. If Ole Miss does get to that second round though, the aforementioned Austin matching up against NaLyssa Smith (a two-time all-American who is averaging over 22 points per game) and Queen Egbo (a rim protector and talented player) could be very fun.

Sadly, the Bears don’t only feature good bigs, as guards Jordan Lewis and Sarah Andrews are both hitting threes at a 39 percent clip (once again, far better than any Rebel).

If the Rebs get past Baylor, well, we’ll have more coverage then.

Shakira Austin gets the last laugh

“I was looking forward to playing a few schools who laughed about my decision to come here,” said Austin when asked about the difficult decision to leave a Maryland team who is a consistent lock for March Madness, and transfer to an Ole Miss team that hadn’t been there since 2007.

I’m sure last season’s 6-10 conference record was hard for Austin, but the roster improved with a combination of growth and new faces (namely transfers). For Austin, and Scott, this tournament bid serves as a sort of validation.

So what about next year?

I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The season isn’t over, and there could still be a lot of basketball ahead. Whenever this season does end though, the focus will turn on next year. It was easy to see how everything was building towards this season, as each year a new domino was added. The question is, how does this team recover from losing a top five pick?

With literally no other bigs expected to return, and none signed from high school, the entire future of the program rests on Coach Yo’s ability to do strong work in the portal. She signed one high school player in this class, with four seniors graduating. Clearly, she’s hoping to be able to take the same approach to roster building that Lane Kiffin does for football.

The question we can’t answer yet though, is...will it work?