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Byrd making best of finale

Brookhaven High product Nikki Byrd isplaying like an Ole Miss senior who hungers for a basketballchampionship ring. Byrd’s string of double-doubles reached fourTuesday night in Oxford when the Lady Rebels dismantledArkansas-Pine Bluff in Tad Smith Coliseum.

    The 6-foot-4 Byrd is averaging 14.6 points and 12.0 rebounds pergame. Byrd’s boardwork puts her atop the current rebounding chartsin the SEC.

    Looking at the statistics, Byrd’s numbers have doubled since herjunior season when she averaged 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds pergame.

    “I’m extremely proud of Nikki,’ said Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner.”She has been playing very big for us, which is evident by herstats.”

    Ladner said the improvement is a matter of maturity. She shared heropinions with OXFORD EAGLE assistant sports editor Patrick Ochs inTuesday’s edition.

    “The biggest thing that I think Nikki is doing right now is notreacting to bad calls or bad play,” said Ladner. “She’s not beatingherself up on the other end of the floor when something goeswrong.”

    Byrd, a former Ole Miss homecoming queen, is making the best of hercollege career. “I have learned to play smarter and within my game.I have confidence.”

    Experience increases court savvy. “It’s always important for me tostay in the game,” Byrd continued. “I have to be smarter on bothends of the court.”

    Ladner said Byrd’s strong physical presence in the paint hasbenefited the entire team. She cited the UMass game last Fridaythat the Lady Rebels won 72-67.

    Byrd, surrounded by UMass players, was drawing triple-teamcoverage.  That opened upthings for the guards and forwards, especially on theperimeter.

    “We were struggling early against UMass because they were sittingin the paint,” said Ladner. “When they had to guardNikki,  we brought somekids off the bench who hit some threes.”

    In the past, Byrd has been foul prone. She often spent largeportions of the game sitting on the bench in serious foul trouble.That has changed. Byrd is smarter and controls her emotions betterduring games.

    “It’s always important for me to stay in the game,” said Byrd.”Either posting up or being in there to take charges on defense isimportant.”

    Byrd’s college career has grown her academic life, too. Collegelevel athletics require extra dedication on the field and in theclassroom. She explained.

    “You have no choice but to manage your time,” said Byrd. During theseason, players must cope with travel time, game time, practice andmore practice.

    “You’re a student first and you have to get your work done,” saidByrd. “You come in as a freshman and you think it’s all aboutbasketball.  Then realitysets in. You’re a student before you’re an athlete. You have to getyour priorities straight in order to be an athlete.”

    The Lady Rebels are off to a 6-1 start and host Grambling Saturdayat 2 p.m. They have a road date Dec. 10 at Coral Gables, Fla.,versus Miami. Their SEC schedule begins Jan. 1, 2012, when theyhost LSU for a 1 p.m. tipoff.

    With four starters returning, the Lady Rebels are intent on being atitle contender after finishing 10-19 overall and 3-13 in the SEClast year.

    

    

    Meanwhile, Professor Hoopla B.S. is gearing up for a championshipweekend. The MHSAA state championship games are Friday and Saturdayat Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

    Lincoln County native Anthony Hart coaches his Lafayette CountyCommodores against the Laurel Golden Tornadoes in Saturday’s Class4A state title game, starting at 3 p.m.

    Hart’s team (15-0), is riding a 31-game victory streak and seekinga second straight state title. They beat North Pike in last year’stitle test.

    Hoopla predicted the winners of 11 games and posted an 8-3 recordlast weekend. Here’s a preview of  this weekend’s winners.

     Noxapater vs. Shaw:      Tigers appear to  have the best offense in the Class 1Astate title game. Noxapater 30-18.

     East Marionvs.  West Bolivar: The Eagles upset Bassfieldlast week and cruise to the Class 2A title. East Marion 26-16.

     Hazlehurst vs. Charleston: In a rematch of the 2005Class 3A state title game, the Indians take home another goldfootball trophy. Hazlehurst 34-14.

     Lafayette County vs.Laurel:  This promises tobe a high-scoring affair for the Class 4A crown. Lafayette42-28.

     Starkville vs. Picayune: Yellow Jackets author aClass 5A state title over the Maroon Tide. Starkville 21-14.

     Olive Branch vs. Petal: Panthers have made animpressive run through the Class 6A state playoffs but the dreamends Friday night. Olive Branch 29-17.

    After draining a Diet Pepsi, Hoopla looks at Saturday’s collegiatescene.

     Southern Miss at Houston: It’s an offensive show andalso a farewell show as both head coaches finalize plans to leavefor greener pastures. Houston 42-32.

     LSU vs. Georgia: The SEC championship gameattracts national interest and Alabama impatiently waits in thewings for another shot at the unbeaten Tigers. LSU 22-10.

     North Greenville at DeltaState:  Sun continuesshining on the Statesmen as they advance to the semifinals round ofthe NCAA Division II playoffs. Delta State 38-23.

 

    Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by Email:tgoetz@dailyleader.com