March 7, 2022 

Shakira Austin leads Mississippi to a historic season

'Don’t get too high or get too low'

NASHVILLE — Shakira Austin knew what needed to be done.

“Just to be efficient and lead,” the Mississippi senior forward said head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin told her. “She said I just needed to be dominant, and yeah, that’s pretty much it, just be efficient.”

In Friday’s SEC Tournament Quarterfinal game, Austin did that and more.

In dominant, efficient fashion, she recorded her 10th double-double of the season with a season-high 27 points and 13 rebounds in fourth-seeded Mississippi’s 70-60 win over fifth-seeded Florida. Her six blocks were the most by any Rebel in an SEC Tournament game, contributing to a program-best 11 as a team in the tournament. The 11 blocks were also a single-game high for Mississippi this season.

With the win, the Rebels advanced to their first SEC Tournament semifinal since 1993. On Saturday, they played No. 1, South Carolina, with a championship game berth on the line but fell 61-51. Now they await Selection Sunday to see who they will play in the SEC Tournament.

Austin, who transferred to Mississippi in 2020 after two years at Maryland, has been the backbone of the Rebels’ success this season and key for them at both ends of the court. Last week, she made the First Team All-SEC for the second straight season, becoming the eighth Rebel to earn consecutive honors.

The Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 Watch List member paces the Rebels, averaging 15.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks per game and starting all 29 contests during the regular season.

As one of the best centers in the nation, the Lisa Leslie Award top 10 finalist is one of seven active players in Division I with 1,500 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. In addition, she leads all active SEC players with 1,038 career rebounds and eclipsed the 200-block mark this season, sitting at 232.

Getting to this point took getting out of her comfort zone.

“It took a lot of leadership from me on a personal level. It took a lot of growth and maturing to just come out and make something work and learn from the mistakes of last year,” Austin said. “And I think the new pieces we were able to put in were able to learn quickly and we were able to share more knowledge.”

Of Austin, McPhee-McCuin said: “When you have a player like Kira on your team, you don’t have talent like this and you’re not playing in March Madness.”

During the SEC Tournament and shortly before the Rebels’ quarterfinal win, Austin spoke with The Next about the miracle season Mississippi is enjoying, her own growth and development as a player and what’s next.

The NEXT: Shakira, talk about this successful season, both personally and as a team. Did you come into this season with set goals?

AUSTIN: I definitely came to Ole Miss with some goals. I just wanted to turn this program around. Just find value in myself and try to figure out if I would be able to do it. I had belief in myself that I could. This was the biggest bet on myself, coming here and changing Ole Miss. Being a top-four seed [in the SEC Tournament], this feeling—and we haven’t even won yet—is just as good as winning a championship at a high-level program. It has obviously changed the direction of the program as well.

THE NEXT: What has been your motto or personal mission statement this season?

AUSTIN: Just to stay level. Don’t get too high or get too low.

THE NEXT: What part of your game comes easiest to you and the hardest?

AUSTIN: What is easy for my game is beating people off the dribble and just being more versatile than most of the players I play against. The hardest is just being patient and continuously making the right reads. I face triple teams sometimes with the whole team in my area. Just making sure I protect the ball and make the right play has been a constant issue for me this year.

THE NEXT: Who do you pattern your game after?

AUSTIN: From the WNBA, probably a mixture of Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne; I just haven’t gotten my three yet. And on the NBA [side], a mixture of Anthony Davis and Jayson Tatum.

THE NEXT: What’s been the highlight of your college career so far?

AUSTIN: Just my senior year and what we have been able to do in a short amount of time here at Ole Miss: making the top-four seed, making the tournament. And the feeling in a couple of weeks after we do something crazy and special will be even more.

THE NEXT: What’s the mindset moving forward in the tournament after Selection Sunday?

AUSTIN: To dominate, make sure our team plays together and that we feel good going in and coming out.

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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