Ole Miss-UA Rivalry Cuts Both Ways

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath pointed out an interesting thing about the Ole Miss-Arkansas rivalry which resumes tonight in Bud Walton Arena.

"We have two Mississippi kids on our roster and they don't have any," Heath noted.

Arkansas (13-5, 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference) has 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Charles Thomas of Jackson, Miss., and 6-9 freshman forward Cyrus McGowan of Meridian, Miss. All of the Rebels hail from outside the state of Mississippi.

That's an interesting twist on a series Ole Miss dominated for years, in no small part by recruiting players from Arkansas.

The Rebels (13-4, 3-1 SEC) still have four Arkansans on their roster this season, but Arkansas has five.

Arkansas broke through with two wins over Ole Miss last season to even the series 14-14 in SEC games only, but Heath said Monday, "Ole Miss has a rivalry feel in my mind. Their Arkansas kids always play well here."

Bam Doyne, a 6-4 Rebs junior from Little Rock Mills, averaged just 3.6 points last season but has become a starter this season and averages 10.5 points -- second on the team to 6-8 center Dwayne Curtis' 14.8 -- plus 4.8 rebounds.

Rebels freshman Mike Smith, a 6-7 forward from Jacksonville, Ark., averages just 2.6 points but made his first start last Saturday in a 72-65 loss at Georgia.

Jeremey Parnell, a 6-8 Ole Miss sophomore from Gosnell, averages 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds off the bench. Brandon Patterson, a 6-6 sophomore guard from Altheimer, averages 3.1 points for the Rebs.

Arkansas' Thomas has become a key player lately, averaging 13 points and eight rebounds in his last three games. McGowan has played sparingly in the SEC, topping out at 11 minutes against LSU.

"The last three games have been some of Charles' best basketball in a Razorback jersey," Heath said. "He's asserting himself, going after rebounds ferociously and relishing that sixth-man role.

"He takes charges, and gives us a fourth dimension on offense after Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica and Darian Townes. Charles does the best job of finding seams in zones."

Thomas didn't make a huge deal about his Mississippi roots.

"A game is a game," he said. "We've gotta clamp down on defense -- we back down from nobody. But it would be a sweeter victory, just being from Mississippi."

For Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes, tonight's game offers "a chance to find out where we are. This is our first back-to-back road trip, and we're very disappointed in the loss to Georgia."

The Rebels weren't expected to contend for the SEC West title this season, but Curtis has been something of a secret weapon. After sitting out last season following his transfer from Auburn, Curtis has been a force both scoring and rebounding (7.4).

Heath called Curtis "a load inside -- he can pin you and seal you" and credited him with great foot work. Barnes did not disagree.

"When we can go inside to Curtis, he's good at scoring with the basketball," Barnes said. "I've really focused this year on our offense. We're a little behind on defense."

That last part concerned Barnes, who said, "Arkansas is back on track. Outside of Memphis, they may be the most talented team we've played this year."

Memphis defeated the Rebels 72-49 on Dec. 17.

Arkansas, after an 11-2 nonconference start including three wins over Big 12 teams, has struggled out of the SEC gate.

"We haven't gotten as many transition baskets in SEC play," Heath said. "We've got to create more of those opportunities, knowing teams are trying to take that away from us."

Ole Miss has traditionally been a deliberate team on offense, but Heath said the Rebels are playing faster this season.

Todd Abernethy, a 6-1 junior "gym rat" from Carmel, Ind., averages 9.5 points and runs the show for Ole Miss -- although Doyne has 48 assists to Abernethy's 46.

"Doyne has been playing great," Heath said.

Brewer, who leads the SEC in scoring (18.6), is coming off a 26-point game against Auburn.

"Ronnie is doing a better job of attacking the basket," Heath said.

Brewer, who gained weight and muscle in the off season, said, "I can take fouls better now. In my first two seasons, I don't think I could have taken some of the fouls I've had this year."

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