Kennedy's Rebels Present Challenge For Tigers

Auburn, Ala.--If there has been a pleasant surprise in the SEC this year, it's the 15-1 Ole Miss basketball team that travels to Auburn on Saturday.

During the off season it appeared to be a wide open Western Division in 2007-2008, but Auburn (1-2), Alabama (0-3) and LSU (0-3) have suffered key personnel losses while Arkansas (2-1), Ole Miss (2-1) and Mississippi State (3-0) look to be the frontrunners of the division almost two weeks into the SEC schedule.

Rebel coach Andy Kennedy lost several key players off his first team in Oxford including the top two scorers, Clarence Sanders and Bam Doyne, as well as point guard Todd Abernathy. However, his second team is playing about as well as any team in the league this year.

The only blemish more than two months into the season is a two-point loss suffered at top 10 Tennessee.

"They've got three inside players that are big, strong bulls and experienced players," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo says of the Rebels. "(Dwayne) Curtis, (Kenny) Williams, (Jeremy) Parnell... all seniors, one a fifth-year senior. (Eniel) Polynice is probably one of the most improved players in the league and they've got freshman guards that come in."

Curtis and Williams are both 6-8 and have connections to Auburn. Curtis played as a freshman under Cliff Ellis while Williams signed to play football for Tommy Tuberville out of high school. Curtis is averaging 15.2 points and 8.4 rebounds and Williams is scoring at an 8.6 point per game pace and pulling down 8.2 boards.

Polynice and Florida transfer David Huertas, both 6-5 guards, are scoring 12.9 and 9.7, respectively.

While the depth and physical presence inside have been strengths for Rebels this year, the addition of a pair of freshmen guards has been instrumental in their success so far this season. Point guard Chris Warren has nearly a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and is also the leading scorer at 15.3 per contest. Fellow freshman Trevor Gaskins has hit 31-68 threes (45.6 percent) and is scoring 8.6 per game.

"Chris Warren has just been absolutely fantastic as a freshman of really controlling the games for them, making shots, putting it on the floor," Lebo states. "He's really been quite a surprise not only to the league, but to the country."

Auburn will counter at the point with DeWayne Reed, who needs to keep a good thing going. The sophomore had a career-high 20 points on 7-10 shooting and five assists in Auburn's win at LSU on Wednesday.

"DeWayne Reed was terrific in our last game," Lebo explains. "We've been waiting for that to happen. He shot the ball well. We need him to score, and he shot the ball well from three. I think coming into the LSU game, the last three games he didn't hit a three. He hit some key ones when we got down against LSU that were gigantic that cut the lead. He hit a big one late in the game in the corner to put us up six with about two and a half to go.

"Coach Coop (John Cooper) spent a lot of time with him in the gym just getting shots up, getting shots up, taking open ones, (deciding) what's a good one," Lebo adds of Reed. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself I think at times to get a bucket, and I think earlier this season he took some bad ones--some contested ones."

Of Auburn's injuries, Lebo says, "We have seven scholarship players and we're really only playing six of those. We've got two of those seven that are a little banged up--Rasheem Barrett and Quan Prowell--but they'll be able to play."

On the status of Boubacar Sylla, Lebo adds that he doesn't expect him to be ready for the Rebels. "We're trying to be fair to him and get him into practice as much as we can. He's still a long way away physically to get himself back in there. He hasn't really been anything close to full practice yet. We've been putting him in and out just trying to get him confident on the foot and seeing how he moves on it."

Tipoff at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum is set for 4 p.m. Central on Saturday. FSN will televise the game.

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