Confidence Test

Ole Miss (12-6, 0-3 SEC) will try to stop the bleeding Wednesday night at Vanderbilt (12-4, 1-2). Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

Confidence can be a tricky thing.

Ole Miss had confidence even after losing at Florida. The Rebels, according to head coach Andy Kennedy, had played well. To Kennedy, Ole Miss didn't lose the game, as much as Florida won it.

But three halves of basketball later, Ole Miss is reeling.

In Ole Miss' last three halves of basketball, its defense has, well, struggled. The Rebels are allowing their opponents to shoot well over 60 percent from the floor. In a blowout loss to Georgia Saturday, the second of consecutive home SEC losses, Ole Miss surrendered 98 points.

Andy Kennedy

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Kennedy said. "For a while, I thought we were pretty good defensively. We were doing some better things. But the last three halves of basketball, we've just broken down in our first-shot defense.

"When you're playing against quality players, which are in this league, they'll make you pay for that."

Kennedy felt his team suffered a hangover against Georgia. The Rebels went into the game fresh off a five-point loss to in-state rival Mississippi State two nights prior.

Now Kennedy is searching for a way to stop the bleeding.

Tonight's game is followed by a road trip to LSU. Ole Miss then returns home to face Tennessee and Kentucky. The Rebels are 12-6 overall and 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 2004.

The last time Ole Miss started 0-4 was in 2000, when the team lost its first five conference games. Vanderbilt is 12-4 and 1-2.

"Our team is like most every team," Kennedy said. "Our margin for error, we cannot have as many glaring weaknesses in any one given time or we're not good enough to beat the good teams we have to beat. But that doesn't make us any different than 85 percent of the teams in college basketball. We've just got to get everybody playing on the same page together.

"When we do, we've shown capable of being pretty good."

Kennedy put his team through two practices on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, focusing mostly on defense. Georgia shot 63 percent from the floor Saturday, with many of the Bulldogs' points coming near the basket.

Vanderbilt has one of the top offenses in the league. The Commodores are second in the conference at 77.7 points per game, and also shoot 37 percent from the 3-point line, also good for second in the league.

"Coach, when we got back Sunday, he was telling us how in our past two losses our defense really wasn't very good," junior forward Terrance Henry said. "In the morning, we've been working strictly on defensive drills. Georgia shot a real high percentage on us.

Terrance Henry

"That's not acceptable."

Defense aside, Ole Miss is looking to repair the mental damage suffered in its past two losses.

A team aspiring for its first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons, Ole Miss headed into its conference schedule as the only SEC West team in an enviable position.

Three conference losses later, the Rebels are on the opposite side of the spectrum, facing a steep uphill climb.

"We got to get a win," senior guard Zach Graham said. "Our mindset has definitely changed. We've done a lot of defense. We've focused on defense, getting stops.

"We've just got to put forth the effort and the intensity. We can't be lackadaisical."

"I'm seeing a sense of urgency with the team," Henry said. "We were hoping for a good start to start the SEC. Now that we haven't had a good start, we're feeling it. We just have to do something about it. When you start conference play 0-3, your confidence as a team and as an individual, it gets down."

Vanderbilt is 9-0 at home this year, including a win over Georgia. The Commodores' two losses are to Tennessee and South Carolina. John Jenkins leads Vanderbilt and is the conference's leading scorer with 18.6 points per game.

"The Georgia game, it's like, ‘Wow. Where did that come from?' Well, as I said, I think that we had a little bit of a hangover. That's my responsibility. It can't happen," Kennedy said.

"If we go in (to Vanderbilt) like we're capable, we'll have a chance. They're a good basketball team. They're a team aspiring to win their side of the league, as we are. If we go in there and don't play well, we obviously aren't going to like the result. We know that."

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on CSS.

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