Simple Situation

Ole Miss has allowed itself an opportunity. It's a credit to the resiliency of this team, its head coach and its star player.

It's quite simple, really.

Chris Warren walked into the media room of Tad Smith Coliseum Wednesday night, his team fresh off its third consecutive Southeastern Conference win. Ole Miss had just pulled out a tough game over LSU, 66-60, on a rather odd night in Oxford with even more snow on the ground in an uncharacteristically active winter.

Warren had managed a 26-point effort when each member of a small media contingent turned their respective recorders on to get the senior guard's quotes. But before the question and answer session started, with us ink-stained wretches still making our way towards him, Warren was peering down at a stat sheet.

"Don't worry," I said, "you scored 26 points."

"I never look at my points," Warren convincingly replied, his eyes barely moving away from that still warm sheet of paper.

To win Wednesday, Warren and company had to dig deep. And, to their credit, they did.
AP File Photo
It was poetic, in a sense. Here was Warren, the unquestioned leader of a resurgent Ole Miss team, acknowledging his unselfishness. A simple yet stern reply carried so much meaning. It spoke to the resolve of this team -- a team that seems to have taken on the personality not only of its head coach, Andy Kennedy, but its star player.

If the Rebels have proven anything over these last three games it's that they're resilient.

They could have easily folded when they dropped their first four league games. Actually, most expected them to. Sure, there were some who believed this team could right its course, but the voices of those few were often trumped by the incessant negativity, be it on message boards or blogs.

Ole Miss proved Wednesday it can now win games in a variety of ways. Against Kentucky, the Rebels won in spectacular fashion. Warren connected on what turned out to be a game-winning 3 on national television. At Arkansas, they made few mistakes and won rather comfortably, beating a team usually tough on its home floor.

Last night, though, they grinded out a win under unique circumstances. The coliseum had but 2,100 fans in attendance due to the four to five inches of snow outside. Granted, those who braved the elements to be in attendance were loud, but Ole Miss had a limited home-court advantage.

To win, Warren and company had to dig deep. And, to their credit, they did. LSU led by as many as eight points in the second half. But every time the Tigers seemed likely to pull away, Ole Miss drew closer. LSU's Matt Derenbecker, despite good defense, continued to hit ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot.

Kennedy has Ole Miss playing with a one-game-at-a-time mindset.
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
The Rebels simply stuck to the plan. They battled. They fought. And, eventually, they won.

How the final seven conference games ultimately play out is anyone's guess. One thing's for sure, though: Ole Miss aims to make this interesting.

"I said going into the game, we have challenged this team to wipe the slate clean," Kennedy said. "We're 0-0 with an eight-game season. Now we're 1-0, with a huge opportunity Saturday in Tuscaloosa."

It's a plain, somewhat cliché, rallying cry. Ole Miss is playing with a one-game-at-a-time mindset. The Rebels are confident. The Rebels are sure of themselves. Zach Graham, who scored 17 points in last night's win, said he feels the team is finally realizing its identity.

Any talk of postseason aspirations is still premature. The NCAA Tournament remains a reach. A return trip to the National Invitation Tournament is more realistic with where Ole Miss stands today, but there are plenty more games left to play.

But, once more, such talk is moot in mid-February. More than anything else, Ole Miss has allowed itself an opportunity. The Rebels are in the discussion again. Anything's possible, especially if Ole Miss, with an RPI rank of 60 prior to tipoff with LSU, runs its win streak to four at Alabama Saturday at 3 p.m.

Anything's possible. It's a credit to the resiliency of this team, its head coach and its star player, who acknowledged the uselessness of individual statistics. Just keep reeling off wins.

It's quite simple, really.

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