Over the Hump

Ole Miss meets Mississippi State for the second time this season Saturday at 12:30 p.m. This time, though, there's more at stake.

Three teams -- Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas -- are tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference West Division with equal 5-6 league records. A first-round bye in the SEC Tournament in March is up for grabs.

"Obviously coaches would prefer to win three in a row than four in a row (in the tournament)," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.

But for the Rebels, who have won four of their last five games and sit with an RPI of 61, Saturday is nothing more than the next game. Well, at least to Kennedy.

Ole Miss (17-9, 5-6 SEC) handled Auburn, 90-59 Wednesday, for its largest margin of victory against an SEC team since 2001.


Kennedy and the Rebels are looking to snap a four-game losing streak to Mississippi State Saturday
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"For us, it's just about getting better, playing your way into the conversation," he said. "That's what we're attempting to do. We're not listening to all the other nonsense, because the reality is there's a lot of basketball left to be played. We're going to try to take advantage of our opportunities. That's all we can do.

"It's an opportunity. Mississippi State's got a very talented team. Their five starters are as good as anybody's in this league. We know it's going to be a big challenge for us."

Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State (13-12, 5-6 SEC) in its SEC home opener in January. It was Ole Miss' fourth straight loss to Mississippi State.

A Bulldog win Saturday would mark the longest winning streak for Mississippi State in the series since winning eight in a row from 2002-05.

"To be honest, I don't know," junior forward Terrance Henry said, when asked what makes Mississippi State such a tough matchup. "I guess they take it more personally than we do. But we're going to try and change things Saturday."

"We just have to have a great game on offense and defense," senior guard Zach Graham, who had a career-high 30 points in the rout of Auburn, said. "They've beaten us the last four times or something like that. We're not going to forget that. We're going to go in with a chip on our shoulder and play hard."

In Oxford, the Rebels were shredded by Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney who, in only their second game paired together, combined for 49 of the Bulldogs' 69 points in a five-point win.

Bost had 25 points. Sidney had 24, the most points the oft-troubled forward has scored this season.

"I think he's big and he's talented," Kennedy said of Sidney. "I'm not one to speak on anything other than he's a difficult matchup. He played very well against us the first time, as did Dee Bost, who I think is one of the more difficult players in our league to guard."


Henry feels Ole Miss is better equipped to contain Renardo Sidney in the post
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
Sidney, guarded mostly by Reginald Buckner, was 9 of 12 from the floor in the win. Buckner, meanwhile, played limited minutes due to foul trouble.

Buckner had two points, five rebounds and no blocks. More telling, Sidney was perfect in his two 3-point attempts. He's made only one 3-pointer in nine games since.

"I hope we're better than we were the night we played them. It seems like a lifetime ago. He's a talented guy," Kennedy said. "He stepped out, hit two maybe three 3s against us. He's a load in the block."

Henry said Ole Miss is now more equipped to handle Sidney in the post.

Buckner has upped his game, having scored double-digit points four times in the last nine games. He has also surpassed his own single-season record for blocks with 78 on the season. Steadman Short has provided valuable minutes off the bench.

"We're just going to play defense like we tried to play (Wednesday)," Henry said. "We're going to try and limit his touches. We're going to try and dig on him, double him when we can so he won't get into a good rhythm."

Ole Miss has but one win at Humphrey Coliseum in its last 12 tries. Saturday's game will be broadcast by the SEC Network.

"I've got a lot of respect for Mississippi State," Kennedy said. "I know they've had their ups and downs, but we know Saturday will be a big challenge."


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