Atlanta Calling

Ole Miss assistant coach Michael White filled in for Andy Kennedy on the SEC teleconference Monday morning, his team days away from facing off against South Carolina in the opening round of the conference tournament in Atlanta, Ga.

Kennedy was en route to Jackson for the 2011 Cellular South Howell Trophy presentation. The award is given to the top men's college basketball player in the state of Mississippi.

Senior Chris Warren is the only returning finalist among this year's honorees, which also includes Mississippi State's Dee Bost and Southern Miss' Gary Flowers, who won the award.


Warren was one of three finalists for the Howell Trophy
Courtesy: Associated Press
But like every week, news was scarce on the call.

The regular season is in the books, Ole Miss now looking towards South Carolina, the No. 6 seed from the East, who the Rebels lost to in the only meeting between the schools this season.

"When you look at their roster, you're always impressed with their length and the depth they have with that length," White said. "They're able to throw a bunch of guys in and out of the game that present issues defensively, and then their ability to really pound you on the glass. On the offensive glass, they're just a tear."

Ole Miss, the No. 3 seed from the West, is what it is -- a team forced to win all four of its tournament games to gain an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels are 19-12 overall and 7-9 in SEC games.

"They're coming off an explosive offensive performance and a good win," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn, whose team finished 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the SEC, said of Ole Miss. "When you think Ole Miss you think Chris Warren first, but we think they're much more than a one-man team."

The Rebels were 2-1 in their final three regular-season games, including their latest win over Arkansas at home on Senior Day. Sandwiched between the two wins -- the other against SEC West leader Alabama -- was a loss at Auburn.

"I think we're playing pretty good basketball late in the year," White said. "Coming off a home win against Arkansas where we were really good offensively. Over these last three, at least for the majority of the three games, we've played pretty well."

Ole Miss led by as many as 20 points on the Plains. However, Auburn, the worst team in the league record-wise, rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit to tie the game by the 10-minute mark of the second half.


Steadman Short
Courtesy: Associated Press
The game was somewhat of a microcosm of Ole Miss' up and down season. The Rebels have proven capable throughout the year, having beaten the top teams in the SEC -- Kentucky and Alabama -- but have several bad losses on their resume.

Along with the loss to Auburn, Ole Miss lost to in-state rival Mississippi State twice and fell in Columbia, 79-73, to a Gamecock team that had lost its previous five games.

"If we had an answer, we sure would use it today," White said of the Rebels' inconsistent play. "We have a lot of thoughts and ideas and we continue to talk about it amongst each other and to the team daily, hourly, over and over.

"We've watched more film with this team more than any team we've had by a landslide. We just continue to show these guys certain plays that aren't being made that need to be made to compete at a high level in the SEC. I'm not sure there's any secret or any rocket science to it in terms of something we haven't thought of. We just got to keep harping on it and keep having faith that these guys will turn the corner."

A primary reason for the team's inconsistency can be traced back to the front court. As Reginald Buckner, Terrance Henry, Steadman Short and Demarco Cox go, so goes Ole Miss.

Buckner fouled out for his seventh time at Auburn in only six minutes. He had no points, rebounds, or blocks. The win against Arkansas was far different. Buckner, a sophomore, played 31 minutes, totaling nine points, seven blocks and eight rebounds.

"The theme is consistency with those guys," White said. "We just don't know what we're going to get night in and night out. But I do feel like over the last three games our front court has been a bit better. We hope that continues to improve."

Ole Miss and South Carolina are set for a 2:15 p.m. tip Thursday in the Georgia Dome on the SEC Network. The winner advances to face the winner of East No. 2 Kentucky Friday in the quarter finals at 3:30 p.m.


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