Ole Miss has an opportunity Thursday night against Vanderbilt. Andy Kennedy knows it. Terrance Henry knows it. Nick Williams knows it.

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The Rebels are 15-9 overall and 5-5 in Southeastern Conference games. To get back into the discussion for an NCAA tournament berth, they need a quality win against a quality opponent.

Vanderbilt (17-8, 6-4 SEC), who Ole Miss hosts Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN2, is a top-30 RPI team.

Kennedy, Williams and Henry all met the media Tuesday. Williams and Henry acknowledged the importance of the game, with Williams going so far as to say the game is a must-win. Ole Miss has but six regular-season games remaining. It needs as many wins as possible.

"I think in this day and age with the talk all about who's in, who's out, we realize our opportunities are becoming more limited," Kennedy said. "(The players) understand the significance of the game on the fact that we've only got six left, three of them in this building. The numbers have shown how difficult it is to win on the road, so you better win your home games to have a chance."

Ole Miss boasts an RPI of 50, according to RPI rankings released by the NCAA Feb. 13. Ole Miss has played the nation's No. 48 ranked schedule, but are just 4-8 against top-100 teams and 2-6 against top-50 RPI teams.

"In past years, we probably wouldn't have looked at stuff like that," Williams said. "But this is the year, obviously. We're just trying to soak everything in and do everything we can to get us informed on what we need to do."

What Ole Miss needs to do is win Thursday night; a tall order considering the Commodores feature the top two scorers in the SEC in John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor. Jenkins averages 19.5 points per game to Taylor's 17.6 points per game.

Nick Williams
Bruce Newman

Vanderbilt, losers of three out of its last four games, has won nine of the last 10 meetings between the schools. Ole Miss is 10-1 at home this season.

"People like to call them soft. We don't think they're a soft team," Williams said. "They've had some bad luck lately. Vandy's a great shooting team. John Jenkins is the best shooter in the country. They've got some great players. We've just got to come in and play tough."

"They're a big, athletic team," Henry said. "They've got the top two scorers in the SEC. They're a pretty good team. It's going to be a tough matchup. We've got to go into the game with our game plan and stick to it."

On the Rebound:

Henry would rather forget last week. He struggled against both Mississippi State and Auburn, while the Rebels finished 1-1 in those games.

Henry averaged 18.5 points per game in the four games leading up to the team's 10-point loss at Mississippi State. He followed with back-to-back games where he failed to score in double-digits, finishing with six points against Mississippi State and four points in a win over Auburn.

"It was all on me last week. I had a bad week. But I'm ready to bounce back this week," he said. "Now that we've gotten deeper into SEC play, people know I'm going to go left all the time. They're sitting on the left hand, and I'm not trying to force it."

Williams, meanwhile, had a redemption day of sorts against Auburn. He was 0 for 6 from the field in the loss at MSU, and managed no points in 27 minutes. A game later, he chipped in 13 points, including 3 of 6 shooting from 3.

"After the game at State, I went home and took a long look at myself. I looked in the mirror," Williams said. "Obviously, I didn't show up. I wanted to. I felt like I let my team down. I just had to go back and look at myself and see what I needed to do to bounce back. What helped me was the quick turn. I didn't have any time to dwell on it. I just got back at it."

Cloudy NCAA tournament picture:

Terrance Henry
Bruce Newman

It's safe to say Ole Miss needs to win at least four of its next six games to position itself for a run at an NCAA tournament berth entering the league tournament in March.

Ole Miss can move into a tie for third place in the SEC standings with a win over Vanderbilt Thursday. Looming Saturday is a road test at Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the country. Ole Miss finishes out with games at Tennessee and Arkansas, and at home against LSU and Alabama.

Ole Miss has to improve its resume. The Rebels suffered ugly losses to Auburn, LSU and Alabama, not to mention non-conference losses to Middle Tennessee State and Southern Miss.

"There's nothing else we can do. Can't hide from it. Can't run from it. We've just got to embrace it," Williams said. "Like coach says all the time, embrace the grind. That's what we've been doing, embracing what we've been doing. Either we're going to do it or not."

Williams was asked point-blank Tuesday if Ole Miss is an NCAA tournament team. In his mind, the Rebels are, indeed, one of the 68 best teams in the country. They simply have to play to their potential.

"I think so, yeah. I know so," he said. "We've just got to play up to our potential and stop being inconsistent. We've got to keep going at it every day, the same. We'll make the tournament if we do that."

Defending Jenkins:

Jenkins was 4 of 5 from 3-point range in Vanderbilt's win over Ole Miss last season. Jenkins has scored double-digit points in 58 consecutive games. He leads the nation in 3s made at 3.8 per game.

"He's gotten better," Kennedy said of Jenkins. "He's gotten to where obviously teams are keying on him. He's very, very good at moving without the ball, and I think Vandy in general does a good job of getting him the ball in his spots.

"He's very active with the ball. The thing that I think makes him exceptional is he does not need much space to get it off. He can shoot it from 25 feet with very little space. As an opposing coach, that's frightening."

Vanderbilt is the only team in the SEC that sports three 1,000-point scorers in Jenkins, Taylor and Brad Tinsley. Vanderbilt is 29-8 in games in which Taylor scores 15 or more points, and 10-11 in games in which he fails to reach the 15-point barrier.

"We're going to have to be really good overall team (defense). It may have to be the best we've played this year because of the weapons they have," Kennedy said. "They're playing very good basketball right now, and they've got so many options. They've got a number of different challenges for us."

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