Mizzou It Is

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Murphy Holloway said Thursday afternoon he wanted Ole Miss to face Missouri in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament here in Nashville.


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Hours later, he got his wish.

The sixth-seeded Tigers beat No. 11 seed Texas A&M, 62-50, in the second round of the tournament late into the night to advance to face the Rebels today at 9 p.m. By finishing the regular season as the No. 3 seed, Ole Miss, at 23-8 overall, earned a double-bye.

"Everybody wants to get something done, do something special," Holloway said. "Here's the chance."

Holloway wanted Missouri because of what a win over the Tigers would mean for the Rebels' NCAA tournament resume.

Ole Miss arrived in Nashville needing to boost its profile. The Rebels are just 1-4 against the RPI top-50, with an average RPI loss of 92. Their strength of schedule is 130, including a 290 rank in non-conference SOS.

Missouri (23-9 overall) has an RPI rank of 35, according to RealTimeRPI.com, and is considered an NCAA tournament lock by all bracketologists, including Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com. Lunardi and Palm both have Ole Miss among their "last four out."

"They do a lot of things well," head coach Andy Kennedy said of Missouri. "They're very, very explosive. From a talent standpoint, I think they're as talented as any team in our league."

The teams are certainly familiar with each other, splitting the regular-season matchups, with each team winning at home. The Rebels' win over the Tigers in January is their only win over a top-50 team.

"I say it all starts with Phil Pressey," Holloway said of the junior Mizzou guard, who finished with five assists, four rebounds and two points against Texas A&M.


Phil Pressey
USA TODAY images

His coach agrees.

"It starts and stops with Phil Pressey and his ability in the open floor to make things happen," Kennedy said.

Ole Miss held Pressey to 10 points, five assists and five turnovers in its 64-49 win. However, in the second meeting, he scored 22 points, including 4 of 8 from 3, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. Missouri, in turn, dominated the Rebels, running away with a 98-79 win.

Pressey is the all-time Missouri leader in assists. He's four steals shy of setting the school record for steals in a career.

"It was really a tale of two games," Kennedy said. "In the first game in Oxford, we did a good job of making him play in limited space and as a result, they didn't score as readily as they did in game two, where they looked terrific in the open floor. We had no answer."

Alex Oriakhi, a transfer from UConn, had his way in Columbia, too, finishing with 22 points and a whopping 18 rebounds. He led the Tigers in scoring against Texas A&M on Thursday, totaling his 11th double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Kennedy said the impetus is on senior forward Reginald Buckner, who ranks sixth in SEC history and is the Ole Miss leader with 313 career blocks, to make life difficult for the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Oriakhi.

Buckner is averaging 2.7 blocks per game this season, good for second among SEC players and 15th in the nation. He's blocked at least one shot in every game this season.

"We've got to keep a body on him," Kennedy said. "We've shown Reg a lot of tape, and as the leading shot-blocker in the history of our program, he has to do what he does, and that's get to the ball. He's got to be smarter.

"Many times (at Missouri) with Oraki and the 10 offensive rebounds, came on (Buckner) over-rotating. It's going to be a physical game for us, and we've got to make sure that we do a good job on both ends of the glass."

After three days of practices, Ole Miss finally has its opponent. And the Rebels are well aware of what's at stake.

They have to beat Missouri to keep their hopes alive, to inch closer to a berth in the NCAA tournament, a destination Ole Miss hasn't reached since 2002. Holloway said the focus of the team this week "has been good."

"We've talked about it enough," Kennedy said. "I can see a bounce in their step; I hear them being very vocal this week. They understand time's coming to a close. They want to go out on the right note."


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