Encore Performance?

A year ago tomorrow, Sebastian Saiz had his best game as an Ole Miss Rebel.

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The Rebels defeated LSU in overtime, and while then-guard Marshall Henderson stole the show with 25 points, Saiz dominated promising Tiger forward Jordan Mickey, a former high school foe of the Ole Miss sophomore. Saiz finished with 20 points and nine rebounds.

“I was excited to play because Jordan Mickey’s a guy I played in high school, too,” Saiz said. “It’s always been fun to play against him.”

Could tonight be his encore performance?

Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1 SEC) hosts LSU (12-3, 1-1) tonight at 6 p.m. Saiz will get another shot at Mickey in a game, to be broadcast on the SEC Network, that is significant to the Rebels’ NCAA tournament hopes.

They’re ranked No. 59 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings released by the NCAA, and LSU is the first of two top-50 RPI opponents the Rebels will face this week. They travel to Arkansas on Saturday.

“Two teams that everybody has in the tournament,” Saiz said. “At the end of the day, they’re both teams that are going to be in the tournament and if we get them, it’s going to be really good for us.

“I think we’ve got a great team and we’ve played two great games. We saw what we were capable of against Kentucky, and we proved it against South Carolina. We had a really good first week.”

Ole Miss is tasked with slowing the talented LSU front court duo of Mickey and Jarell Martin. The pair is averaging a combined 32.7 points per game and 19.2 rebounds. Mickey is second in the SEC with 10.6 rebounds, while Martin is third with 8.7. Martin is third in the league in scoring with 16.8 points per game.

The Rebels will counter with a defense ranked third in the SEC in field goal percentage defense and sixth in blocked shots.

“We got to beat them,” Saiz said. “We got to play tougher than them. They’ve got a really skilled team. They’re talented, but if we play tougher than them, I think that we can win it.”

It starts with the 6-foot-9, 233-pound Saiz, who has started 14 of 15 games for Ole Miss this season, averaging 7.3 rebounds and 4.9 rebounds. He’s yet to top the 20 points he scored against LSU last season, but he came close at Oregon Dec. 7, totaling 17.

Still, Saiz believes he’s gotten better in all areas in a year’s time.

“I think I’ve gotten better in everything, all the aspects,” he said. “More athletic, feel like I’m getting stronger, I’m comfortable shooting. I feel like my teammates trust me more, and I’m starting to know the game. I feel like I’ve improved in all the aspects.”

Good news for the Rebels, who have won four-straight games against LSU and seven of the last eight meetings.

“Coach was telling us in the locker room our prediction in the SEC is No. 11,” Saiz said. “I think that’s not right. I think we’re a really good team and we’re going to do much better.”

LSU is up first.

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