“It’s really a resounding theme. I think for this team to reach its potential, we’ve gotten to a point where our effort has been pretty consistent. Our guys are engaging in the battle. I thought we were in two really big battles last week,” Kennedy said, his team now 17-8 overall, 8-4 in Southeastern Conference play and in the mix for a NCAA Tournament bid with six regular season games left plus the SEC Tournament.
“We were fortunate enough to walk away the victors in one on a last possession (at Florida). And you can’t accept that if you can’t accept then what happened to you on Saturday (against Arkansas at home). That’s part of being in the battle.”
Tonight at 8 Ole Miss plays another road game, this time at arch-rival Mississippi State The Bulldogs are improved, lost to Ole Miss 79-73 last month in Oxford, and are 12-13 overall, 5-7 in the SEC. They won 77-74 at Missouri last weekend.
“They’re coming off a big road win at Missouri,” Kennedy said of State. “They’re shooting the ball better. They’ve always played hard. They’re just making shots and getting to the foul line a lot. They’re in attack mode.”
Kennedy said his team understands the rivalry nature of tonight’s matchup. But it’s about getting beyond that and focusing on the game at hand no matter the situation.
“My message will ring the same,” he said. “For this team to reach its potential with three weeks left in the regular season, our awareness needs to be better. I just think there are times mentally that we relax. And you can’t relax in the battle. When you relax you put yourself in position for something to happen as it did down the stretch on Saturday. I just thought we had a relaxed posture mentally for a minute, and in the battle that can come back to haunt you. That’s what happened to us.”
But there is that rivalry aspect, and the MSU team, coaches, and fans will be revved up.
“It’s an emotional game for all parties. In the last couple of years we haven’t played well (there),” Kennedy said. “It was early in the (SEC) season last year, and we didn’t have Marshall (Henderson). Two years ago it was late in the season, and it was inexcusable for us to be as flat as we were. Those are my memories of that game. We put ourselves in the position of it being a one or two possession game, and we came out on the losing end.”
Kennedy said he believes his team is about to the point where he can say it has put it all together. But it has to do that every time it steps on the court.
“I still think from an efficiency standpoint we’re not nearly where we need to be out of certain guys,” he said. “We’re not as efficient as we need to be. We’ve got to continue to tweak some things we’re doing offensively to put guys in better position. Then they’ve got to own it, put in the time and the reps, and go out and get the job done.
“Defensively we’ll continue to mix and match. In our last outing vs. Mississippi State, it was probably our poorest defensive effort of the year. We were fortunate to survive it, when you let an opponent shoot 56 percent against you, and that’s what Mississippi State did.”
Kennedy and his team have another of the Thursday-Saturday turnaround situations this week. The Rebels host Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“The biggest area we need to improve is being aware. Don’t take possessions off mentally, and that’ll be my message going forward,” he said. “I would hope this group understands as we approach the stretch run how vital each and every game is, simply because you run out of opportunities. We’ve only got six more regular season games, and they’re all very important to us."
* On if his team’s road success so far can potentially help in a rival situation like MSU?: “I think so. We’ve won three straight (on the road). We’re 4-2 (in the SEC) on the road. The two we lost we were right in the game. I don’t think the atmosphere or the fact that we’re on the road will be intimidating to this team. We’ve just got to go play well.”
* On Jarvis Summers: “I think he’s relatively healthy. I watch the tape, and he hasn’t shot the ball well. When you don’t shoot the ball well, him being a senior and him a veteran, it’s a credit to him that he’s playing the other areas of his game so well. His assist to turnover is still over 2 to 1. He’s still getting the ball to people in the right place. He’s just not shooting it well. But his energy to me, I call it pop. I think he’s playing with more pop than he’s played with. I thought he was moving at a good rate in our last game. So I think physically he’s in a good place. We would all like to see the ball go in. And if it did, he would be back to being the Jarvis we’ve all come to know."
* On Stefan Moody: “He has taken a huge step forward in the last two or three weeks understanding that you are our leading scorer, you are our leading field goal attempt guy. We’re putting you in position to make plays, so go make them. I think he is finally to the point where he embraces that. He’s coming off being the SEC Player of the Week. He hit a big shot in his home state."
* On if he and the players pay attention to or talk about NCAA Tournament possibilities: “I address it (with the team). We’ve got six more (regular season) games and we have to continue to improve and continue to stack wins. But it’s not over. It’s irrelevant. On Selection Sunday we’ll all know. The tournament’s not today. We’ve got three weeks to grind through, and it’s a discipline. You cannot allow yourself to look beyond the next game. You look up in March and hopefully you’ll like your view.”
* On the apparent consistency of his team since the December losses: “We have more depth. We’ve got more guys. Our best team two years ago where we won 27 games, we were still dependent on a couple of guys playing well or we weren’t going to get over the hump. This group has just got more weapons.”
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