Ole Miss fans remember it well, however. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 13 seed Valparaiso upset the No. 4-seeded Rebels. Down 69-67 with all of 2.5 seconds left, Crusaders forward Bill Jenkins tipped a near-full-court heave from inbounder Jamie Sykes to guard Bryce Drew, who hit a deciding, miracle 3 as time expired.
The Shot has played in a loop seemingly every year since, especially come NCAA Tournament time. It’s one shining moment if there ever was one, unless, of course, you’re an Ole Miss fan.
Drew has since moved on to Vanderbilt, where he was hired as head coach to replace Kevin Stallings last April. The Commodores are 11-11 on the season, with a 4-5 mark in SEC games.
“Oh, well,” Saiz said, jokingly, once The Shot was described to him. “Make sure I do the same to them. He did it to us, we’ll do it to them.”
In four seasons as a player, Drew led Valparaiso to 89 wins, three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and the Sweet Sixteen. He was equally successful as coach. Drew was a three-time Horizon League Coach of the Year and two-time NABC District 12 Coach of the Year in his five-year stint at Valparaiso, where he averaged 25 wins a season, won four regular season championships and made four postseason appearances — two in the NCAA Tournament and two in the NIT.
But when Ole Miss and Vanderbilt tip off Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, the history lessons, nostalgia and memories — good or bad, depending on perspective — will fall away.
The Rebels (13-9, 4-5 SEC) are fresh off a 27-point win over in-state rival Mississippi State, as well as a strong performance in a loss to No. 2 Baylor. Their focus is one game at a time. It’s a mindset Saiz said Ole Miss has to take if it’s to make a real run at the postseason.
“I think when the team starts thinking about the big picture, they forget about the important stuff like the single games,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on one game at a time, put our heads down and start knocking chips off our shoulder. Once we get to March, put our head up and see where we’re at.”
Ole Miss played arguably its best stretch of basketball last week, though the Rebels came away with only a 1-1 record. Turnovers, which were a game-by-game issue in the season’s first three months, were cut down significantly, and the Rebels rebounded and defended better, too.
But more than anything, Saiz said Ole Miss received contributions from players who, for myriad reasons, had been struggling with consistency, namely Terence Davis, Rasheed Brooks, Deandre Burnett and Breein Tyree.”
“We just get tired of losing,” Saiz said. “All the games we’ve been there to the end. Everybody’s giving more. It’s not me trying to go do everything. All the guys are working. T.D’s playing good, ‘Sheed played good the other day and ‘Dre was coming back before the injury he had. He’s back healthy now, and Breein’s playing really good.”
* Ole Miss has won five of its last six games against Vanderbilt. … The Rebels have hit 44 of 48 (.917) attempts from the free throw line over the last two games. They rank third in the SEC, having made 74.6 percent of their attempts this year. … Saiz recorded his 24th career double-double with 17 points and 11 boards in the win over MSU. He now has 15 double-doubles this season, which leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally. Saiz leads the SEC and ranks sixth in the nation pulling down 11.2 rebounds a game and is the only player in the SEC this season averaging a double-double. The league’s active career rebounding leader, he recently moved past Elston Turner into fourth in Ole Miss history with 846 rebounds. Saiz has topped both 1,000 points and 800 boards in his career and is just the sixth player in Ole Miss history accomplish that feat. … Ole Miss boasts the 26th toughest strength of schedule this season according to the NCAA and the Rebels have played 12 teams ranked inside the RPI top 100, including nine inside the top 52.