Carol Ross' Lady Rebels open their season Saturday night with an exhibition game at 7 p.m. in Oxford, while Rod Barnes' Rebels have another week to get ready for their season opening games in Milwaukee.
Both Ross and Barnes say it is time to play another team rather than simply practicing Lady Rebel against Lady Rebel and Rebel against Rebel.
"We're not a totally fine-tuned machine," said Ross, entering her second year with Ole Miss women's basketball. "But we are ready to play a game. We've practiced as a team for three weeks, and it's time to see where we are. We are facing a very talented team who will test us."
That team is EA Sports, a team mostly consisting of drafted WNBA players who either have been in the league or are trying to get there.
The Lady Rebels open their regular season on the road on Sunday, Nov. 21 in Birmingham, Ala., at UAB at 2 p.m.
Barnes troops wait another week before they play. They will continue to practice against themselves before facing regular season competition in the Black Coaches' Association Tournament at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
There is no preseason exhibition game for the Rebels prior to their first four games of the regular season (three in Milwaukee and the home opener Friday, Nov. 19 against Tennessee Tech). In a rather strange quirk of scheduling, the Rebels will host Spirit Express in an exhibition contest on Friday, Nov. 26 (the night before the Egg Bowl).
The schedule turned out that way because the Rebels were supposed to play in another tournament during Thanksgiving week. But that tourney fell through in September, and Ole Miss had to scramble for another tourney. The BCA tournament was open, and Ole Miss moved the Spirit Express exhibition game in its slot near Thanksgiving and must now open the season without the luxury of an exhibition contest.
South Carolina State is the Rebels' first foe in the tournament, a 12 noon tipoff Sunday, Nov. 14. The Rebels will play again on Monday and Tuesday at times that are decided by whether they win or lose the previous day.
While SCSU may not sound like a formidable foe, the Bulldogs return all five starters from a team that won its conference (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – MEAC) last season and is picked to repeat.
In addition to South Carolina State, other teams in Ole Miss' bracket are Air Force and Jacksonville State, a team that current Rebel assistant coach Michael White helped recruit and coach the past four seasons as an assistant there.
The other bracket has host Marquette, Penn State, Illinois State, and Western Carolina.
But for now, it's still about his own team for Barnes as the Rebels toil to get better.
"We're still working as a team like we have been for three weeks," said Barnes, whose Rebels will open the season in the same arena his first team won Ole Miss' first-ever NCAA Tournament game - a 72-70 victory over Villanova on March 12, 1999. "We've still got a ways to go, but we're getting there. This week will be important for us as we prepare for the BCA Tournament and a strong field up there."
Rod says the last few days his team's preparation has been hampered by some bumps and bruises.
"A pulled ham here, a rolled ankle there, a sore shoulder," he said. "Nothing major, just normal, routine setbacks this time of year which come with contact and tough practices. But we won't pull back. We'll have to keep working as hard as we have to get them ready for a tough season ahead.
"Even the days we've had four guys out for various reasons, we've still had 12 players available that are getting valuable practice time," Rod continued. "We've got the numbers this year to keep getting a lot done. Hopefully that will pay off for us in games."
He believes those numbers will wear on an opponent.
"We may be able to beat some people this year because we are deeper," he said. "We believe we have eight, nine, ten guys who can give us a lot of minutes. We've got a good mix of veterans who know what we're doing and new guys who are learning. I like the way things have gone for the most part so far."
A couple of areas Rod is concerned about currently are rebounding and turnovers.
"I like our intensity, but we have to be more consistent in those areas," he said. "We're fouling too much and making too many turnovers. We'll work hard on that in the days ahead before the tournament to correct those things, work on fundamentals like boxing out on rebounds and cutting down on turnovers."
Rod said the additional turnovers may also be a result of the fact that he has his team running more and getting it up and down the floor at a faster pace.
"If we are used to seeing 12-15 turnovers a game, now we are seeing like 18 in these practice games," he said. "But some of that is the fact that we have more possessions now since we are moving it up and down the court."
Rod mentioned some areas he is pleased with so far.
"We have shot free throws well," he said. "I really do like our intensity, and in a lot of ways we have been consistent in that regard. Our guys are giving great effort and doing everything we ask."
Barnes says a definitive starting lineup is up in the air as Ole Miss looks toward Milwaukee.
"We will play a number of people to see where we are," he said. "Todd Abernethy (sophomore guard) will probably start at the point guard, but Cavadas Nunnery (senior guard) is right there too, although he has been slowed by a hamstring injury lately. Londrick Nolen (junior juco transfer forward/guard) will be out there at some position depending on the others in the lineup."
Rod says freshman center Jeremy Parnell and senior center Tommie Eddie are in a good battle at the post, and that any combination of senior guard Justin Johnson, senior forward/guard Kendrick Fox, and freshman guard Brandon Patterson could fill out some type of starting lineup after they look at things in the week ahead.
"Bam Doyne (sophomore guard) has played well lately, and I really like what Brian Smith (freshman guard) is doing," he said. "Brian has had freshman moments of being up and down. But when he's really on, he's the best out there. Todd and Cavadas have a hard time guarding him on days like that.
"We may be better going smaller earlier in the season," Rod added. "Being quick and moving up and down the floor may be good for us, especially early. That's why we will work hard on fundamentals next week and try to cut back on the turnovers."
On the Lady Rebel side of things, Ross says she is eager to see how her team responds when it takes the court Saturday night.
"We've haven't been hitting on all cylinders yet, and I want to see how hard we play and how aggressive we are and how much effort we give. It will be a good test in all areas for us."
Ross said this week has shown signs of the team being ready to play an opponent, that the players are tired of looking at each other for two or three hours every afternoon.
"We've been a little erratic in our practices. We had the best practice of the year and the worst practice of the year this week," she said. "This team is looking for an identity, and we don't want inconsistency to be our identity."
The Lady Rebels will have two weeks after their lone exhibition game to get ready for UAB and the season opener.
"We'll have some time to make adjustments and see where we are," Ross said. "Right now we kinda look like a team in early November, not like the team we hope to become. We have six new players (counting true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and transfers), and sometimes their heads are spinning like all young players. Of course I've never been known for being patient, so I want to create an environment of some urgency and see who elevates their game. At this point I want them to be able to handle the things I throw at them, because if they can't handle me, then they can't handle Tennessee and LSU and other teams later."
EA Sports provides the Lady Rebs their first test. Even though it won't count in the standings, Ross says the Lady Rebels know it will be a challenging encounter.
"They are playing a tough schedule," she said of the visiting foe. "Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, UConn, Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami, in addition to us. We're looking forward to playing them and seeing where we are at this point."
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