Rebs fall to Tide 66-58

Ole Miss now 11-8 on the season and 2-4 in SEC play while Alabama is 15-3 and 4-1.

They weren't totally identical games. The visitors on Wednesday wore blue and on Saturday they wore red.

But Alabama's 66-58 victory against Ole Miss Saturday afternoon at Tad Smith Coliseum was very much like Kentucky's 53-50 win against the Rebels in Oxford three days earlier.

Both Kentucky and Alabama were ranked and rolling coming in. Both were challenged by the Rebels, escaped with a close victory, and moved to their next adventures on the Southeastern Conference road.

The Rebels led much of the game and held advantages at halftime in each – against the Tide they were up 34-28 at the break.

In the end, much of the reason for victory for the visitors in each case was the rebounding department. Kentucky got the critical boards Wednesday; Alabama raked them in Saturday.

Time and time again in both instances, the Rebels couldn't make the plays after a missed Alabama or Kentucky shot. In each game much of the differential came when the Rebels were in a zone defense.

"Some of the same things hurt us today that hurt us Wednesday," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes. "Offensive rebounding at crucial times in the games hurt. It was difficult for us, because I know we had some kids try to do a better job of boxing out for us. They were just too athletic for us. But our kids gave great effort again today."

Some of the rebounds the Crimson Tide players simply got due to effort and height and athleticism. Other times the ball basically bounced to them off the backboard or rim or even off another player into their awaiting arms.

The final numbers in the rebounding department were impressive for Bama: 9-6 on the offensive end and 28-12 on the defensive end for a total of 37-18 in the Tide's favor, more than double the boards for the Rebels.

"We talked about rebounding after Kentucky," said sophomore guard Todd Abernethy. "We knew that was a big thing we needed to work on, getting rebounds, boxing out, things like that. But it hurt us Wednesday and it hurt us again today. They both were shooting 3s, and we played zone a lot. So when you're not matched up with them man for man, you have to concentrate extra hard to box a man out."

No mention of it was made, but you have to think that type situation won't be happening much in the years ahead with at least four players next year scheduled to be available who are 6-foot-9 or taller.

But the Rebels don't have that luxury this season as 6-7 Tommie Eddie and 6-6 Marvin Moore have been much of the Rebels' inside game lately as 6-9 freshman center Jeremy Parnell has not gotten in on much of the action. The box score showed he played a minute against Alabama.

Barnes said it was another case of his team being competitive but not being able to finish the task at hand.

"Alabama's got a very talented basketball team," he said. "They did a very good job executing today. Their kid (Jean) Felix really hurt us. With Earnest Shelton and Kennedy Winston (Alabama's two leading players) that we focused on, Felix stepped up and hit some big shots. That's what you have to do in these type games. They are the most talented team we've played all year."

Felix was 3-for-3 from 3-point range and had 12 points in the game.

Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said the play of Felix was key in his team's win.

"Felix was big today," he said. "He hit some big shots, he rebounded well, and he helped us in our zone. He helped us even more than just the shots he made."

For the second straight game, Ole Miss, even at home, was well behind its opponent in the free throw shooting department. Against the Tide, the Rebels were 8-10, while Bama was 18-28. Against UK, the Rebels were 7-9 from the free throw line, while Kentucky went 12-18.

Against Kentucky the Rebels turned the basketball over 18 times. In the last couple of days, Ole Miss had focused on cutting down on turnovers and taking care of the basketball better. It worked, as in the first half today the Rebels had no turnovers and ended the game with only two.

"Valueing the ball is really important and every possession counts," Abernethy said. "Not having as many turnovers was something we've worked hard on."

Offensively Abernethy said Alabama presented some matchup problems for the Rebels, especially when they tried to penetrate and go to the basket.

"They're long and play a lot of helpside," he said. "When you tried to get it inside, there was a man right there and we'd have to kick it out. Getting it down low to Tommie Eddie helped, but we weren't able to get it inside enough."

It was the Crimson Tide's first victory in its last eight visits to Oxford. The Rebels had won seven in a row here against Alabama, dating back to Jan. 8, 1997.

"It's like the old saying, ‘Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while' and we finally got one over here," said Gottfried, in his seventh season at Alabama after securing his first win over Ole Miss in Oxford. "We finally got a win here. In the second half we handled their pressure, we rebounded the ball well, and we defended well."

Gottfried also felt the offensive boards were big for the Tide.

"Everybody got involved in that," he said. "We turned a couple of those into three points. Those were key for us. We sort of beat them at their own game today. Rod gets his teams to play so hard that you have to exceed that, not just match that. I thought we did that today."

Ole Miss was led by Eddie with 16 points, while Cavadas Nunnery had a career-high 13 points.

Bama shot 53 percent for the contest (19-36) while the Rebels were at 40 percent (22-55). From 3-point range the Tide was 10-21 and Ole Miss 6-27.

Ole Miss, 11-8 and 2-4 in SEC play, now travels to LSU for a game Wendesday night.

Alabama is now 15-3 and 4-1.

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