Press Box Notebook

While the Ole Miss baseball team is in Houston at the Rice tourney, the Rebel and Lady Rebel hoops teams play at home and try to bounce back.

Peggie Gillom was 45-0 against Mississippi State as a player and a coach over 22 seasons. Until Thursday night.

Peggie got engaged on Valentine's Day. I haven't talked to her since. I jokingly told some people the last few days that if we lost to State, I was going to tell Peggie that she'd have to give the ring back.

I didn't see Peggie after the Lady Bulldogs' 61-52 upset of the Lady Rebels. When I do, I'll congratulate her on the engagement, and I'll tell her my joke about giving the ring back.

But the laughter won't last long, I know. The pain of her first loss to State will still be there. That was an impressive streak of major proportions, in any sport at any level. I'm sorry for Peggie that it ended.

But Gillom's attention, and the rest of the Lady Rebels', now turns to another set of Lady Bulldogs – the SEC East's brand. Georgia and Ole Miss will tip off at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Lady Rebs are 16-8 overall and 6-5 in SEC play, all alone in fifth place in the league currently. Georgia comes in 20-6 on the year and 8-3 in SEC action, for solo third at present.

If seven SEC wins is indeed the so-called "magic" number of regular season conference wins to get into the NCAA tournament, the Lady Rebs could have gotten that Thursday night. But they didn't. With Georgia up next at home, followed by a road game at Auburn and a home contest with South Carolina, they would obviously like to win more than one.

Georgia's all that matters now, and Ole Miss head coach Carol Ross and veteran Georgia head coach Andy Landers have had some real battles in their time as SEC coaches – Carol while an assistant at Auburn for seven years, as head coach at Florida for 12 years and now Ole Miss for two, and Landers all at Georgia.

Landers has been coaching in this league a long time. Ross was still playing for Van Chancellor's Lady Rebels when Landers started at Georgia as head coach.

The teams split meetings last year, with Ole Miss winning in Oxford and Georgia winning in Athens. Already this year the Lady Bulldogs got the best of the Lady Rebs in Athens.

Ross, Gillom, and company will try to win a big one at the Tad Pad on Sunday. To do so the Lady Rebels will have to come out with a little more fire and competitiveness and physical play than they did at MSU. But playing at home often takes care of that.

"We came out early and defensively we didn't get any stops," said senior point guard Carletta Brown following the game in Starkville. "We weren't aggressive enough. We just didn't play as well as we need to to get a win on the road."

"This was a rival game and we came here to win," said sophomore guard Armintie Price. "We came back and tried to give a good fight (in the second half), but Mississippi State stayed more aggressive than we did."

The Lady Rebels did show fight in the second half. When MSU went up by as much as 24 points, the Lady Rebels cut it all the way back down to eight points. But it was too little too late.

"It's not a good idea in our league to get down 20 points in the first half and then try to make it up in the final 20 minutes," Ross said. "It was a gallant effort, but this is a 40-minute league not a 20-minute league. They (MSU) played close to a 40-minute game, and we tried to cram a lot into a little space, and it wasn't nearly enough."

But Sunday is another day, and the Lady Rebels will be fighting to get the next win and continue on the road to the NCAA Tournament.

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The Ole Miss baseball team got to Texas Thursday night after a bus trip to Jackson and a flight to Houston. Today it is game two of the 2005 season.

The Rebs will face a seasoned Lamar team, a program that lately has known as much success as Ole Miss, having been to the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons. It won't be an easy game for the Rebels.

The Cardinals, under 27-year LU head coach Jim Gilligan, are already 6-0 on the season, but they have yet to face Mark Holliman.

Almost the Rebels' forgotten man lately, the junior right-handed pitcher will be on the mound at 1 p.m. today when the Rebels try to move to 2-0 on the season.

Forgotten in the sense that while everyone's been talking about the 10-0 first-game win over Arkansas State and the crowd and the atmosphere and all that went into opening day, Holliman simply awaited his turn to pitch, which he knew would be coming three days later.

Normally Ole Miss has started seasons with a Friday through Sunday, three-game series in mid-February. But with the Rice Tournament up first and the competition they will face there, Rebel Coach Mike Bianco wanted to play a contest before leaving for Houston. Thus the meeting with Arkansas State this past Tuesday.

"We wanted to play a game before we went out there," Bianco said. "I thought we played as good as we can play (against ASU) – right now. Lamar, Southwest Missouri, and Rice are all very good teams."

It won't be completely foreign territory for many of the Rebels – those who have been with the program for at least two years, that is. That's because Ole Miss played two different times two seasons ago at Rice University's Reckling Park. The Rebels played in this very tournament in February of the 2003 season. At the end of the season, they were sent to Houston for the NCAA Regional, which was also played at Reckling.

Rebel senior catcher Barry Gunther says a lot of the players on the team remember those trips, and that the familiarity should help in a lot of ways.

"We've played there before, and now it's time to go play better there this time around," Gunther said. "That's what we intend to do."

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There's really not a lot to say about the men's basketball team right now. It's been a tough couple of weeks, as everybody knows. Since beating Auburn at home 70-55 on Feb. 2, the Rebels have lost to Arkansas at home 66-65, lost at Alabama 71-45, and at Florida 90-53.

While the last two games have obviously been lopsided losses, it is still the home loss to the Razorbacks that haunts the Rebels.

If the Rebels are 13-12 at this point and 4-8 in SEC play, the NIT is still a shot. But that one game against the Hogs, since it was at home and an important one to win, almost did Ole Miss in as far as any hope of postseason play.

At 12-13 and 3-9 in league play, all they can do now is try to beat Tennessee and go from there. The Vols limp in at 11-13 overall and 4-7 in the SEC.

UT's fourth-year head coach Buzz Peterson may be feeling some heat in Knoxville. It's an important game for UT, but it may be even more important for Buzz and his future.

While there has been talk for a long time about all things concerning the Rod Barnes program at Ole Miss, now in its seventh year, it appears to be pretty widely known that he is secure for another season. One would objectively think that Rod and company will be expected to at least get to the NIT next season, since the talent should be better overall and there should be more depth.

So if I flip-flop the record from earlier and have the Rebels at 13-12 and 4-8, that's honestly about where I thought they'd be at this point - with a legitimate shot at winning all their last few home games, and maybe one in the SEC tourney and sliding into the NIT.

You have to consider that a long shot now, with the loss to Arkansas thrown in and considering how well LSU is playing, having won at Mississippi State Wednesday night.

The Tigers will be here for Senior Night, so you'd think that fact alone would make it a special cause for the Rebels. Seven seniors will play their final home game at the Tad Pad that night.

Unless of course they make the NIT and host.

I've compared this season to turbulence when flying. There's usually a warning from the pilot that it's coming. A lot of times it's worse when you actually go through it than you thought it would be.

But you wait it out, wait for it to get better, based on faith and hope and the fact that the pilot tells you things will improve. Until it actually does.

To me that's this men's basketball season at Ole Miss. We saw it coming. After the past two seasons it hasn't been a surprise.

I like the chances of things getting better and breaking back out of the storms and rough skies next year.

But for now, it's all about beating Tennessee. That's the next turbulence the Rebels have to fight through during the 2004-05 season.

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