Take nothing away from the Ole Miss Lady Rebels and their important game against Mississippi State this afternoon, but the buzz around Tad Smith Coliseum prior to that contest was mostly about yesterday. Everybody was still smiling over the men's teams' 71-61 victory at Alabama.
While fans and others can enjoy it until Wednesday if they wish, the Rebel coaches and players have to come back down to earth - today, according to Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes. With 15 more games upcoming in league play, starting with South Carolina in Oxford Wednesday at 7 p.m., their concern now has to be all about the Gamecocks.
"It's a big win for us. It's a good start for us," said an elated Barnes postgame, who is celebrating his 40th birthday today. "But we're still a team that's very young. We're inexperienced. We've got to get prepared for the next game. I would like for our guys to enjoy this one, but we just don't have the time. We've got to come back and try to get more consistency in our play."
And so that is the key to Wednesday. Will a team filled with several young players be able to refocus and take care of business Wednesday - not to mention an important game with Mississippi State Saturday at noon also in Oxford? The Rebels have a real shot now at being 13-3 overall and 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play. But the only thing that matters at this point is South Carolina.
Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said following the game that he's impressed with the Rebels. He said they are a different type team than they've been in the past few seasons, and that is largely due to bigger, better players inside.
"They're much better," said Gottfried, whose team fell to 7-6 overall and 0-1 in conference action. "They have a player in (Dwayne) Curtis that they haven't had in the last few years, a low post presence that can score. He got 21 (points) and 14 (rebounds) tonight. They have not had that the last couple of years. They've done a nice job."
There were other keys to the victory on Saturday. When Alabama's leading scorer Chuck Davis left the game with a probable torn ACL after only seven minutes of action and no points or rebounds, the Crimson Tide had to adjust. It didn't appear they did that all that well.
To the Rebels' credit, they hung around until halftime, although trailing by seven points at that point, and seemed to regroup at halftime. It was clearly a different Rebel team in the second half, a performance we haven't seen in these parts in some time.
"This was definitely our best basketball game that we've played this season," Barnes said. "It's great that we did it at the right time. We needed to play well today. We played with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and unity today. I thought early-on we struggled because of the excitement. After the first 10 to 12 minutes I thought we settled in and played the way we've been practicing. We really have been practicing well since we've been back from Christmas, but we hadn't played well in the prior two games (Alcorn State and Western Carolina). I just kept telling our guys we had to do it on game night, and they did it tonight."
Keys? Adjustments. The Rebels made them, especially at halftime. "Drive and create," junior guard Todd Abernethy said. The Rebels pounded it inside again and again. And it was effective. It's what everyone hoped would happen when the Rebels added some size to the lineup for this season, namely Curtis, Jermey Parnell, Mike Smith, Trey Hampton, Marquis Young, and Xavier Hansbro. With the versatility those bigger guys bring and with the experience at guard of Abernethy and junior Bam Doyne, the Rebels are a threat outside and inside.
Another key? The play so far this season of sophomore point guard Brian Smith. When Abernethy picked up two early fouls against the Tide, Smith came in and gave the Rebels 13 solid first-half minutes. According to Barnes, it was indeed a key to the victory.
"After Todd picked up a couple of fouls, we knew Brian Smith could come in and help us in that situation," Barnes said. "We knew we would need Todd down the stretch, either at point guard or off guard. We knew they would make a run at us late and put pressure on us and be really aggressive.
"We have confidence in Brian as a backup, and he did a good job today. That allowed us to have our point guard (Abernethy) fresh and allowed him to get some great looks and to control the game a little bit better than if he had played all the minutes early. Todd has been there before and is one of our veterans. He has help now with the way Jermey (Parnell) and Dwayne and Londrick (Nolen) can play and how they played today.
"Todd did a great job running our team and gave us a great chance to win this game. Todd has always been solid. I knew the game wasn't going to get out of control. He's been through the battles enough and has the experience enough to handle that. I was excited he was fresh in the second half for us. That was one of the keys to the win."
Being the veteran that he is now, Abernethy took one last look back at Saturday's victory before helping his team turn its attention toward USC.
"Today was unbelievable," Todd said outside the Rebels' locker room an hour after the game was over. "It was so much fun. Seeing our guys come together, our young guys seeing how much fun it is to get a road win in the SEC. Everyone is happy about the win. This was good to see with a team so young. The biggest thing was down the stretch how we stepped up. That's really encouraging as we get ready for South Carolina on Wednesday night."
The day after with the Rebel hoopsters
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