Ole Miss heads to the east Alabama plains trying to stop a five-game losing streak. Host Auburn is 1-7 in Southeastern Conference action and in need of a win.
Two teams hoping to right their respective ships meet head-on at Beard-Eaves Coliseum Wednesday at 7 p.m. (no TV; Sirius radio 117).
The Rebels, now 13-8 overall and 3-5 in SEC play, have lost five straight games since their impressive 3-0 start against Alabama on the road and South Carolina and Mississippi State at home. Auburn, 9-10 overall, lost in its last game 71-53 at Mississippi State. Its lone win in league play was three games ago, a 66-65 victory over Georgia at Auburn.
It's an important game for both teams, especially Ole Miss, which still has hopes of making it to postseason play. A win Wednesday would go a long way in restarting the Rebels' efforts toward that.
"Auburn is a team that's similar to us in that they are playing a lot of guys, a lot of new guys to their program," Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said. "They are very perimeter-oriented. They have a player (6-foot-7 freshman forward) in Josh Dollard who is improving and giving them some inside presence. They are a good team that is getting better."
They are indeed a lot like Ole Miss. The Rebels have one senior – Londrick Nolen, who has played in 19 of the Rebel's 21 games, starting 11, and is averaging 7.7 points per contest. The Tigers have one senior – 6-5 guard Ronny Lemelle, who has started every game this season and averages 11.3 points.
Auburn second-year head coach Jeff Lebo says there have been some tough times, not necessarily unexpected for a team filled with youngsters. Sounds a lot like the Ole Miss situation.
"With only one senior, you just don't have that senior leadership to pick people up," Lebo said. "You will have three to four younger guys on the court at once, and there will be about two of them out there making mistakes."
Lebo says it's all about time and experience and maturity.
"These freshmen aren't used to having to battle every game they play," said Lebo, who has started three freshmen on several occasions. "The season is longer, and they aren't used to that. This isn't high school any more, and you have to learn that you have to come to play every night."
Barnes has some veterans contributing – like junior Todd Abernethy and junior Bam Doyne, in addition to lone senior Nolen. Also juco guard Clarence Sanders, the only other junior on the team, is beginning to play better, as evidenced by his performance last Saturday at Tennessee when he was 7-of-11 from 3-point range and had 29 points in the contest.
"We've made some progress. Some guys are improving," Barnes said. "Our team has become a better team. We've just got to continue to focus and get better. Our kids still have confidence that we can win, although probably not the same confidence they had a few weeks ago."
Barnes said getting off to better starts than in recent road games at Georgia and Tennessee are one key to winning at Auburn.
"Our players may have underestimated Georgia," Barnes said, "and I think some other SEC teams have as well (the Bulldogs won at Vanderbilt last Saturday night to move to 4-5 in the SEC and 14-8 overall). We started off poorly at Georgia. At Tennessee, I believe their play affected us. That wasn't the case at Georgia. Tennessee really created some problems for us. I'm sure Auburn has looked at those tapes. They will know more what to do against us. But we now know better what we want to do, too. We can't go to Auburn and dig ourselves another hole. Those starts have resulted in losses for us. Our preparation this week focused on starting early and playing well, and that's on both ends of the floor."
Barnes, whose team returns to Oxford after the trip to Auburn for home games against Alabama Saturday afternoon and Arkansas next Wednesday night, said the Rebel coaches and players are ready for the second half of the league season. They still feel all their preseason goals can be reached.
"Obviously we've got to get about our business to reach those goals," he said. "These kids know that. The biggest thing with this team is that they know the teams we've already played and how good they are. In talking to our guys, they understand where we are and what we can still accomplish. But there is an urgency to get a win at Auburn.
"We didn't play well at Tennessee," Barnes continued. "But in visiting with our guys after the game, they know we have to get back on the right track now. If we do that, we can finish strong since we are at the midpoint of the conference season.
"Right now we just need a win," the eighth-year UM head coach concluded. "We want to play better than we've played lately, and that will obviously help us get that win."
Rebels, Tigers both need a victory
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