Rebels, Lady Rebs play key games

The Lady Rebels all of a sudden have NCAA on their minds - if they can win at UK, that is. The men just want a win, "in the worst way," according to junior guard Todd Abernethy, to get back on track toward some of their season's goals.

Two basketball teams headed in opposite directions, at least lately, will be on the courts again for Ole Miss this week. The Rebels host Arkansas tonight, while the Lady Rebels play at Kentucky Thursday night.

It's been a strain of a conference season for both. The men have lost seven straight and the ladies have only shown signs of success the past two games, winning both.

At 3-7 in league play, the Rebels are in dire need of some wins to even post one of their preseason goals – a winning season. If they play like they have lately, they won't get it.

The women have scratched and clawed their way to some wins lately, namely on the road at Alabama last Thursday and at home Sunday against Auburn. At 4-7 in league play, they've got a shot – at this point of even making the NCAA. But they most likely have to win their remaining three SEC games, beginning in Lexington Thursday night. UK beat Ole Miss 81-75 Jan. 22 in Oxford.

It won't be an easy task for the Lady Rebels. The Lady Wildcats are having one of their best seasons in years, standing 17-6 overall and 6-4 in SEC play. Included in their home wins is a victory over Tennessee.

Ole Miss is 14-10, to go along with its 4-7 league mark, and according to head coach Carol Ross has begun to feel better about themselves again and with some hope that they can finish strong and make a run at a third consecutive NCAA bid.

"It's the first time all season we've had consecutive SEC wins, so that's good," Ross said. "We'll try to build on that. Our players are hungry to complete the season with success. We know we have tough battles ahead, but that's the task before us, and we'll move on from here."

Ross says everyone in the program knows what it will take to get back to where they want to be.

"We don't hide much," said Ross concerning if she and her assistants and the players talk about what they have to do to get an NCAA bid at this point, which is most likely win all three remaining regular season games and perhaps pick up a win or maybe two in the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark. "We know why we go to work every day. It's my job as their leader that they know why they put that uniform on. Sometimes in the grind of a season you might lose that focus. It's my job to point it back out."

Two games ago, they talked about a five-game season to finish the regular slate.

"They're very aware that we're on a five-game mission," said Ross of the final regular season games starting with those two wins over Bama and Auburn and continuing with the road game at UK, another road game at South Carolina and wrapping up at home with Arkansas. "There's no sense hiding behind the obvious. We don't dwell on it. We don't talk about it every day. But it's certainly a focus. It's my focus so therefore it's their focus."

Tonight in Oxford it's another home opportunity for the Rebels. At 13-3 and 3-0, Rod's Squad was looking as if it had a shot to push LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas for the SEC West title this season. That was more than a month ago, before seven losses caused by turnovers, often poor shooting, sometimes a lack of rebounding, and nearly always with a poor finish at the end of the first half and at game's end changed all that.

"We have another opportunity, and we play at home," said Barnes, whose team is now 13-10 and 3-7. "Our kids come into this game ready and focused. It's the first time in I don't know how long that we've worked out on a Sunday trying to get prepared for the next game. We've tried to correct the mistakes we've been making and we hope we have."

Arkansas is 16-7 on the season and 5-5 in league play. The Razorbacks beat Ole Miss 71-58 in Fayetteville on Jan. 25.

Guard Todd Abernethy says it's been a tough stretch from 3-0 to 3-7, but the players know that a win tonight can go a long way in turning things back around.

"We're ready for a win in the worst way," said the junior from Indiana. "It's been the little things that we haven't been doing that have added up. We've missed some easy shots and made some critical turnovers. Every possession counts, and we have to remember that and play that way. It's tough to be as confident as we were since we've lost so many games. We've got to get one, and this is the perfect time. We have to finish strong to have a chance to do what we want. We're going to fight and give it our best."

A win would do wonders, players and coaches agree. But they have to play better in every facet than they have lately to have a shot.

"We went into the Alabama game (a 64-50 home loss last Saturday) believing we can win, and we'll go into this game believing we can win," Barnes said. "But we have to go out and make it happen."

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