Basketball, baseball, and tennis

The men's basketball program heads home wondering who its new leader will be. The baseball Rebels finally got to California late last night. Men's tennis has two big matches at home this weekend. The Lady Rebs may be headed to the NIT.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - We head home today from the SEC Tournament, two days ahead of schedule than what you come here to play for, two days ahead of when we departed here the last time this event was played in Gaylord Entertinament Center.

That was such a magical time, the SEC tourney of 2001. Getting the bye on Thursday. Beating Tennessee in the Vols' homestate on Friday. Taking care of business against powerhouse Florida on Saturday, with potential future Rebel head coach John Pelphrey assisting the mighty Gators. Then facing Goliath program Kentucky on Sunday for glory.

The Rebels couldn't withstand what the Wildcats brought at them that Sunday afternoon and fell pretty hard in the second half. But even a loss in the finals couldn't put much of a damper on the week for Ole Miss fans, although I know a lot of Rebel fans jumped in cars and boarded planes bound for Nashville late that Saturday night or early Sunday morning. They wanted to be there just in case. Some just knew it was to be the Rebels' finest hour.

But Kentucky took care of business as usual, and a few of us media and other folks were able to join the Rebel coaches and players in a restaurant in another part of the massive arena a couple of hours later for the selection show. Back to Kansas City we were headed. Who knew what magic awaited a program and its people over the next two weekends?

Iona fell first out in Kemper Arena, where the Rebels had played four years earlier and lost to Temple in the first round. Then Notre Dame became a Rebel victim. Ole Miss joined Arizona, Illinois, and Kansas in San Antonio for the Sweet Sixteen. And at least a couple of thousand Rebel fans joined them there. A special time but a world apart from where things are now.

Five years ago Rod Barnes would be named National Coach of the Year by one group and would be on top of the world at the Final Four that April, even though his team had lost to Arizona in the first round in San Antonio. I remember so many times hearing from our players and coaches back then that the Final Four was the ulitmate goal, that they wouldn't be happy until they got there. I haven't heard that in two or three years as they fought simply to survive.

Everybody seemed to handle the situation well Thursday following the most recent loss to UK. There was emotion and some sadness. There were some blank stares from players in the locker room and some admittance of uncertainty. Most players don't really know what to do now. Others, like Todd Abernethy and Bam Doyne, will be back. Likely most of the others will too, but that remains to be seen. Getting a new head coach in to rally the troops and try to make sure they stay so the Rebels will have of a core for a team next season is important.

No need to rush, however. They want to get the right guy. But no need to wait too much longer than they have to. I look for this thing to unfold as soon as whatever coach or coaches who are in the mix complete their time with their current teams in the postseason.

Five seasons ago we left this city, after a couple of days in Oxford, heading to Kansas City and two memorable victories. Few connected with the program or watching from afar could have predicted five years later it would come to this.

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The Rebel baseball team is in a tough stretch. I hope they can take care of some business in Los Angeles and win a series they desperately need to win. But they've gotten off to a slow start on this trip.

Going back to Wednesday, the Rebels lost to Murray State in another of what appears to have been one of those inconsistent performances they've displayed at times this season. That was a bad loss to a bad team.

Now the weather has gotten involved and the Rebels' flight Thursday from Memphis to Dallas was delayed enough that they missed their connecting flight from Dallas to Los Angeles. They arrived late Thursday night, several hours after they were scheduled to land. From all reports, the weather of sunny southern California isn't going to be quite as good as you'd expect. Rain may hinder them playing a scheduled game each of the three days. The temperature was in the 40s this morning.

They return to Oxford Monday and turn right around Tuesday and hit the road again, this time a three-hour one-way bus trip to Jonesboro to play a team that always gets up for the Rebels and that Ole Miss has a hard time getting up for. That will likely be the case again this time around with that trip being the final leg of this road venture. Sometimes scheduling is a tough thing to do. Obviously the trip to ASU was put on the schedule where it had to be or the Rebels wouldn't have done it this way. Who would want to travel to Jonesboro the day after a four-day trip to the West Coast? But that's their situation and they will have to be mature and focused and deal with it.

They need wins right now, and these next four games are fairly critical to keeping pace toward things in late May and June. It's not crunch time yet, but because of four losses in the non-conference already, there is some urgency.

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Ole Miss men's tennis hosts Alabama today at 2 p.m. Auburn is in Oxford for a 1 p.m. match on Sunday.

Billy Chadwick's bunch is playing well, and holding serve at home is important. I'm leaving Nashville and heading to the Palmer-Salloum Tennis Center to catch it. If you're in the Oxford area this afternoon, the Rebels would appreciate your help against the Crimson Tide - and also on Sunday against the Tigers since the students will be gone by then for spring break and the usual support they provide will be missing.

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Early word was that the Lady Rebels will accept an NIT bid if one is extended. At 16-13 that is likely and will give that program a chance to play more basketball games and for the young players to gain experience for the future. The NCAA Selection Show is Sunday, and the Lady Rebs should know something fairly soon after that.

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