Rebels host New Orleans at 6 tonight

The University of New Orleans provides the opposition tonight at 6 o'clock in Oxford as the Ole Miss Rebels are back in action for the first time since a 100-80 win over Nicholls State last Friday night.

Andy Kennedy and crew will look to improve to 7-1 on the young season before taking another extended break. They won't play again until Sat., Dec. 9, at Memphis in a 12 noon tip at FedEx Forum.

"They're an athletic team that likes to play small," Kennedy said of UNO. "They'll play four perimeter guys, similar to Tennessee Tech, I suppose (UM beat TTU 86-77 the night before Thanksgiving). Hopefully we'll be ready for them, and our focus has been really good."

It's "Toys for Tots Night" as fans that bring a new, unwrapped and unopened toy to the game receive complimentary admission. Contributions will have a direct impact on the children in the local community, as all toys collected will stay in Mississippi.

With its 6-1 record, Ole Miss is off to its best start since 2000-01 when the Rebels reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen. In their last outing, senior guard Todd Abernethy led all five starters in double-figures with a career-high 23 points. Senior guard Bam Doyne posted his second straight 20-point game in earning SEC Player of the Week accolades.

After two years as a Texas A&M assistant, head coach Buzz Williams is in his first season at the UNO helm. He returns three starters and eight letterwinners from last year's 10-19 squad that tied for fourth in the Sun Belt conference. Junior guard Bo McCalebb is back as one of the top scorers in the Sun Belt. He suffered a broken wrist last year (Nov. 30) in a game at Mississippi State and received a medical redshirt. He averaged 19.0 points per game during that first month of 2005-06 and is dropping in 24.4 in this season's early goings. Returning guards James Parlow and Jamie McNeilly and JUCO transfer Shaun Reynolds are each adding 10 points per contest.

The Rebels lead the all-time series with the Privateers 2-1, although the two have not met since 1987-88. New Orleans prevailed 87-73 in the Big Easy during the 1983-84 season, but Ole Miss bounced back with home wins in 1984-85 (55-51) and 1987-88 (83-74).

Although he may not play tonight, the Rebels are excited to have junior center Dwayne Curtis back practicing. Curtis, recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, will dress tonight and could see action.

"It's bigtime to have him back," Abernethy said. "It's great to see him out there, and we know it will take him some time. But it's good to see him getting his confidence back and practicing. He has so much experience and he knows the game. He will help us."

Curtis said he's back but maybe not quite ready to call himself 100 percent yet.

"My legs are still a little weak," Curtis said. "Conditioning, learning more plays, and playing defense. I'm behind on all those things. I only practiced a couple of times (in October) before getting hurt. There's still some discomfort. I have to get my confidence back. Some of it is mental, and I have to work my way back up."

Kennedy says having Curtis back will help, but that it will indeed take some time.

"It will be a while for him to get back in the flow physically and also learning what we're trying to do," he said. "A lot of his progress will depend on how his body responds. It's a day to day process. If he's ready, we'll play him (tonight). Realistically he is still a few weeks away."

Kennedy says when Curtis does get back to top form, he will help the Rebels in areas they need it most.

"He's an experienced guy that will immediately address one of the major needs of this team and that's low-post scoring," he said. "He's also our leading returning rebounder, and those are two glaring areas where we need help."

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