Rebs use week to re-evaluate many aspects

It's semester exam week at Ole Miss, always a challenging time for students and student-athletes. After that, a huge "on-court" challenge awaits the basketball Rebels at week's end.

Ole Miss travels to Memphis for a date with the Tigers at FedEx Forum at 12 noon on Saturday. The last time Ole Miss played there, the Rebels left with a 65-53 win two years ago.

That was Coach Rod Barnes' next to last season of eight years that he led the program. Coach John Calapari's Tigers were also in disarray at that point but finished the season strong. Last year Memphis was a win away from the Final Four.

Ole Miss capped off pre-exam week hoops with an 85-77 victory against New Orleans last Thursday night in Oxford. That win improved the Rebs' record to a sparkling 7-1 mark, with the lone loss a 77-59 setback at national power Connecticut.

The challenge Saturday in Memphis will be much the same. The Rebels are pleased they have a few days to get ready.

One positive for this team so far has been the ability for certain players to step up when others don't; the fact that some players have stepped in when certain others have not been on.

Against UNO, Jermey Parnell stepped up inside with a career-high 16 points in 30 minutes; 5-for-5 shooting and 6-for-7 from the free throw line, with four rebounds. It could likely be called his best outing in three years as a Rebel.

Kenny Williams stepped up as well. The junior forward had 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 1-for-1 from the line with six rebounds.

Newcomer Eniel Polynice had his best night yet as a Rebel with 15 points, going 5-for-7 from the floor, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range. He was 1-for-2 at the line.

Senior Bam Doyne had 16 points and seven rebounds and continued to lead the way as he has all season.

Todd Abernethy and Clarence Sanders, the other two seniors, weren't up to par with seven and five points respectively. Abernethy had just come off his career-high 23 points in the Rebels' 100-80 win over Nicholls State one game earlier. Sanders entered the UNO contest averaging 16.4 points.

Players stepping up. It's been that way basically every game so far for Ole Miss. And it hasn't been the same player or group of players. That bodes well for the future for this team.

One aspect troubling first-year UM Coach Andy Kennedy is the fact that the Rebels dig a hole early and have to claw out of it late. He says that will finally catch up with his team.

There are other concerns.

"We couldn't guard (New Orleans' guards) off the dribble, which is very, very concerning to me," Kennedy said. "That's something we have spent so much time and energy on, and we're having a hard time getting it to carry over."

Teams, for most of the season, have had success from 3-point range against the Rebels. Sometimes players are hot, and those shots just go in. Other times the Rebels aren't doing what they need to do to shut the opponent down from outside. New Orleans made 10 of 18 from beyond the arc.

"I know people, and sometimes even my staff, will say ‘they can't continue to make those shots.' But I thought they were pretty easy shots," Kennedy said. "If you get dribble penetration and Division I college scholarship athletes step into shots, those are easy shots. If you continue to give them to them, then you shouldn't be surprised when they go in. We just have so many breakdowns."

Kennedy said this week won't be business as usual for a number of reasons. There are the exams and also a nine-day break between games. There is the challenge of having to practice at different times each day to make it work out for the players' exam schedules.

Having played eight games gives the Rebel coaches plenty of tape to break down and a fairly long list of things to work on.

"We'll re-evaluate some of the things we're doing (this week), and hopefully that will help us show some improvement Saturday against Memphis," Kennedy said. "At times we're trying to do things defensively with smoke and mirrors, and I think the smoke is sometimes blinding our guys.

"Sometimes we've got three guys in zone and two guys in man. We say we're not switching ball screens. We switch ball screens. We let them drive to the basket. We've got to do some examining of the way we do things and try to give us a better chance."

One area Kennedy has been pleased with so far is how well the Rebels have put the ball in the basket.

"We've shot the ball," he said. "The last three games we've scored. (Against UNO) we shot 54 percent from the floor, 65 percent in the second half, 55 percent from 3-point, 78 percent from the line. Those are all positives. We were plus on the glass (rebounding) for only the third or fourth time all year. We had positive assist-to-turnover ratio (19 assists, 17 turnovers), although that was a season-high turnovers for us.

"I've got to come to the realization that where we are as a program, it's going to be a bump and grind," Kennedy said. "So just hold on for the ride."

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