Break over, Rebs begin preparing for SLU

It isn't necessarily evident in the team's overall play. But individually, the Ole Miss Rebels said they definitely needed a break.

Since last Friday night's 81-57 win over Alabama A&M in Oxford, they had one. Tuesday night they got back at it.

Most of the players went home; some stayed in Oxford or went home with other players. All felt the need to get away from basketball for just a little while. It has been that kind of fall.

"We need it," Todd Abernethy said as the break began last Friday night. "It's been a long stretch. I haven't been home since the summer. Same thing for a lot of these guys. We've been going strong. Perfect time for a break."

But it's been a good fall, and now as winter arrives, the 11-2 Rebels begin another long stretch. There won't be a much of a break until March Madness. That's a madness they hope to be a part of, and it would be Ole Miss' first time to join the party in five years.

Southeastern Conference play begins soon, but there's one more non-conference affair to deal with as the Rebels play at Saint Louis Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. A win over SLU would give Ole Miss an impressive 12-2 record with seven days until the next game. That's when Kentucky rolls in for the SEC opener, a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at Tad Smith Coliseum on Sat., Jan. 6.

As the Rebels head toward Saint Louis, some things have become clearer. Dwayne Curtis is getting back to his old self and is a better player than ever. He could be a force in SEC play and the Rebels will need him to be. They have been a better team with him back on the floor the past five games.

Bam Doyne is thriving under the new system. The team's leading scorer has finally found his way, filled with confidence now as he feels more free to shoot the basketball and make something happen.

Same thing for Clarence Sanders. No players have made greater strides in the new system than those two.

Juco transfer Kenny Williams has come a long way over the first 13 games. He's become a more consistent player, especially offensively.

Jermey Parnell has improved under this staff as well. While Curtis was out of action, both Parnell and Williams made strides. Now that Curtis is back, the Rebels have a solid inside game that should do well in SEC play.

Xavier Hansbro and Trey Hampton haven't seen the floor as much lately. Kennedy says it's nothing more than getting some other players some playing time, that there's nothing like a "doghouse" situation. It's simply an unfinished puzzle scenario he's working with.

"I'm still trying to find the missing pieces," he said. "There are only so many minutes out there. With our guards, those three (Doyne, Abernethy, and Sanders) have kind of established themselves. I'm still looking for some interior depth and experimenting with some players. We're looking for guys who can get the job done. It's strictly a coach's decision on guys I feel are being more productive. Hopefully down the road we can play nine or ten guys, because I'm hopeful we can dictate pace in order to do so."

Kennedy said football's Greg Hardy can be one of those players to help add depth to the squad.

"No question he can help," he said. "He's only practiced with us a handful of times. He's an active body with a good basketball IQ who brings a physical aspect to us. I think he will contribute in a variety of ways."

Hardy said it's good to be back out on the basketball court.

"It's fun," the freshman forward from Memphis Briarcrest said. "I've got a lot of work to do out there. I need to work on my shot and get my conditioning right; my basketball conditioning, that is. Unlike football, you don't get those little breaks in basketball. It's up and down the court."

Hardy will help the Rebs' depth, which is what the first-year Rebel head coach hopes will happen throughout the squad.

"We haven't developed the quality of depth that I'd like to this point," he said. "That's something we'll continue to work on."

Freshmen Rodney Jones and Andy Ogide have had some positive moments. Eniel Polynice has probably had a few more highlights among the three freshmen. They're all likely to continue to get some minutes here and there as SEC play begins.

"We've got a lot of big challenges in front of us, so we've got to continue to grow as a group," Kennedy said.

The Rebels will leave for Saint Louis on Thursday.

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