Rebs head to Auburn in search of road victory

Andy Kennedy keeps hearing folks, including Southeastern Conference coaches, talk about how experienced and old his team is. The stats seem to back it up, but the first-year Ole Miss head coach says look a little closer.

"If you look at this objectively, then you see it a little differently," said Kennedy, who sends his troops, including three seniors, into battle today at 1 p.m. on the east Alabama plains against SEC West rival Auburn.

"Bam (Doyne) is in a new role this year, having not played all that much and certainly not contributed as much in the games. Clarence (Sanders) was only here last season and didn't play all of last year, so his role is different. Todd (Abernethy) is really the only one in the same type role who has a lot of experience. I know what they're saying, but it isn't quite as it may seem."

Add Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo to those who believe the Rebels' experience is helping to see them through.

"I'm very impressed with Ole Miss," he said. "They've got a group of guys who are older and are experienced in the back court. They're playing well and present a lot of challenges, both defensively and offensively."

The SEC West crown is still there for the taking with half a conference season remaining. Auburn leads at 4-4, and the fact that the Tigers are in first place at this point could be considered a surprise.

"A lot of people may have underestimated them, but I knew they'd be good," said Kennedy of third-year AU head coach Jeff Lebo's squad, which is 14-9 overall. "They spread you. They attack you. They change defensive looks. They're making shots. And they're winning."

In their last outing, Auburn won its first SEC road game of the season, beating South Carolina 80-75. But that wasn't an unusual happening. The Tigers have now won on the Gamecocks' home floor five straight times.

With the victory, the Tigers matched their SEC win total from a year ago and outrebounded USC 38-19 in the contest while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

Lebo says he hopes his team can maintain some momentum from its most recent win.

"It's huge," he said of picking up one of those rare SEC road victories. "We had a couple of close calls on the road. The last minute and a half (at USC) we had a big lead. It's big for our confidence. We showed poise throughout that game and didn't panic."

The Rebels haven't won an SEC road game this year but have been playing better lately as well. Single-digit road losses at LSU (62-55), at Florida (79-70), and at Vanderbilt (85-80) helped the Rebels gain confidence. That paid off in three home wins the past month over Arkansas (74-72), Tennessee (83-69), and Mississippi State (85-73).

Now 14-8 on the season and 3-5 in SEC play, Ole Miss is currently fourth in the untamed West. Arkansas and Alabama are 3-4 and tied for second. Mississippi State and Louisiana State are tied for fifth at 2-5.

Kennedy said there are those who want to assess his team's nationally-televised (ESPN) win over the Bulldogs Tuesday night in Oxford as its most compete game of the season. He pauses, but then concurs.

"We've had some moments this season, and we've played some good halves. But in that one we actually won both halves," he said. "We still have moments of indecision that we have to handle better, but start to finish it was arguably our most complete game."

This afternoon both Kennedy and Lebo will be looking for complete games - and important SEC victories - from their teams as the second half of the 2006-07 conference season begins.

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