Ole Miss is coming off back to back Southeastern Conference wins for the first time since a three-game win streak to start the 2005-06 SEC schedule. But the fun back then was short-lived as the Rebels won only one more SEC game the rest of the season.
This year, at 15-8 overall and 4-5 in SEC play, Ole Miss bolted into its open week with big wins over Mississippi State 85-73 in Oxford and Auburn 82-59 on the road. The Rebels host Alabama (18-5 overall and 5-4 in the SEC) Saturday at 4 p.m. in an SEC Western Division showdown. The winner will take another huge step toward the title with six league games remaining before tourney time.
Although the 15 wins marks the most overall victories for an Ole Miss men's hoops team since 2001-02 when they won 20 and made the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh, the Rebels know there are hurdles left to jump and hills to climb before this season is considered a success.
"We have to keep our focus, and I think the age of this team will help us," said senior guard Todd Aberenthy, not only mentioning they know there is much left to play for but also how they've been able to play complete games and not just one good half per contest lately. "We've been through it so many times, especially Bam (Doyne) and me. We've been on teams that folded, especially in games, when the going got rough. This year it's kind of like enough is enough. We're still fighting for our lives, but we know how important every game is and what we can accomplish if we keep it going."
One area that will help that is to keep shooting the basketball well from the field, as they've clearly done lately. Against MSU the Rebels shot 51 percent from the floor including 47 percent from 3-point range. At Auburn those numbers were 52 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point land.
Andy Kennedy said he hopes the Rebels can maintain the torrid shooting pace, and obviously that's their goal.
"Realiticially in order to remain on the shooting tear we've been on lately, we have to do what we've been doing," he said. "Our shot selection has been a lot better. Guys, especially our three senior perimeter players, have stepped up and played with a sense of urgency, which you like to see out of your seniors coming down the stretch. That's been a big part of it."
Alabama brings a team to Oxford that had much preseason hype as one of the country's best, and its won-loss record overall still proves that.
"They are talented and a lot of people thought they might even be a Final Four team this year," Kennedy said. "Those players are still there. They've been, like all of us, trying to find their identity. Their front line is as good as anybody in our league, anybody in the country. They're capable of hurting you in a lot of ways."
Alabama beat Mississippi State 80-79 in Tuscaloosa last night.
Kennedy said a lot of teams continue to search for their identity or to make sure they've found it, and his is no exception.
"I think what we've done is we've realized how we can be successful, and now we have to stay on course," he said. "We're a team that has to scrap and fight and claw and really work together to succeed. We're much better as a unit than we are individual pieces, and hopefully our guys see that and will stay true to that."
Kennedy said he looks forward to C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum continuing to be what it has become the last several games - a tremendous homecourt advantage. It's White Out Saturday at the coliseum with all fans asked to wear white to support the home team. FSN TV network, carrying the game live, is donating 4,000 t-shirts for the contest.
"Our people have been great ever since we've gotten into league play, and that's the way I was told it was going to be," said the first-year Rebel head coach. "Our students have been tremendous since day one. Our fans are embracing this team, and that's really all we've ever asked, to give this team the opportunity to earn their support. Hopefully through the way they've played, we've earned some support."
Abernethy said he's experienced some loud and supportive crowds in Tad Smith, but he believes Saturday will be the best in his four seasons in Oxford. Todd knows Ole Miss fans now, and he sees the whole picture when it comes to Ole Miss athletics.
"It's going to be a great day," said the Carmel, Ind., native. "There's a baseball game before, so it will be kind of a doubleheader day. Our fans have been awesome this year and really helped us out. We're really looking forward to the atmosphere and a big game for No. 1 in the SEC West. It should be really exciting. It should be electric and crazy. That just comes with winning."
Rebs have looked toward Saturday all week
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