Rebels await home challenge vs. Georgia

Andy Kennedy says his Ole Miss Rebels have bounced back nicely from the 83-66 loss at Arkansas. At least that's what he's seen in practice since then.

"I think we've handled things well," said Kennedy, whose team had its four-game win streak snapped with the loss in Fayetteville. "I've been really pleased with how we've responded. Through 26 games this season, I believe we've shown that we've learned how to take the right approach to all this. If we don't do that, then we can't get things done. Our margin for error is small. There's a big dropoff as soon as we don't approach things right and with the right mindset."

With that, Kennedy believes the Rebels, 17-9 on the season and with four games left 6-6 in Southeastern Conference play and tied for first place in the SEC West with Alabama and Mississippi State, know what they can accomplish if they take things one at a time.

"I don't have a crystal ball to polish, so I can't see the outcome of this race," he said of the West. "But we have an opportunity."

The next step in that opportunity comes today in Oxford at 7 p.m. when Georgia arrives. The SEC East's Bulldogs are 16-9 overall and 7-5 in the league.

"Georgia is exceptionally athletic on the perimeter," Kennedy said. "Takais Brown gives them a big, strong inside presence. He's right there with the most effective rebounders in the league."

Brown is a 6-8, 250, junior forward who is averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds, and is third in the SEC in field goal percentage, making 56 percent of his shots.

"They have three good guards who are all powerfully built and can beat you off the dribble," Kennedy said.

Senior guard Levi Stukes is Georgia's career three-points leader and averages 12.1 points per game and 2.6 rebounds.

Junior guard Sundiata Gaines, scoring 10.5 points a game, leads the SEC in steals. Sophomore guard Billy Humphrey is averaging 7.4 points and 3.6 boards.

Georgia is 2-4 in SEC road games this season with wins at Arkansas and at South Carolina. The Bulldogs beat Auburn in their last outing 86-79 in Athens.

Georgia will be playing on the road for the first time since losing 6-4 guard Mike Mercer to a knee injury. Mercer was the team's second-leading scorer when he was injured at South Carolina on Feb. 10.

"Mercer brought them length and size on the perimeter. He was a very good defender and created (scoring) opportunities for himself," Kennedy said. "But they still have a lot of very good pieces."

Georgia head coach Dennis Felton said his team will have its hands full in Oxford.

"I think it's a very, very challenging game for our team," he said "Ole Miss is playing terrific basketball and they're highly competitive. Coach Kennedy has done a great job with them. They've got three senior guards that are playing lights out right now. They're big and strong inside, and they really do a good job of taking advantage of that."

The Rebel players say they are still upbeat about the SEC West race, knowing they are still tied for first and that they are playing at home.

"Coming off a loss, it's great to be playing at home again," said senior guard Todd Abernethy. "It's important, it's huge, that we're playing this game at home."

Abernethy says the Rebels are in a great frame of mind for Georgia.

"We've had awesome practices," said the senior point guard, the SEC's assists leader this season. "They've been real intense and it's been back to work for us since losing at Arkansas."

Fellow senior guard Bam Doyne agrees.

"It's good to be at home and hopefully to take advantage of playing at home in front of our fans," said Doyne, the team's second-leading scorer at 16 points behind Clarence Sanders' 16.3 points per game. "We've got to pick up our defense and rebounding (from the Arkansas game), and we'll be in better shape."

Kennedy was matter of fact in looking back one last time at the loss at Arkansas concerning what aspect of that particular game was the worst, in his opinion.

"The worst thing about it? That we lost," he said.

Today at 7 p.m., the Rebels get another chance to move back into the win column and take another step toward an SEC West title and an NCAA Tournament bid.

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