Trio focused on getting win, not their 'day'

Ole Miss will honor its three seniors Saturday, and then those three will lead the Rebels into battle against Auburn to wind up the regular season.

After that game is over, those three seniors might play again on the Tad Smith court. How? NIT home game. Ole Miss has bid to host.

That's a long way off but certainly a possibility. Unless the Rebels win the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta and receive the SEC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they have to be considered a long shot now to make the Big Dance.

If they beat Auburn, they get a bye to the second round of the SEC tourney. If they win two games and make it to the finals, their record before that game would be 21-11. A loss in the championship game would make them 21-12. At that point it is still anybody's guess if they'd make it in.

But win the tourney and they're guaranteed a spot.

Shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday, Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne, and Clarence Sanders will be recognized in traditional Senior Day activities. It will play out as if they will never be involved in another game on their home court. There won't be much thought given to the fact that there might be an NIT game in Oxford.

Seniors have always been important to teams. It seems nowadays coaches rely on them even more.

That was never more the case than with this year's three Rebel basketball seniors. Andy Kennedy said they had to lead from day one. And they have.

Now he wants them to lead again – and to complete the task.

"Now it is all about how this team is going to finish, to get over this last hurdle," said Kennedy, his team 18-11 overall and 7-8 in SEC play. "We've cleared some hurdles this season. It would be terribly inappropriate for Todd and Clarence and Bam if this team goes out with a whimper. I don't want that. I don't believe our kids will allow that to happen. "

Abernethy said he knows how important Saturday's game is for a lot of reasons. But he and his teammates will try to focus on playing well and getting another victory.

"We're just trying to win," said Todd, 33 points shy of becoming the 29th Rebel to score 1,000 points in a career. "We're just happy to be in the situation we're in and have a chance to do something special."

Abernethy says the team is so confident at home.

"I believe the fans will see the same Ole Miss team they've gotten used to seeing this year here," he said. "It's important that we play well and win this game for a lot of reasons."

Sanders said winning the game is first and foremost on the minds of the seniors.

"I'm not too much worried about Senior Day," said the Rebels' leading scorer so far this season at 16 and a half points a game. "We've got to win the game. I'll miss these guys, and I'll miss playing in this gym. But right now all I'm worried about is getting back on the winning track."

The Rebels are 14-1 at home, the lone loss to Kentucky to start the SEC season. Tad Smith Coliseum has become a place the Rebels expect to win. Sanders says the Rebels want to win their 15th home game, to win the West, and secure a spot in postseason play.

"I'm sure the guys on this team are like me. We're greedy about this thing. We wanted to win it by ourselves," Sanders said of the SEC West.

Although the Rebels will be champions if they win Saturday, so will either Mississippi State or Alabama. Those two meet Sunday in Starkville. All four teams, including Auburn, are currently 7-8 in SEC play.

Ole Miss beat Auburn 82-59 on Feb. 3 at Auburn. That was the start of a four-game losing skid for the Tigers. But Auburn comes in on a three-game win streak now and is 17-13 overall.

If the Rebs win the West, one shot will have been as important as any along the way this season. That was Sanders' 3-pointer from the corner that won the LSU game 71-70 on Valentine's Night.

"It's debatable," Sanders said as to whether that particular shot was his biggest moment at the coliseum during his two years. "There've been a lot of good times."

And they want at least one more of those "good times."

Doyne said the fact that the Rebels can win the West Saturday and gain the No. 1 seed from the West in Atlanta is motivation.

"Just the fact that we're suiting up to play should be motivation enough," he said. "But it is motivating that we can win the West and get the top seed. We'll play like that."

Doyne even gave a little hint that he, too, knows there might be more to come in the roundhouse the Rebels call home.

"We want to win it. It's a game we need to win, a very important game," he said. "Last time playing in the Pad......maybe."

Kennedy said that no matter the way you slice it or dice it, a win against Auburn Saturday does a lot of positive things for Ole Miss basketball.

"We'll be SEC West champions and we won't play until Friday (in the second round) in the SEC Tournament," he said. "Hopefully those are incentive enough for our guys to re-energize and refocus, and then couple that with the fact that is a day to honor three seniors who have done a lot in transforming this team. I certainly want them to go out on the right note."

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