Rebs want to build on 11-0 start, ranking

Ole Miss got a number in front of its name this week. Now it has a bull's eye clearly on its back.

That's the price paid for winning, and it's one the ranked Rebels plan to keep in perspective as they face a tough Southern Mississippi team Friday night in Southaven.

It's the first time Ole Miss men's basketball has been ranked since 2000-01, seven seasons ago. Freshman guard Chris Warren said he understands what the team has to do now.

"We're ranked, so we have to play like we're ranked," said Warren, the MVP of the San Juan Shootout won by the Rebels, now 11-0 on the season and ranked 22nd in the AP poll and 24th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. "Now that we're ranked, we know people are going to come after us."

Of course with Southern Mississippi as the Rebels' next opponent, a ranking won't matter in that regard. The Golden Eagles, 8-4 on the season with their latest game a 63-57 loss in Hattiesburg to McNeese State, will be hungry for a win and looking to upset their instate opponent.

"It is Southern Miss and we haven't played for a number of years, so it's a big game regardless," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "Now that we come in as one of nine undefeated teams in the country and ranked for the first time in seven years, those things will add to the excitement for Southern Miss, I am sure."

He hopes his players understand, as Warren says they do, how to handle the hype and attention they are now receiving.

"Our players obviously don't have any experience with that," Kennedy said. "It's amazing, because we experienced it with Clemson. When a team has that number in front of their name, the opponent is certainly going to be excited about playing them. We've been on the other side of that fence. Now this will be a whole new experience for us."

The McNeese State game was the Golden Eagles' first home loss, as their three previous defeats came on the road at California, Alabama, and South Alabama. USM is out-scoring its opponents by an average of 15.9 points per game, having averaged 79.7 to its opponents' 63.8.

The Golden Eagles are also one of the best rebounding teams in the country, boasting the nation's sixth-best average at 43.8 boards per contest. Jeremy Wise, a 6-foot-2 guard, leads the team with a 19.5 scoring average, which ranks fourth among Conference USA players and 43rd in the nation. Gjio Bain, a 7-foot center, is the team's top rebounder with 9.3 per game, but he has missed the last three contests with a foot injury.

The Rebels and Golden Eagles will be meeting for the 20th time with Ole Miss holding a 15-4 advantage. The in-state rivals last met on the hardwood 12 years ago when Ole Miss won a 113-107 double-overtime decision on Dec. 19, 1995, in Oxford. The last USM win came a year earlier when the Golden Eagles prevailed 76-69 in Hattiesburg.

Senior forward Kenny Williams says the Rebels aren't satisfied with the ranking and 11-0 mark. They plan to move on up from here.

"We have a chance to be 12-0," he said.

Then he was reminded that no Ole Miss men's basketball team has started a season 12-0.

"It's going to happen this year," he said, smiling confidently.

He says there's no way the Rebels will be looking past USM or experiencing a letdown.

"LaSalle really taught us a lesson," said Williams of the Rebels 84-77 win against the Explorers two games ago. "We were concerned about DePaul and Clemson. After we beat DePaul (69-63), we went into the LaSalle game like we were going to blow them out. They gave us a run for our money. That taught us a lesson."

The next night the Rebels beat 15th-ranked and unbeaten Clemson to go 3-0 in the San Juan Shootout.

Williams said that the next opponent is Southern Miss means the Rebels have to be all the more ready to play at a high level again.

"It's a rival game, they've got a lot of Mississippi guys on their roster, and they have some guys that we recruited on there. So we know they'll come in trying to knock us out," Williams said.

The Rebels are planning to make sure that doesn't happen.


The Rebels will practice in the Desoto Center tonight, bus back to Oxford, workout in Tad Smith Coliseum Friday morning, then bus back to Southaven for the game.

Ole Miss has played in the Desoto Center once before. The Rebels beat Tennessee-Martin 83-72 on Dec. 16, 2001. That 2001-02 Rebel squad was the last time the program advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss lost to UCLA 80-58 in Pittsburgh to end that season.

Junior 6-foot-7, 220-pound, forward Wesley Jones has left the team for personal reasons. Kennedy says it is his understanding that he will seek other opportunities. The Pearl River CC transfer had played in two games, scoring five total points, in six total minutes.

The University of Mississippi Southaven Campus is located about one mile west of the Desoto Center, making this a true "home" game for the Ole Miss Rebels.

OM Spirit Top Stories