Rebs keep fighting despite tough times

Dwayne Curtis has been around the Southeastern Conference for five years. Wednesday night will be his first time to play in Rupp Arena.

As a freshman at Auburn, the Tigers played the Wildcats at home. Curtis transferred to Ole Miss, sat out a year, and would have had the opportunity to play at UK two seasons ago. But that came right after the death of his brother in an auto accident, and the trip to Lexington was the only game he missed.

Now the 6-foot-8 center, in his final season of collegiate hoops, has a chance to play the Wildcats on their home floor, and he's looking forward to it.

"It's about winning, so it doesn't matter where we play," Curtis said. "We just want to win. But I have heard a lot about playing there, and I'm definitely looking forward to it. I've heard about the atmosphere."

All teams have it rougher on the road. No team has had it any rougher than Ole Miss at Kentucky. The Rebels have only one victory over the Wildcats in Rupp Arena, which opened for the 1976-77 season. That was 10 years ago, a 73-64 win between two NCAA Tournament teams. UK went on to win the national title and didn't lose a game after falling to Ole Miss on Valentine's Day. The Rebels got beat by Valparaiso in round one of the NCAA tourney.

But that was then and this is now. This year the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Rebels were one of college basketball's major stories through mid-January. Kentucky had been as well, but for all the wrong reasons as far as fans in the Bluegrass State were concerned.

The Rebels still have the better of it as far as overall records are concerned. Ole Miss enters Wednesday night's contest 18-8, while Kentucky is 15-10.

But the Wildcats are playing their way into the NCAA Tournament with a 9-3 Southeastern Conference, and the Rebels are headed the other way at 4-8. Both teams need a win, UK to continue its path to the NCAA tourney and the Rebels to keep hope alive.

Andy Kennedy said he's a bottom-line coach, and he knows the Rebels simply haven't been doing enough of what it takes to win.

"There's just been an inability to get it done," he said. "We can try to spin it however we want. I don't know how you can play the way we did Wednesday (in a 74-63 win over Mississippi State in Oxford) and then go play like we did Saturday (a 69-49 loss at LSU). It's a mystery to me."

Kennedy says it's a known fact that you have to play better on the road to win.

"Statistics prove it," he said. "You can't count on external emotions for motivation. It has to all come from within. That's what we've been lacking a little bit, honestly.

"Last year I thought it was just a culture of losing that we had to overcome," he continued. "This year with the way we scheduled games in December, I thought we were building some confidence. But unfortunately we still look a little lost."

With only four games left in the regular season, two at home and two away, all are big for a team trying to reach its goals. Unfortunately that's all teams. In every game there are two teams trying to reach some sort of goal – from winning that particular game to getting to postseason. To get to the second, Ole Miss has to do the first.

"Honestly, our focus is just trying to win another game," Kennedy said.

For their goals beyond that, there's still time. But time is running out. They say they'll press on.

"We have to," Curtis said. "These last games are must-wins. We know we have to win some more games to get where we want to go. But every game we play is a must-win. We know what we have to do. We're going to keep fighting."


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