AK says Rebs know importance of Bama game

It's back home again for the Ole Miss men's basketball team. The Rebels host Alabama Saturday at 1 p.m.

Whether it's the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, the Rebels can't afford a loss on Saturday if they want to have a decent chance of postseason, especially a shot at the Big Dance. They also need to win against Arkansas Tuesday in an ESPN 8 p.m. contest at Tad Smith.

The Rebels, a respectable 18-9 overall and a not as stellar 4-9 in Southeastern Conference play, need to get on a run like they did before the SEC season began. With a road game at Georgia next Saturday, winning their last three games would go a long way toward whatever postseason chances remain.

While his team plays with pretty good confidence at home, Andy Kennedy says the Rebs don't play with that same confidence on the road. So it's good to be back home for two straight.

"It's the chicken or the egg principle," he said. "You've gotta have some success to have confidence, but you can't have success without confidence. They've just gotta fight through it."

The team coming in, Alabama, is also fighting some confidence issues. The Crimson Tide actually should have some after knocking off Arkansas Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa 59-56.

The Tide comes in with an identical SEC mark as the Rebels. But overall they aren't currently in the postseason picture at 15-13.

Kennedy said his team must shoot the basketball better if it expects to win – although it has shot considerably better at home than on the road.

"In seven SEC road losses we're shooting 35 percent from the field," he said. "We're shooting 48 percent at home. I think that heals a lot of the wounds. Our inability to produce offense early in games has kinda thrown us out of rhythm. When you miss a lot of shots early, it changes your mindset."

Kennedy said the answer is fairly simple, but accomplishing the goal of scoring more is also a big part of the equation.

"You just have to make sure you have the ball in the guys' hands that you need to have it in in the positions you feel the most comfortable in," he said. "At the end of that you hope they make a good decision."

The Rebs' defense has improved over the last few games. Kennedy said it would be nice to have his team put it all together.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," he said. "I thought against Mississippi State (a 74-63 UM win in Oxford 10 days ago) we did both fairly well, at least good enough to beat a quality opponent."

Kennedy said defensively the Rebels have begun to get it the last few games.

"A sense of urgency, accountability, understanding that if you make a mistake it will be taken advantage of," he said. "Knowing every second of every possession is important."

After starting the league schedule with four straight losses, the Crimson Tide has gone 4-5 in its last nine games. Like Ole Miss, Alabama is winless on the SEC road.

The Tide is led by juniors Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee and senior Mykal Riley. Hendrix is third in the SEC in scoring (18.3) and first in rebounding (10.1). Gee adds 15.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg, while Riley chips in 14.1 ppg and tops the team with 79 3-pointers.

Kennedy said the Rebels can't afford to worry about what winning several games might do for their postseason chances. He says they can only concern themselves with Alabama.

"We know the importance of this game," he said.


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