The Rebels (20-9, 6-9) are two-for-two in their quest to win five straight and reach the 23-win mark, the number thought needed for the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss knocked off Alabama and Arkansas, but now the road beckons-a situation that hasn't been synonymous with success. The Rebels face Georgia Saturday at 3 p.m.
Head coach Andy Kennedy is a lowly 1-14 on the SEC road since arriving in Oxford, with the lone win coming at Auburn last season. This year, there have been close calls but no victories. Competing for the full 40 minutes without collapses is the key away from his own gym.
"You can't have those disastrous lulls," Kennedy said. Home teams always make runs, but you can't fold after that run or let the environment affect you. Being prepared from at the tip is imperative."
That is what haunted Ole Miss during its last opportunity to breakthrough in hostile surroundings. The Rebels missed a three-pointer in the final five seconds that would have given them the lead over Kentucky in Lexington, but the deciding difference was the first 20 minutes.
Ole Miss didn't reach double digits until late in the first half and trailed by more than 20 at the break. Avoiding that fate, or a similar one, is obviously a must Saturday against the Bulldogs.
"We met as a staff, and obviously we haven't played well away from home and we have tried every approach we can think of," Kennedy said. "I would think since it is the last game of the season, and we realize where we are, I would hope our guys would come out motivated and focused. Bottom line is I hope we will be good enough to give ourselves a chance to win."
Georgia is 13-15 overall and 4-11 inside the conference this season. The Bulldogs are 3-4 at home this season with losses against Tennessee, Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. They won at Auburn this past Wednesday.
Led by Sundiata Gaines' 14.5 ppg. and Billy Humphrey's 12.6 ppg., Georgia presents a lineup that matches up similar to Ole Miss. Issues that appeared against smaller teams like South Carolina and Auburn shouldn't be present versus the Bulldogs. Georgia averages 68 total points and is out-rebounding opponent by nearly four boards per outing.
It will be senior night for Gaines and starting Bulldog center Dave Bliss. The spectacle will involve an added level of emotion for Ole Miss to deal with, but it can't worry about that. The Rebels' motivation lies in what is still possible with a victory.
"Last game of the season obviously and the game has great implications for our team," Kennedy said. "We haven't had much success on the road, and we know going to Georgia, a well-coached and strong team, is going to be a challenge."
But a challenge the Rebels must pass for the NCAAs to remain a possibility.