Game On

The Ole Miss Rebels were already going to have their hands full tonight in Cincinnati against Louisville.

Then came the news. Likely when the tip occurs, it will only be about basketball for the players.

Louisville enters tonight's game ranked No. 9 in the nation with a 6-1 record after entering the season ranked third nationally. The lone defeat was a 68-54 loss to Western Kentucky in a neutral-site contest in Nashville, Tenn.

In their six wins, the Cardinals are outscoring opponents by an average of 30.1 points (84.3 to 54.2). Freshman center Samardo Samuels paces the squad with 17.0 ppg, while junior Earl Clark adds 11.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg, and senior Terrence Williams chips in 10.6 ppg and a team-high 8.9 rpg. As a team, Louisville averages 80.0 ppg and 41.4 rpg, while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor and limiting opponents to 56.1 ppg and a 36.5 FG percentage.

Head coach Rick Pitino owns a 175-68 record (.720 winning pct.) in his seventh season at Louisville. He led the Cardinals to an NCAA Elite Eight appearance, 27-9 overall record and second-place finish in the BIG EAST with a 14-4 league record last year.

The Rebels won both previous meetings between the two schools when they played a home-and-home series in 1997 and 1998. The 16th-ranked Rebels earned a 74-70 victory in Louisville on Dec. 22, 1997 on the strength of 18 points by current Ole Miss radio analyst Keith Carter, while Ole Miss won 88-69 in Oxford on Dec. 5, 1998 behind 24 points by Marcus Hicks.

Moving that series mark to 3-0 tonight is the 7-3 Rebels' toughest challenge so far this season. Perhaps this can all become a rallying point for the team. That is the hope.

Ole Miss has been waiting for a long time for a showdown game such as this one. There were preliminary talks of an SEC-Big 12 get-together. Finally the SEC and Big East got together, and with Ole Miss playing in Cincinnati, there was obviously going to be a storyline of Kennedy's return.

It's the players who should be the main focus of a huge made-for-TV event such as this. Andy Kennedy, who will coach the game, said so.

"I regret this situation," Kennedy said in a statement released earlier today by Ole Miss. "The focus should be on the players and the game, not on me. I vehemently deny the charges levied against me, and am completely confident that I will be fully exonerated of all charges."

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone, who was already with the team in Cincinnati, supports his coach.

"Clearly, this is an unfortunate situation," Boone said. "However, after a full discussion with Andy Kennedy and his staff, who were with him, I have the utmost confidence that once all the facts are known, Coach Kennedy will be cleared of all charges."

On to the game.


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