Hey, they're getting better.
Just when most of us were ready to write off Ole Miss' chances this season, they put forth two consecutive games that prove their relevance in 2009.
Forget the injuries, youth and inexperience. If we're to take anything from the Rebels' 74-65 victory over Arkansas Wednesday, it's this once downtrodden team has started to discover an identity.
"The good thing about our group is that they have short memories," said head coach Andy Kennedy. "Despite us losing in Gainesville, we finished the game on a good note. We were very competitive. Our guys were looking forward to this opportunity. To have a chance in this league, you have to do well on your home floor."
There's something different about the Rebels from earlier in the season. No heads hanging when times are tough or any lack of intensity when the scoreboard might warrant it.
They came out rolling tonight, hitting the boards with the same vigor we saw in Gainesville. They pressured defensively, contesting every shot the opposition took.
And best of all, even when Arkansas clawed to within striking distance from two 21-point deficits, they never let up.
"I thought our pace was perfect," Kennedy said. "We went full speed and did a good job on the glass. Sometimes we're playing power forwards at two-guard and small forwards at point guards, so we're all trying to adjust to this new lineup."
Fans respond to a team that fights and refuses to give in when adversity rears its head. Tad Smith Coliseum was electric tonight, as fans responded with each turn in the game.
Ole Miss jumped ahead early 32-11, but Arkansas used an 11-point run to close the lead to 10. The Rebels held a 34-24 advantage at halftime, but the Razorbacks scored four points quickly in the second.
However, Terrico White and junior David Huertas connected on back-to-back three-point attempts to silence the threat.
"I thought we started the second half on a good note," said Kennedy. "Save for the last couple minutes at the end, I thought it was a good half for us on both sides of the ball."
The combination of freshmen Will Bogan and White showed capable of handling point guard duties and forward Murphy Holloway made it known (once again) he's a star in the making. Holloway put in an 11 point, four rebound effort in what was easily one of the team's more important games.
Add to the fact that sophomore Malcolm White is getting better in every aspect of his game and we might be witnessing a surprising season in the making.
Heck, DeAundre Cranston stroked a three to spark an 11-point run to extend the Rebel lead to 53-32.
"I've got about two more months before I can sigh," Kennedy said. "This is great for our kids. It shows what they're capable of doing if they take the right approach. The approach was great tonight, but there are a lot of things we can take from this game. We have to continue to get better. That's been our mantra.
"We want to be the most improved team in our league from start to finish because we have the greatest room for improving with what we're dealing with."
I'm tired of talking about the future. There's talent on this team and the Rebels are finally developing chemistry.
Their desire has never wavered, but understanding that they can indeed be a factor in the conference was definitely an issue.
No doubt that every game Ole Miss plays will be a battle. I'm not crowning them winners of the West by any means. But all we've heard were the rumblings of turmoil spewing from the Tad Pad floors.
Now we can douse those flames with a little more optimism.
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