Indoor Magnolia Bowl? Rebs host LSU

Can Ole Miss build on its recent win over Arkansas and continue its improved play? Will LSU finally win a road game?

Those will likely be answered at Saturday's 3 p.m. game in Oxford between the two neighboring state rivals. Call it the first Indoor Magnolia Bowl.

In its first season under head coach Trent Johnson, LSU has a 13-3 record and 1-1 mark in Southeastern Conference action. The Tigers dropped their SEC opener 65-59 count at Alabama before winning at home 85-68 over South Carolina.

The Tigers have won all 13 games at home, but are 0-3 away from Baton Rouge. LSU had built up a 12-1 record prior to a 91-61 defeat at Utah in its final tuneup before league play.

Johnson's club sports the third-rated defense in the league, allowing just 62.0 points per game, while the offense averages 75.3 per contest. Senior Marcus Thornton leads the team with 17.9 ppg, while Tasmin Mitchell adds 15.1 ppg and Bo Spencer 12.2. Chris Johnson is the team's top rebounder (7.1/game) and the third-ranked shot blocker in the league (2.2/game).

The Rebels, 10-6 and 1-1, appear to have begun to play together as a team, to understand their roles a bit. And there is the growth process that comes with newcomers, especially ones thrown into the mix earlier than hoped.

Ole Miss' rebounding numbers have improved dramatically in recent games, and Andy Kennedy said there are several reasons.

"One, our guys are starting to understand the effort with which you have to go after every rebound in order to be successful," he said. "Two, we realize our margin for error is nil. This is a possessions game. We cannot allow teams to get second or third chances off our defensive glass if we're going to have a chance to be successful. So I think for right now they understand that. Let's hope it continues."

LSU leads the all-time series 114-80, although the Rebels hold a 14-12 edge in the last 26 meetings. Ole Miss has won three of the last five encounters. The teams split last year's series with each winning on its home court. The Rebels hold a 50-32 lead in games played in Oxford and have won 11 of the last 15 at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Kennedy has a 4-2 record against LSU in his career. He faced the Bayou Bengals as Cincinnati head coach in 2005-06, earning a 75-72 victory at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.

Kennedy felt his team handled many things well surrounding its 74-65 win Wednesday night against Arkansas at home.

"I thought our approach was terrific," he said. "I thought we were physical. I thought we were quicker to the ball, which shows an aggressive mindset. I thought we did a very good job with 24 field goals and 20 assists, which is phenomenal. It wasn't just one guy getting 10 or 11 assists. We had several guys getting two, three, four, which shows we're sharing the ball.

"Defensively we did a lot of good things. We had a number of breakdowns. We turned it over against pressure, which we shouldn't have. We still make some poor decisions on the offensive end at the end of the shot clock. So there is still great room for improvement, yet we were comfortably ahead throughout most of the game against a pretty good basketball team."

Cotton Bowl officials will be on hand at Saturday's game to officially present Ole Miss with the Cotton Bowl trophy, signifying the Rebels' 47-34 romp over Texas Tech two weeks ago in Dallas.

After Saturday's game against LSU, the Rebels are on the road twice next week – at Alabama Wednesday night and at South Carolina Saturday night.

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