Better Bigs

After a dominating performance on Super Tuesday, the Ole Miss front court faces a tough test Saturday at noon in Starkville. Read about it inside.

What a week it was.

Since topping Kentucky on Super Tuesday, Andy Kennedy and the Rebels are holding their heads a little higher these days.

Maybe they're simply reenergized, or have realized they can actually make a run this season, but there's no doubting what one victory has done for a downtrodden Ole Miss squad reeling just days before.

Let's just say, Rebel basketball has been made fun again.

"Number one, our approach was right," said head coach Andy Kennedy. "That's what I always look for first. How did we approach the game? Were we the aggressor? Were we physical? Did we carry out the gameplan? I thought their effort was great.

"Our execution is still failing us in a number of areas. But most especially in the second half, I thought our guys' determination was at a level I hadn't seen against an opponent such as Kentucky. It showed the guys we can be successful if we take the right approach."

No one player catapulted the Rebs to victory against the Wildcats. Kennedy used every available body he could to claim victory, with numerous contributors having a hand in the affair.

We all know the usual suspects of Terrico White, Zach Graham and David Huertas. But they weren't the only ones who allowed Ole Miss to regain its swagger.

In fact, Tuesday proved the baby bigs are starting to come on.

"It was more of a pride thing," junior forward DeAundre Cranston said. "Me and a couple of my teammates were thinking, ‘All we have to do is play and we'll take them. Just because they're number one (in the SEC) doesn't mean they can't be beat.' We were thinking we could beat them, so we went out and played as best we could."

They certainly did.

Cranston recorded seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the 85-80 win over No. 24 Kentucky. The JUCO transfer was joined by sophomore Malcolm White, who easily had the most dominating game of his young career.

White poured in 20 points and six rebounds against one of the better low post scorers the SEC has to offer in Patrick Patterson, while also adding some much needed intensity to spark the Rebels on both ends.

"It was the first time that he's played the way that we felt he was capable," Kennedy said of White. "I hope it's the impetus that he needs to become the player we know he has the potential to be."

White has faced sizeable pressure all season. How could he not? Mac was the only post player with considerable experience returning from last year's squad.

So it should come as no surprise that 2009 has been an up-and-down year for the big man. Entering the week, he was averaging only 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Yet, his showing against Kentucky proved what many have believed all along: it was only a matter of time before Mac would have his coming out party.

"I knew I had that in me, it was just figuring out how to play the game and learning how to be patient," said White. "I'm figuring that out. I've been going back and watching film of myself – what positions to get in so I can make plays and score. I'm just going to keep doing that and hopefully I can build on having big games like that."

Now Ole Miss turns its attention to the Bulldogs who present a much different challenge than previous opponents.

State has won six of its last seven games with a lineup that offers four guards offensively. Shot-blocking specialist Jarvis Varnado is the lone big man of the group, spearheading a defense that allows merely 65.4 points per game.

"They're totally different than what we had to face with Kentucky," Kennedy said. "They're going to spread you. All four of their perimeter guys have the ability to make threes. It really extends you, and Varnado has gotten much better offensively, whereas in year's past when your number one concern was Charles Rhodes.

"Obviously, you were always concerned with where Varnado was defensively because he's such a presence, but now he's developed into a guy who you have to make some adjustments for because of his ability to score."

Varnado averages a team-high 13.0 points per game to go along with 9.3 rebounds and will surely meet Malcolm in the paint.

"They start four guards and Jarvis in the middle, with no other big man in the paint," White explained. "When we played State last year, me and Charles Rhodes went at it. He kinda put it on us. But I'm going to take the same approach I took the last game. I'm going to come out with a lot of energy on both sides of the court.

"I think I can do a little damage down there."

Saturday's matchup will be the 238th meeting between the instate rivals, who have split the season series each of the last three years. However, Mississippi State has taken 10-straight over the Rebels in Humphrey Coliseum.

Despite those daunting odds, White says the Rebels are prepared to meet the challenge head-on.

"Everybody knows Mississippi State hates us and we hate them," he said, speaking from an instate rivalry standpoint, of course. "It's going to be a tough environment to play in, but we just have to try and block it out and go and get a road win."

Tipoff is set for 12 noon and will be broadcast live on Raycom TV Sports.

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