As early as it still is, a win for either is big, and a loss by either could be detrimental to their seasons' goals.
Auburn, which won at Ole Miss last season, is 13-8 overall and in an almost must-win situation conference-wise at 2-4. The Rebels, heading who knew where just a week ago, beat Kentucky at home and Mississippi State on the road to all but shock the hoops world. At 12-9 and 3-4, they are back in the picture.
Terrico White, for the second time in three weeks the SEC Freshman of the Week, said staying on track and continuing to win are obviously the plan. And staying grounded.
"After we beat Arkansas, everybody started getting big-headed, then we lost by 30 at home to LSU," he said. "We just need to not get the big head now and keep this thing rolling and winning."
The Rebs all collectively mention that they learned a lot from losing to LSU after beating Arkansas. It would be wise to feel that way currently since Auburn was the only team to beat the Rebels twice last season.
"We have to come with the right approach and play hard the whole game," said White, mentioning they didn't do that against LSU when they fell behind early and never recovered. "But we have to do that home and away."
Auburn's most impressive day so far was a 73-51 victory at Arkansas a week and a half ago. Coach Jeff Lebo's squad features the league's top scoring defense, allowing just 62.5 points per game. Auburn also tops the league in steals per game (9.9) and ranks second in turnover margin (+3.5).
Three Tigers average double-figure points, led by DeWayne Reed at 13.3 ppg. Korvotney Barber adds 12.4 points a contest along with a team-high 9.0 rebounds, while Tay Waller adds 11.9 ppg.
Some of the Rebels' greatest improvement this season has been on the boards. Ole Miss ranks first in the conference in offensive rebounds per game (13.7), second in total rebounds per game (39.7) and third in rebounding margin (+4.6) in league contests.
The Rebels have out-rebounded five of seven league opponents and dominated Florida on the glass with a 46-22 advantage. That rebounding margin of 24 was the second-largest by a Rebel squad this season (25 vs. Florida A&M on Dec. 22).
Freshman forward Murphy Holloway leads the team with a 5.9 rebounding average in all games and a 6.0 average in SEC outings. Sophomore forward Malcolm White is second on the squad with 5.0 boards per game, while junior guard David Huertas averages 5.9 in SEC games.
Ole Miss ranks second among SEC teams (and 19th in the nation according to NCAA stats) with a 74.6 free-throw percentage. The Rebels set a school record with a 22-for-22 performance at the line against South Alabama and shot 93.8 percent (15-of-16) against Morgan State and 93.3 percent (14-15) vs. Florida A&M. Huertas ranks third in the SEC at 80.6 percent (108-of-134), while sophomore Zach Graham boasts an 88.6 percent mark from the line (39-of-44) and freshman Terrance Henry is at a 78.8 percent (26-of-33).
A year ago the Rebels made just 65.1 percent of their free throw attempts. Ole Miss has already more than doubled the games in which it shot 80 percent or better from the charity stripe this year (7) compared to all of last season (3).
Also a key factor in the Rebels' recent success has been the emergence of some scoring help for Huertas. The Rebel junior had a lot on his shoulders when three players were lost for the season with knee injuries. But several other players have stepped up, and Huertas said it's made a difference.
"That's why we're winning, because everybody is playing better," he said. "Scoring, rebounding, all areas. Things have been pretty good lately. Hopefully we can keep it up and win more games."
Staying The Course
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