Ramble On

Riding a three-game win streak, Ole Miss heads to Nashville for a noon tipoff against Vanderbilt. Read about it inside.

What a long, strange, trip it's been.

Not long ago, Ole Miss stood 10-9 with a disappointing 1-4 record in conference play, with little hope and plenty of angst.

Lacking assurance was certainly an issue, with these youngsters struggling to find an identity while slipping ever-so-slowly into SEC obscurity.

However, those worries have turned to optimism, as Ole Miss hits the road as hot as any team in the conference.

"We're starting to play our best basketball," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said after the Rebels' 78-59 win over Auburn.

With the win against the Tigers, the Rebels are riding a three-game win streak. In fact, it's not beyond the realm of possibly that they have a shot at the postseason.

The team is looser and exuding self-confidence.

Basketball has become fun again.

"We're having fun now," said sophomore Zach Graham, who continues to play despite a partially torn patella tendon. "We know we have to work hard to win. With everybody, it's been a collective effort. Everybody's having fun now, everybody's contributing and everybody's raising their game."

Ole Miss' turnaround hasn't come overnight. The Rebels have followed the road less traveled to get here, plagued with more adversity none could have predicted.

But enough talk of hard times. A trip to Nashville is up next, with a chance to get above .500 in the conference for the first time this season.

"They're a young team," Kennedy said of Vanderbilt. "I think they start two freshmen. A.J. Ogilvy is the first guy you mention in the scouting report. He's a presence inside, a terrific low-post scorer and very skilled. He has an ability to pass and make decisions with the ball.

"As a junior, Jermaine Beal has really evolved into the type of production you want your upperclassmen to play with. Those are the guys that have the experience. Although Ogilvy is only a sophomore, you look at him as a veteran due to the experience he garnered as a freshman."

While the above-mentioned Commodores are ones to watch Saturday, there are other factors that go into topping Vanderbilt on its home floor.

Historically, the Rebels have struggled in Memorial Gymnasium, winning only five times in 50 attempts.

Maybe it's the benches under the goals or simply the volume inside, but for whatever reason, road wins in Nashville have been hard to come by.

"With our guys going into that environment, not only do they have to deal with great support, but also with the way the benches are set up," Kennedy said. "It will be a different dynamic for our guys."

Graham is excited to play in such a unique venue.

"I look forward to playing there," he said. "It looks weird and different, but it looks like a good place to play in."

Vanderbilt is 14-8 overall and 3-5 in SEC action, following an 82-75 road victory over Auburn last Saturday that snapped a four-game losing streak and a 79-74 home victory over Alabama on Thursday night.

The Commodore defense allows only 63.9 points per game to their opponents, ranking third in the conference.

"They're a typical, well-coached, Kevin Stallings team," said Kennedy. "Offensively, they've got a lot of diversity. They do a lot of things that can hurt you. Defensively, they're finding a way. They've gone more zone like we have. They'll change their looks."

Saturday's game will be the 109th meeting between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, with the Commodores holding a 69-39 lead in the series, which began in 1925.

The game will be broadcast nationally by CBS at 12 p.m.

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