Poised for Primetime

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Ole Miss sits squarely on the bubble when it welcomes No. 15 Tennessee later today. A win could mean March Madness, a destination the Rebels haven't sniffed in eight seasons.

Junior point guard Chris Warren doesn't easily forget.

Ole Miss led Tennessee by 12 points midway through the second half in Knoxville. The Rebels, who had opened league play with a loss to in-state rival Mississippi State, were in control and poised for a quality win.

The scoreboard showed 52-40 with 9:18 left. Warren, as he would often do in 2009-10, had dialed long distance to match Ole Miss' largest lead.

But almost in a flash, Tennessee regained momentum. The Volunteers used consecutive dunks and two 3-pointers by Wayne Chism to ignite the crowd. They were back in it. At 54-52, doubt arose amidst the Ole Miss bench.

As the dust settled, Tennessee had reeled off a 13-2 run.

Sure, the game would see-saw the rest of the way, but Ole Miss lost 71-69 in overtime. Another sizeable lead slipped away. A meaningful win, a quality win, quickly turned for worse.

"I know we had the game," Warren says these days. "I feel we could have won. We gave up the lead, like we did so often. So, hopefully, we're a better team and can beat them."

The Rebels have their rematch. Tennessee (24-7, 11-5 SEC) handled LSU, 59-49, Thursday in this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament. It's a chance for redemption, a chance to rectify a golden opportunity severely wasted.

Or, more importantly, it could be a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament.

Enough with the flowery interpretation of the only game played between Ole Miss and Tennessee. Friday, in a game of far more importance, Ole Miss needs to win. Period.

Revenge isn't on the radar anymore. Disappointment means nothing in a one-game season. Rather, in the final stretch of March, there's meaningful basketball left to be played.

No. 2 seed Ole Miss (21-9, 9-7) sits squarely on the bubble when it welcomes the Volunteers today at 2:15 p.m. A win probably means March Madness, a destination the Rebels haven't sniffed in eight seasons.

The Rebels are riding a four-game win streak, including a pair of road wins over Alabama and Arkansas. The 9-7 conference mark is the best for Ole Miss since 2002, which was also the last NCAA Tournament appearance.

However, plenty of work remains. Even with help, including losses by fellow bubble teams Memphis and UAB, the Rebels aren't guaranteed of anything with a loss today.

"Where our team is right now, I hope that we can continue to play, because I think we're getting better," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.

On the other hand, the 15th-ranked Vols, the No. 3 Eastern Division seed, have already locked up a bid to March Madness. Even with an unimpressive effort vs. LSU, their only goal in Bridgestone Coliseum is to pad an already impressive resume.

"If we play like (we did Thursday), we won't advance," Pearl said following the win. "We have to play better to beat Ole Miss."

On the season, Ole Miss is 3-1 in games held on a neutral court. But considering the current surroundings, Friday is sure to be littered with orange and white come tipoff.

"What are you saying? Do you think Tennessee is going to have more fans there than us?," Kennedy said when joking with reporters earlier in the week. "We're hopeful that we're in a game of significance, which we're going to be Friday. I've heard it's a hot ticket. I'm not sure the demand came from Oxford."

Ole Miss has a 23-46 all-time record in 47 SEC Tournament appearances. The Rebels claim one tournament championship in 1981, and are 6-4 all-time in meetings with Tennessee.

"We're going in as the hottest team," Kennedy, one of only two Ole Miss coaches to reach at least 20 wins in three seasons, said. "I'm not sure there's another team that's won four in a row. We are playing good basketball and getting the desired result. Hopefully that'll carry over."

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