Vandy's Last Game
One of the SEC's worst offensive teams thus far, the Commodores got a big boost from their two stars on Thursday. A.J. Ogilvy turned in his best performance of the SEC season, scoring 20 points and pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds. Battling illness and injury in recent weeks, the sophomore center upped his physical play against the rugged Alabama forwards and even knocked down a pair of three-pointers.
Jermaine Beal tossed in 20 points of his own, including four trifectas, to go along with eight assists. The Commodores shot 47.5 percent from the floor and converted better than 35.0 percent from beyond the arc for the second straight game after failing to do so in the first six SEC contests. The only real area of concern was Vanderbilt's free throw shooting; the ‘Dores consistently failed to convert from the line down the stretch and made a dismal 54.2 percent of their free throws.
Ole Miss At-A-Glance
Coach Andy Kennedy's Rebels had perhaps the nation's most snake-bitten first half this season. Boasting one of the SEC's strongest backcourts entering the season, Ole Miss lost not only star point guard Chris Warren, but also scoring guards Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins, all to season-ending injuries. The loss of Warren, who was averaging 19.6 points per game when he tore his ACL, was the biggest blow, but Polynice and Gaskins were also expected to play a significant role in the Rebel attack.
The suddenly inexperienced Rebels (13-9, 4-4) dropped five non-conference games, including losses to New Mexico and Southern Miss. Now, after losing four of five to open conference play, something has clicked in Oxford. The Rebs have won three straight, including victories over Kentucky and at Mississippi State.
David Huertas – Junior, 6-5, 200 lbs. – After struggling to find his jumper last season, his first in Oxford, Huertas has emerged as a big-time scorer in the absence of Chris Warren. Averaging 19.3 points per game, the former Florida Gator is shooting 43.0 percent from the floor, up from 38.2 percent a year ago. The increase can be attributed to Huertas's decreased dependency on his jump shot. The junior attempted 54 free throws last season; he's already made 111 this year. His newfound penchant for attacking the basket has dramatically improved his scoring efficiency, as he leads the Rebels with 1.45 points per shot. Add in his team-high 61 three-pointers on 37.4 percent from beyond the arc, and you've got one of the most complete scorers in the SEC.
Terrico White – Freshman, 6-5, 211 lbs. – Thrust into a starting role early in the season, White turned in a solid if unspectacular 2008. Since the beginning of conference play, however, the Memphis native has caught fire and now tops the list of candidates for SEC Freshman of the Year. White is averaging 15.6 points per game in league games, good for 11th in the conference. A tremendous athlete, the freshman has turned in some highlight reel dunks, but he can also light it up from three-point range. He is averaging 2.5 trifectas per game and converting them at a 36.4 percent clip during SEC play.
Zach Graham – Sophomore, 6-6, 225 lbs. – The third of the Rebels' trio of big guards, Graham has also picked up his production since the start of conference play. The sophomore is averaging 10.7 points per game in SEC contests, doing most of his damage from beyond the arc and at the free throw line. Graham is the Rebels' best free throw shooter, converting 89.1 percent of his attempts from the stripe. Also dangerous from the perimeter, he's shooting 43.6 percent from long range and has made 7-of-13 three-pointers over the past three games.
Malcolm White – Sophomore, 6-9, 217 lbs. – For a team that hasn't had much production out of its frontcourt, White's recent scoring surge has been pivotal in the Rebel's current winning streak. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first 18 games, the sophomore is averaging 12.8 points over the past four games and has scored at least ten points in each. White was forced into the role of center after the departure of both starting big men from last season, but it's a role that he can succeed in on both ends despite standing just 6-9. He is the team's best interior defender and has shown what he can do offensively once he asserts himself around the basket.
Terrance Henry – Freshman, 6-9, 192 lbs. – The Rebels' power forward is more of a face-up forward than a traditional back-to-the-basket guy. Averaging just 4.6 points, Henry has struggled with his shot thus far. He's shooting 39.8 percent from the floor, and though he has the range to knock down the three-pointer, he has made just one in nine attempts this season. After going scoreless in the two prior games, Henry reached double figures in scoring for the first time in the Rebel's most recent game.
Three freshmen round out the Ole Miss rotation. Murphy Holloway, a 6-7 power forward, is averaging 8.2 points and a team-best 5.8 rebounds per game. South Carolina's Mr. Basketball posted five straight games of at least ten points in early January but has failed to reach double figures since then.
DeAundre Cranston, a 6-9, 251-pound monster of a forward, has contributed very little in the way of scoring (3.0 ppg), but he averages 4.4 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game. Finally, Will Bogan, a 6-1 combo guard, is averaging 2.0 points and 1.3 assists in 14.1 minutes per game.
Keys to the Game
Perimeter Pressure -- The absence of Warren left the Rebels without a true point guard, and the team has struggled to take care of the ball since their star sophomore went down. Ole Miss has posted a turnover margin of -3.62 per game in conference play; only Georgia has been worse. Terrico White has been the Rebels' de facto lead guard, but he can be rattled; Florida forced the freshman into eight turnovers. Despite the recent emergence of Malcolm White, Mississippi's inside game has not been much of a factor offensively. The vast majority of the Rebels' points come from their guards, and the team ranks third in the SEC in three-pointers during conference play. Huertas and Terrico White are both threats off the dribble, but Vanderbilt has enough athleticism and size underneath to overplay the perimeter and take away the trifecta.
A.J.'s Return? – Though Ole Miss has a little depth in the frontcourt, their forwards are all inexperienced, and none has the size to defend the A.J. Ogilvy from Thursday night. If the Aussie can maintain his aggressiveness and thrive on contact like he did against Alabama, he can match or improve upon his 20-point performance. An effective Ogilvy does wonders for Vanderbilt's offensive balance, as evidenced by the increased number of open perimeter shots available to the ‘Dores on Thursday.
Prediction: Like ‘Bama, Ole Miss is an athletic squad that hits the glass hard and pressures out past the three-point line. The Rebels have more consistent scoring options than the Crimson Tide, though, and the ‘Dores will have their hands full with Huertas and Terrico White. If the Commodores can build on their last two shooting performances and get production from Ogilvy, though, they should be able to hold off the Rebs for their third straight win. Final Score: Vanderbilt 72, Ole Miss 65