REBELS BEGIN ROAD TRIP AT CAROLINA Ole Miss opens a two-game road swing Saturday at South Carolina. The Rebels have won five of their last six games and remain in a first-place tie in the SEC Western Division with Mississippi State. Ole Miss improved to 14-1 at home this season with Wednesday’s 67-49 victory over Georgia. The Rebel defense limited the Bulldogs to 32.8-percent shooting and 17 second-half points. Clarence Sanders led the team in scoring for the third straight game with 21 points and 5 3-pointers, leaving him only two short of the school season record. Also in double-figures was Dwayne Curtis (14), Bam Doyne (12) and Jermey Parnell, who had his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
NCAA TOURNEY-WORTHY After a slow start to the SEC season, Ole Miss has fired back to take the Western Division lead and establish itself as one of the nation’s hottest teams. With wins in five of its last six games including a victory over No. 18 Alabama, Andy Kennedy’s club has thrust itself into the national eye as a serious NCAA Tournament contender. Ole Miss enters the weekend with a 2-3 record against teams currently rated in the top 30 of the RPI, a 5-6 mark against the index top 60 and 8-9 against the top 120. Of the Rebels’ victories, both Alabama and LSU have been ranked top-5 in the AP poll, while Tennessee has risen as high as No. 16. Ole Miss outscored the Volunteers 55-31 in the second half in knocking off the defending SEC champions. The Rebels also traveled to Auburn to slam the then division-leading Tigers by 22 points. Of the Rebels’ nine losses this year, eight were on the road, four were against top-20 teams, while two others were to squads that have since entered the national polls. Ole Miss’ first two setbacks were at the homes of UConn and Memphis and were without the full services of All-SEC center Dwayne Curtis, who fractured his foot in the preseason. The Rebels’ leading scorer from a year ago could not make the trip to Connecticut and saw only a few minutes in his first game back against Memphis. Only three of Ole Miss’ losses were by more than 10 points.
SCOUTING THE GAMECOCKS South Carolina is at the bottom of the SEC Eastern Division and has won only once in its last seven games. The Gamecocks are coming off a 63-49 setback at Florida on Wednesday. Dave Odom’s squad has won the postseason NIT each of the last two seasons but enters the weekend with a .500 mark on the year. Senior guard Tré Kelley has been a bright spot for USC, averaging 18.3 points and 5.0 assists. He leads the SEC in scoring in conference play at 20.2 per outing. Senior forward Brandon Wallace posts 10.0 points and ranks second in the league in rebounding (9.5) and blocked shots (2.65). Wings Bryce Sheldon and Dominique Archie are each adding 8.6 points, while Dwayne Day chips in 7.6.
OLE MISS-SOUTH CAROLINA SERIES Saturday’s game will be the 23rd time the two schools have faced each other on the hardwood. Ole Miss holds a 12-10 all-time edge and has won seven of the last 10 meetings. USC enjoys a 6-1 edge in Columbia. Last year, the Rebels knocked off the Gamecocks 68-63 in Oxford. The two schools met only once prior to South Carolina joining the Southeastern Conference in the 1991-92 season. The two teams played in the Gulf South Tournament in the 1960-61 season, with the Gamecocks taking an 85-79 decision. The teams have also met in the SEC Tournament six times, including three of the last five years.
KENNEDY CONNECTION Andy Kennedy’s final game as Cincinnati head coach occurred against South Carolina last March. The Bearcats lost 65-62 at Fifth Third Arena in the NIT quarterfinals. Mere moments after the game, Kennedy accepted the head coaching position at Ole Miss. A pupil of Kennedy on that UC squad was Devan Downey, who has since transferred to the Gamecocks. The sophomore point guard and South Carolina native is sitting out this season by NCAA transfer rules.
HOLDING COURT The story of the Ole Miss-Carolina series has been a matter of location, location, location. The home team has prevailed in 14-of-15 meetings between the Rebels and Gamecocks on non-neutral courts (the other seven games were played in conference tournaments). The lone road win in the series was Ole Miss’ 67-61 win in Columbia in 2000-01.
BEST IN THE WEST Since the victory over No. 18 Alabama, Ole Miss has either been in a tie atop the SEC Western Division or alone in first, as was the case following last Wednesday's dramatic home win over LSU. The Rebels are currently tied with Mississippi State with three regular-season games. The last time Ole Miss led the West this late in the season was 2000-01, when the Rebels captured the program’s third division title. Just like this year, Ole Miss was picked to finish last in the West that preseason as well.
SENIORS APPROACHING MILESTONES Seniors Clarence Sanders and Todd Abernethy have some significant milestones in their sights. With 81 3-pointers this year, Sanders needs only 2 more to tie Aaron Harper (83 in 2002) for most by a Rebel in a single season. On Wednesday, he connected on 5 treys to pass Keith Carter (77 in 1999) and Joe Harvell (79 in 1992) on the list. Abernethy is close to joining the Ole Miss 1,000 point club, sitting 47 points shy of becoming the 29th player in Rebel history to reach that mark. This season, Abernethy has already moved into fourth on the all-time chart for assists (394) and fifth in 3-pointers made (149).
BEST SEASON SINCE 2001-02 The recent victory over Alabama secured Ole Miss of its first winning season since going 20-11 during the 2001-02 campaign, the program's last NCAA Tournament appearance. This year's 18 wins bests the previous high of 14 over the last four seasons. Also, after five or less SEC victories in each season since 2002, Ole Miss assured itself of exceeding that mark with the home triumph over LSU, and the tally has now reached seven.
DIALING LONG DISTANCE Aside from his spectacular buzzer-beater against LSU, sixth man Clarence Sanders has played a starring role of late, averaging 20.7 points and connecting on 48.3 percent (28-of-58) of his treys over the last six games to take over as the team’s leading scorer. Twice in that span he tied his own school record for 3s against an SEC foe with 7. Sanders was 7-of-13 from long range in matching his career high of 29 points against the Bayou Bengals. The Phenix City, Ala., native also burned Auburn for 7-of-11 from downtown for 21 points on the Plains, and he fired in 4-of-6 from behind the arc in hanging 22 on Mississippi State. In Wednesday’s win over Georgia, Sanders posted his 10th 20-point game of the year with 21, drilling 5 3-pointers. Also in SEC play, he used huge second halves to strike for 16 points against Alabama, 17 at Florida and 20 against Tennessee. After a streaky first season in the Red and Blue, Sanders has been a steady point provider for the Rebels this year. The senior guard has scored in double-figures in 25 of the last 26 games and ranks fourth in the SEC at 16.5 points per game. Sanders is also second in 3s per game (3.00) and eighth in the league in 3-point percentage (39.5). After a 35.7 shooting clip a year ago, Sanders boasts a 43.3 field goal percentage this season.
SEC’S TOP POINT GUARD? Todd Abernethy has raised his scoring average and assist total in each of his seasons as a Rebel, and this year, those figures are jumping once again as the senior has emerged as arguably the SEC’s best point guard. Abernethy is the SEC leader in assists per game (5.58) and ranks second in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (3.22). He is also averaging in double-figure points for the first time in his career at 11.1 ppg with a 12.8 clip in SEC action. The Carmel, Ind., native has registered a pair of 20-point games and his first two career double-doubles with 19 points and 10 assists against Mississippi State and 12 points and a career-high 11 assists against LSU. In addition, he is ninth in the SEC in minutes played at 32.85 per game.
PROTECTING THE BALL Ole Miss is the SEC’s best in turnover margin (+4.11) and ranks second in assist/turnover ratio (1.25). The Rebels have been in single digits in turnovers in 10 games and five times in league play. Ole Miss had only 5 giveaways against Alabama and a season-low 4 against LSU. Senior guard Todd Abernethy is second in the NCAA in assist/turnover ratio at 3.22.
POURING IN THE POINTS Andy Kennedy's style of "pressure basketball" is paying tremendous dividends for the Rebels on the offensive side. The team is averaging 74.1 points per game, a 8.9 raise from a year ago, and the highest clip since scoring 77.0 per game in 1998-99. Ole Miss scored 80-plus points in four consecutive SEC games this year for the first time since 1976. The Rebels' 100-80 victory over Nicholls marked only the second time since 2001 for the team to reach the century mark in points.
DOYNE IT ALL Bam Doyne has been among the SEC statistical leaders this season, ranking seventh in scoring (15.9), seventh in free throw accuracy (78.6) and 15th in minutes played (31.67). Doyne has three 20-point games in SEC play, giving him nine total this year. He scored an even 20 at Auburn, and posted 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in the win over Mississippi State. Doyne had 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals at Vanderbilt. The senior guard has topped the team or tied for the team-lead in scoring in nine games, most recently in the win over Alabama with 17.
D.C.=DOUBLE-DOUBLE Since his return late in non-conference play, Dwayne Curtis has notched nine double-doubles, including five in SEC play. He has twice reached the 20-point, 10-rebound plateau this year, including his 20 and 12 performance in the home win over Arkansas. Curtis also shined with season highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds against Alabama A&M. He narrowly missed that mark at Auburn, scorching his former team for 19 points and 11 boards. Curtis posted 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Wildcats and all-star center Randolph Morris, and he tallied 11 points and 12 boards against LSU and All-American Glen Davis. Curtis just missed double-doubles against Tennessee (18 points and 9 rebounds), Mississippi State (14 points and 8 boards), Alabama (14 points and 8 rebounds) and Georgia Wednesday (14 points and 7 rebounds). Curtis suffered a stress fracture of the third metatarsal in his left foot in the third day of preseason practice and missed the first eight games of the year. In his second game back, the preseason All-SEC honoree reached a double-double less than 15 minutes into the UL-Monroe contest and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. He nearly repeated that feat at South Alabama with 16 points and 9 boards, and against UIC, he registered 13 points and 12 rebounds.
STEALING THE SHOW Ole Miss is second in the SEC in steals in league play at 7.92 per game and has posted double-digit takeaways four times, including 11 at Auburn in forcing the Tigers into 25 turnovers. The Rebels established a season high for steals at Florida with 12 against the No. 1 Gators, including 3 from Eniel Polynice. Brian Smith collected 3 against Tennessee, as the team totaled 11. The Rebels notched 10 steals against Arkansas, led by Bam Doyne's career-best tying 4, and pressed the Hogs into 21 turnovers. Clarence Sanders has tallied multiple steals in 11 games overall this year and leads the team with 33. Dwayne Curtis has collected mutliple steals in four of the last five games, averaging 1.6 over that stretch.
OTHER PLAYER POINTSTodd Abernethy: The fourth-year Rebel missed the first game of his career against Louisiana-Lafayette. He was injured three minutes into the season opener after his head collided with an opposing player's shoulder on a screen. He suffered a slight concussion and had five stitches over his right eye. After sitting out the ULL game, the three-time Team Captain returned to the Ole Miss starting lineup with 13 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds against Fairfield. Bam Doyne: The senior forward has tallied multiple steals in eight games, including a career-high tying 4 against Arkansas ... Prior to game seven of the SEC slate at Vanderbilt, Doyne's previous 20-point game was a 22-point outburst in the non-conference finale at Saint Louis. In non-league play, he scored a career-high 28 in the win at South Alabama and a pair of 25-point outings against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe. Doyne has also turned in his first two career double-doubles with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Nicholls and 20 points and a career-best 12 boards against Fairfield. Doyne has led or tied the team-lead in rebounds six times this year, including 9 boards at Saint Louis. Trey Hampton: Hampton returned to the starting lineup for only the second time this season at Mississippi State. He played 6 minutes and connected on 1-of-2 free throws ... After missing two games with sickness, the sophomore forward returned to the court against New Orleans and added 5 points and 4 boards ... Hampton enjoyed his best game of the year against Central Arkansas. With Kenny Williams slowed by a sprained ankle, Hampton earned his first start of 2006-07 and posted season highs in minutes (25), points (8), rebounds (5) and assists (2). He was also 2-of-4 from behind the arc. Xavier Hansbro: After making no starts as a rookie, the sophomore forward received the starting nod in the season’s first two games. In his first career start in the opening win over Mississippi Valley State, the Trezevant, Tenn., native responded with his second double-digit scoring outing as a Rebel, dropping in 11 points along with 6 rebounds. Coincidentally, Hansbro’s only other double-figure game was in last year’s season opener, when he hit 4-of-6 3-pointers for 12 points against Southern Utah.Greg Hardy: Since suiting up for his first game with the Rebel basketball team against Alabama A&M, the two-sport athlete has seen action in nine games and earned his first career start at LSU. With Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell both fouling out at Florida, Hardy saw 12 minutes of action and posted 3 points, 4 rebounds and a steal, giving him 6 takeaways in the last four games. He posted a season-high 5 rebounds with 2 points and 2 steals at Mississippi State ... A freshman from Memphis who is also a member of the Ole Miss football team, Hardy began practicing with the team on Nov. 27, following the Rebels’ Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State in the season finale on the gridiron. As a rookie on the football team, Hardy played in all 12 games on the defensive line, tying for the team-lead in sacks (3.0) and ranking fifth in total tackles (49). His four fumble recoveries also tied for third in the SEC, and against MSU, he saw his first action at wide receiver and hauled in a 23-yard touchdown. Rodney Jones: The freshman guard scored his first basket in SEC play at Arkansas, going 1-for-1 with 2 points and 1 rebound in 6 minutes. It was his fourth league game to see action with the most minutes, 7, coming at Florida.Andy Ogide: After playing in only three of the first 12 games, the freshman forward received the starting nod for the first time in his career in the win over Alabama A&M. Ogide saw 11 minutes of action and posted 3 points and 5 rebounds. He had his best game against Louisiana-Monroe with 7 points on 3-for-3 shooting.Jermey Parnell: The junior forward turned in his first career double-double Wednesday, posting SEC highs of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Prior to that, Parnell had not scored more than 6 points against a league foe this year, doing so against Alabama and Mississippi State at home ... Parnell returned to the starting lineup Wednesday for only the second time in SEC action, with the other instance coming against Arkansas at home. He started 11 straight games during non-conference play ... After only five double-figures scoring games in his first two seasons, the junior forward has already scored 10 or more points seven times this year. In the win over Tennessee Tech, Parnell tallied 14 points and 8 rebounds, and he followed up with 13 points and 4 boards against Nicholls. Against New Orleans, the Gosnell, Ark., native established a career high in scoring with 16 points, going 5-for-5 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw stripe.Eniel Polynice: Prior to Wednesday’s Georgia game, the freshman guard had earned the starting nod in six straight games. Polynice got his first career start at Vanderbilt and responded with his third double-digit scoring performance of the year. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Polynice also totaled 7 points and 3 assists in the win over LSU ... For the fourth time this season, Polynice helped energize a big Rebel run in the second-half comeback at Florida. During Ole Miss' 29-11 outburst on the Gators, the Sarasota, Fla., native scored 8 points and collected 3 steals, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in helping bring a 25-point deficit down to 7 ... The freshman guard had his best game as a Rebel against New Orleans, knocking down 4-of-4 3-pointers in totaling 15 points, 3 assists and 3 steals. Polynice dropped in 12 of his points in the second half in helping Ole Miss rally from 7 down early in the stanza. He followed up with 10 points in a career-high 29 minutes at Memphis. Down 12-3 early, Polynice came off the bench to score three of the next four Ole Miss baskets to help ignite a 21-11 Rebel run ... Polynice also sparked Ole Miss in the victory over Central Arkansas in the HCF Classic. With the Rebels clinging to a 2-point advantage midway through the second half, Polynice drilled a pair of 3-pointers and scored 8 points in 2:18 to push the lead up to 10. Clarence Sanders: In five SEC contests, the Rebels erased deficits late with Sanders speerheading the rallying efforts. The senior guard scored 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second stanza at Florida, as Ole Miss reeled off a 29-11 against the nation's No. 1. He followed with 18 second-half points against Tennessee to help the Rebels go from 10 down at the break to a 83-69 victory. Sanders dropped in 11 after the break at Vanderbilt and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 32-16 run and provide Ole Miss a 1-point lead. Against Alabama, he led the Rebels from 7 points down with 10:10 left to a 75-69 win, scoring 11 of the team's final 12 points. Sanders’ latest heroics occurred in the home victory over LSU, when he scored 7 points during the team’s game-ending 12-5 run, including the go-ahead jumper with less than a second left for the 71-70 win ... At one point this year, Sanders hit 11 straight shots, posting a perfect second half against UIC and connecting on his first five attempts against Alabama A&M. In the win over UIC, Sanders connected on 4-of-6 treys in leading the Rebels with 20, and he netted his first four 3s in scoring 23 against Alabama A&M. Sanders drilled 4-of-7 treys in pouring in 22 points against Louisiana-Lafayette, and he struck for a team-high 21 against Fairfield and 20 against Nicholls. Brian Smith: The junior guard was a hero in the LSU win. Down by a point with the Tigers burning the clock, Smith got the steal with 6 seconds left that led to Clarence Sanders’ game-winning basket. Smith also deflected LSU’s inbound pass on their last-second possession ... Smith is shooting 50.0 percent (11-of-22) and 47.1 percent (8-of-17) in 3-pointers in league play. He has scored 5 or more points in four games, including last Saturday’s Arkansas game with 5 in 14 minutes of action. Smith played 18 minutes at Mississippi State and was 2-for-2 from the field in scoring 5 points. He also came off the bench to hit a key trey with 8:11 left in the home win over Arkansas, and was 2-for-2 from behind the arc during the Rebels' 29-11 second-half comeback at Florida. In addition, he was 2-for-2 for 5 points against Tennessee, and hit a crucial 3-pointer in the midst of the Rebels' late game-winning rally against Alabama ... Smith earned his second career start at Vanderbilt. He played 19 minutes and collected 3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists ... With starting point guard Todd Abernethy leaving with injury in the game's opening moments, Smith stepped in admirably in the season opener, helping lead the Rebels to the 72-49 victory over Mississippi Valley State. Smith played 21 minutes and recorded career highs of 10 points and 4 rebounds. He connected on 4-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-4 treys. With Abernethy still out, the 5-foot-11 Smith earned his first career start against Louisiana-Lafayette and saw 17 minutes of action.Kenny Williams: The junior forward leads Ole Miss in field goal percentage in SEC games at 57.4 percent ... Williams is 10th in the SEC on the offensive boards (2.41) and 15th in overall rebounding (5.6) ... Williams notched multiple blocked shots in a game for the 10th time this year and for the third straight game with a career-high 3 against Alabama. He is 14th in the SEC in blocks in league play (1.00) ... Williams has scored in double figures in four SEC outings, including at Arkansas where he tallied 10 points, 8 rebounds and a career-high 4 assists. He struck for 10 points and 7 rebounds in the home win over Arkansas, and he amassed 10 points and 6 rebounds on the road against both Vanderbilt and LSU. Williams was also effective against Tennessee with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks ... Williams has turned in two double-doubles, including a 13-point, career-high 13-rebound effort against Alabama A&M. Williams had his best game as a Rebel against Nicholls with his first double-double, posting career highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds. He also hit for 15 points and 6 boards against New Orleans and 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals against Tennessee Tech.
NOTHING FOR FREE Ole Miss has had eight games this season with 10 or less free throw attempts. The Rebels were at the foul line for only 2 shots at LSU and 4 at Saint Louis. Ole Miss was at the stripe only 6 times in two of the last three games. The Rebels currently rank fourth in the SEC in free throw percentage at 70.2. That figure is over 7 points better than last year’s 63.0 percentage and would be the highest since firing at a 72.6 clip in 2002-03. The Ole Miss seniors are leading the charge with Clarence Sanders at 79.5, Bam Doyne at 78.0 and Todd Abernethy at 77.4.
RALLYING REBELS Ole Miss ignited second-half comebacks in three straight games earlier in SEC play and pulled the feat again recently in back-to-back contests. Facing Alabama for the SEC West lead, the Rebels powered from 7 points down with 10:10 left to earn a 75-69 victory. As was the case in the other rallying efforts, Clarence Sanders was a key figure, scoring 11 of the team's final 12 points. The Bama game was the sixth this year when Ole Miss trailed at halftime and came back for the win. In the next game against LSU, the Rebels rallied again, trailing the last nine minutes and by 6 with 5:45 remaining. Ole Miss’ 12-5 final run saw Sanders with a 3-pointer, a dunk and the game-winning jumper with 0.6 seconds left. At Vanderbilt, the Rebels stormed out of the half on a 32-16 run that turned a 15-point deficit into a 1-point advantage with 10:34 left. Ole Miss would retake the lead again later before falling 85-80. Bam Doyne directed the surge with 15 of his 22 after halftime, while Sanders scored 11 and hit consecutive 3s to provide the lead. Prior to facing the Commodores, the Rebels reeled off second-half runs in which they outscored both Florida and Tennessee by 18 points. Sanders had 18 after the break and hit five consecutive shots during a 20-2 second-half explosion against the Vols that shifted a 10-point halftime deficit into a 14-point win. After falling down by 25 points against No. 1 Florida, Ole Miss used a full-court press to begin a 29-11 run on the national champs that narrowed the gap to 7 points. After intermission, Ole Miss had 9 steals and scored 15 points off 12 Gator turnovers. Sanders attacked for 15 points in the second half, and off the bench, Eniel Polynice collected 3 steals and 8 points and Brian Smith was 2-for-2 from 3-point range. After seeing the 7-point deficit balloon again to 13 with 5:44 left, the Rebels stormed back again with three straight baskets to pull back to 7 points. In both instances in which the margin was 7, Ole Miss had a possession to draw even closer.
ABERNETHY EARNS ACADEMIC HONORS, SPEAKS TO LOCAL KIDS In addition to leading Ole Miss to its best season in five years, Todd Abernethy is also doing his fair share of good work off the court, earning academic honors and continuing his charitable service in the community. For the second straight year, Abernethy has been named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VI team, which is voted on by the College Sports Information Directors of America. His name is now on the ballot for Academic All-America. The senior banking and finance major is a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient. Abernethy is also a member of the SEC Good Works Team and recently spoke to the Oxford Boys & Girls Club. The Carmel, Ind., native routinely talks to churches and civic groups and is an active leader in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Abernethy has taken part in numerous fundraisers and participated in mission trips to Brazil and Bermuda.
SIGNIFICANT BLOWOUT The 82-59 final winning margin at Auburn marked the largest for the Rebels in an SEC game since a 84-56 triumph over Alabama on March 3, 2002, and the widest margin on the road in conference play since beating LSU 83-57 on Feb. 18, 1998. It marked Ole Miss' biggest win over Auburn on the Plains and the second-biggest overall against the Tigers. Including Tennessee and Mississippi State, the Rebels have won three SEC games by 12 or more points this season after doing so only twice in the previous four years.
HITTING THE BOARDS The Rebels are fourth in the SEC in offensive rebounds (13.38 per game), and pulled down 21 off the offensive glass at Mississippi State. Dwayne Curtis is the team leader in total rebounds per game (8.8) and ranks fifth in the SEC in league play (8.4). Kenny Williams has also helped lead the charge, ranking 10th in the SEC for the season on the offensive boards (2.4) and 15th in overall rebounding (5.6).