OLE MISS

Opportunity For Rebels This Week

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After road losses at Alabama and Georgia last week, Ole Miss returns to the friendly confines of the Tad Smith Coliseum, where it is 10-3 this season, including 5-0 in conference play.

The Rebels fell 15 spots to No. 66 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (ESPN.com) from last week, but they have two opportunities to enhance their resume this week, as they host No. 18 Kentucky on Tuesday and then No. 2 Florida on Saturday.

It is the first time since the 1998-99 season that Ole Miss has hosted two top-20 teams at home in the same week. Both opponents are also rated in the top 15 of the RPI with Kentucky rated No. 12 and Florida rated No. 4.

"Well, it's out there anyway for sure," said head coach Andy Kennedy of the team's NCAA Tournament bubble status entering the week. "We lost two heartbreakers last week. Really our focus is on winning a game, and Kentucky presents the next opportunity to do that on Tuesday night. We know it's going to be a difficult challenge because we've seen that firsthand a couple weeks ago in Rupp. 

"But for us right now, we've lost two in a row and we're sitting at 16-9 through 25 (games), but those 16 seem like a faint memory simply because we haven't won one in a week. So for us the focus is just on winning a game."

In their first meeting, Kentucky stretched a 35-34 halftime lead to 50-41 with 15:06 left and went on to win 80-64 at Rupp Arena in Lexington on Feb. 4. The Wildcats shot the ball much better in the second half (60 percent, 15-of-25) after shooting 42.3 percent (11-of-26) in the first half.

Kentucky also controlled the paint with a decisive advantage in points in the paint (28-6), second-chance points (14-7), defensive rebounds (12-3) and total rebounds (19-9).

"We stayed around for a while," Kennedy said. "I believe it was a two- or three-possession game maybe until the 10-minute, 12-minute mark of the second half. We couldn't get a rebound, which has really been kind of a broken record for us. But we just could not get a rebound in the second half. We had some dead-ball rebounds, but the first one that an Ole Miss Rebel had I believe was under two minutes to go in the second half."

Marshall Henderson led the Rebels with 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including 4-of-12 from 3-point range in their first meeting. Henderson, the SEC's fourth-leading scorer (19.5 ppg), is coming off his team-leading eighth 20-point game of the season, as he scored a game-high 24 points off the bench in a 61-60 loss at Georgia.

"Henderson at any time can make five straight shots," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. "Can you keep your head about you if he does? And he seems to do it at home more than he does on the road."

"He's taking 12 3s a game," added Kentucky assistant coach John Robic. "But he is shooting a decent percentage with those shots. One of those is going to be from 35 (feet), the other is going to be an inch behind the line. When he makes them, he's really, really good and their team is really, really good. We just can't give him any open looks because he works extremely hard. He never stops moving to get a shot off."

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