No. 15 Rebels Host Defending National Champs

GAME 16: #15/18 Ole Miss (14-1, 1-1) vs. Florida (15-2, 2-0)
January 16, 2008  7 p.m. CT
Oxford, Miss. C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum (8,700)

Live TV: Raycom Sports (Tom Hammond, play-by-play; Larry Conley, analyst). Watch Online
Pay-per-view TV: ESPN Full Court
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst). Listen Online 
XM Radio: Channel 200

 Ole Miss won its SEC home opener 74-71 over LSU Saturday and looks to continue its success at Tad Smith Coliseum in Wednesday’s matchup with the two-time defending national champion Florida Gators. Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren each scored 15 points in a game that saw the Rebels lead by as many as 22 in the second half only to hold off a pesky Tiger squad for the three-point win. The Rebels moved to 8-0 at home this season and 24-1 at home under second-year head coach Andy Kennedy. Ole Miss has not beaten Florida since 2002, while the Gators have racked up the last two national championships. This year’s young squad, which features no starters from last season, is proving itself in the early going by compiling a 15-2 overall record and 2-0 start in league play.

 In his first year at the helm, Andy Kennedy led an underdog Ole Miss squad to the top of the SEC Western Division and an NIT second round appearance en route to SEC Coach of the Year honors. Now in his second season, Kennedy has guided the Rebels, predicted for the second straight season to finish last in the West, to a 14-1 start after a school-record 13 straight wins to open the campaign. He has directed Ole Miss to its first national ranking since finishing No. 9 in the final polls of 2000-01. All this with a team that lost three of its top four scorers from last year and returned just two starters to go with six freshmen and 10 total newcomers.
 Kennedy directed Ole Miss to a 21-13 record in 2006-07, which marked the most wins by a Rebel head coach in his first season at the helm. It was also the most wins by any Rebel team since the 2000-01 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen squad.
 The Louisville, Miss., native was introduced as the 20th head men's basketball coach in the history of the University of Mississippi on March 24, 2006. He spent the 2005-06 season as the interim head coach at the University of Cincinnati, helping the Bearcats to a 21-13 record and NIT Quarterfinals appearance playing a schedule rated fifth-toughest in the nation amid difficult circumstances.
 In his third season as a collegiate head coach, Kennedy owns a record of 56-27 (.675 winning pct.), with a 35-14 (.714 winning pct.) mark with Ole Miss. His .675 career winning percentage is third-best among active SEC coaches.

 Florida has not used losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team as an excuse this season, as the Gators boast a 15-2 overall mark and have started 2-0 in league play with wins at Alabama (90-83) and at home over Auburn (72-56). Florida’s high-powered offensive attack (80.9 ppg) is led by reigning SEC Freshman of the Week point guard Nick Calathes’ 15.2 ppg and sophomore center Marresse Speights’ 14.0 ppg. Calathes also leads the SEC with 5.88 assists per game and Speights pulls down a team-high 7.6 boards per game. The Gator defense has been tough all season, limiting opponents to 61.5 ppg, the second-best mark in the SEC.  Florida leads the league with a +19.4 scoring margin and a .512 field-goal percentage. UF has won four straight since losing 62-49 at Ohio State.

 Today’s game will be the 98th meeting between the two schools. Florida holds a 56-41 lead in the series, which began in 1940, while Ole Miss boasts a 27-19 advantage in Oxford. The Gators have won the last six encounters, including last year’s 79-70 result in Gainesville and 80-59 decision in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta (see page 7).

 Ole Miss has a very strong Sunshine State presence with five players that either hail from or played high school in the state of Florida. Sophomore guard Eniel Polynice is a Sarasota native, while senior forward Kenny Williams is from Miami and played two seasons at St. Petersburg Junior College, and freshman point guard Chris Warren hails from Orlando. A pair of Caribbean natives played high school ball in Florida, including sophomore Puerto Rican David Huertas (Arlington Country Day HS - Jacksonville; University of Florida) and freshman Kevin Cantinol (Calvary Christian HS - Clearwater) from the island of Martinique in the French West Indies.

 Rebel sophomore guard David Huertas will be taking on his former team for the first time since transferring from Florida after the 2005-06 national championship season. The Puerto Rico native inked with Ole Miss in July 2006 and had to sit on the bench for the two UM-UF games last year due to the NCAA transfer rules. Huertas had one of the finest games of his UF freshman campaign in Oxford, starting and notching 9 points and 4 boards against his current club.

 At 14-1, Ole Miss is off to its best start since the 2000-01 NCAA Sweet Sixteen squad also won 14 of its first 15 before a 70-66 loss to Georgia in game 16. The furthest a Rebel team has advanced with one loss is 16-1 by the 1925-26 squad that finished the season at 16-2.

 Wednesday’s 85-83 loss at No. 8 Tennessee snapped Ole Miss’ school-record start at 13-0. That mark surpassed the 1936-37 and 2000-01 teams that reeled off 11 straight wins to open their seasons.

 The Tennessee loss also snapped the school-record win streak of 13. The Rebels’ 86-50 win over Alabama A&M broke the school record for most consecutive wins, topping the previous record of 12 straight wins put up by the 1926 Rebel squad, 82 years ealier.

 Ole Miss has been outstanding at home under head coach Andy Kennedy, compiling a 24-1 record at Tad Smith Coliseum over the last two years. The Rebels enter Wednesday’s contest with a 16-game home court winning streak, which is currently tied with Kansas for the eighth-longest such streak in the nation. Ole Miss’ only home loss under Kennedy was a 68-58 result vs. Kentucky on Jan. 6 last year.

 Ole Miss sits in third place in the SEC West with a 1-1 record very early into league play. With the thrilling victory over Auburn in the 2007 regular season finale, Ole Miss earned the program’s fourth SEC Western Division championship and first since 2001. Ole Miss was picked by the media to finish last in the division again this year, just like last year and 2001. Ole Miss captured consecutive division crowns in 1997 and 1998. The Rebels’ four SEC West titles in the last 11 years is the most of any division rival over that span.

 Ole Miss led by four points with 2:22 left in its SEC opener at No. 8 Tennessee, but the Vols scored the game’s final six points, including Tyler Smith’s game-winning layup with 4.2 seconds left, to hand the Rebels their first loss of the season. An Ole Miss win would have been the first over a top-10 team since an 84-56 thrashing of No. 6 Alabama on March 3, 2002 in Oxford. The last Rebel victory over a top 10 opponent on the road came in Lexington on Feb. 14, 1998, when the No. 18 Rebels upended the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats 73-64.

 Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC and ninth nationally in scoring with 85.2 points per game. The Rebels also rank third in the SEC with a +14.7 scoring margin. The Rebels have scored 80+ points in 10 of their first 15 contests, including two of their last three.
 Ole Miss topped 100 points for the second time this year with a 102-76 victory over Troy on Nov. 27. It is the first time Ole Miss has topped the century mark twice in a season since the 1998-99 campaign. The 108 points in the Nov. 16 win over Lamar were the most in a game since Ole Miss beat Prairie View A&M 111-50 on Dec. 29, 1998.

 With a pair of senior big men leading the way, Ole Miss has established itself as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. The Rebels rank first in the SEC and seventh nationally with 42.6 rebounds per contest, while also boasting the SEC’s top rebounding margin at +7.5 (19th in nation). Ole Miss has not been out-rebounded yet this season.
 On the individual level, Kenny Williams grabs a team-high 8.4 boards per contest, good for third in the league. The senior forward from Miami has posted four double-doubles this season, including 10 points and 12 rebounds against LSU Saturday.
 Senior center Dwayne Curtis is averaging 8.2 boards per game, good for fifth in the conference. The Chicago native ranks first in the SEC and 15th in the nation with 3.8 offensive boards per game and second in the league with six double-doubles. He has notched 22 double-doubles in his Rebel career.

 At No. 15 in the latest CBS simulated RPI (ratings percentage index) rankings, Ole Miss is doing pretty well for a team that was predicted to finish as low as No. 143 in the nation by one preseason publication. The Rebels range from 15th to 20th in various simulated RPI polls this week.

 Ole Miss is a perfect 13-0 against non-conference opponents this season, with just one non-league matchup remaining, vs. Presbyterian on Feb. 11. The only Rebel squad to ever go undefeated in its regular-season non-conference schedule is the 1948-49 team that was 4-0 outside of league play en route to an 8-13 overall record.

 Ole Miss is ranked for the fourth straight time, this week at No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and No. 18 in the Associated Press poll. Ole Miss is one of three SEC teams ranked this week, including No. 6/7 Tennessee and No. 14/16 Vanderbilt. Ole Miss had been receiving votes for three weeks prior to their first ranking.
 Prior to this season, the Rebels were last ranked in the final polls of 2000-01, when they appeared as high as No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings following their NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance.

 With the start of SEC play also comes the start of Ole Miss’ live call-in radio show “Reb Talk with Andy Kennedy” hosted by award-winning Ole Miss radio announcer David Kellum. Kicking off this week, the show will air Thursdays from 7-8 p.m. live from the Library Sports Bar and Grill in Oxford.

 "Ole Miss Basketball with Andy Kennedy", which received a Telly Award for its outstanding broadcast last season, returns this Friday with the second of eight shows during the SEC schedule. The 30-minute weekly program will air Fridays at 3 p.m. CT on CSS and the premium website. Hosted by the "Voice of the Rebels" David Kellum, the show includes analysis and strategy from Kennedy, as well as highlights of the previous week's action and a preview of the upcoming opponents. The show is produced by Ole Miss Sports Productions, and J. Stern serves as Executive Producer and Raphael Henry as Producer. Shane Sanford is the Director.

 Ole Miss recently broke into the NCAA Tournament Bracketology projections by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This week the analyst has Ole Miss seeded No. 7 in the South region. It is the Rebels’ second appearance on Lunardi’s list this season.

  Ole Miss’ game vs. Florida televised by Raycom Sports will be the fifth TV appearance this year and the third of five straight after seeing a school-record 22 games televised a year ago. Ole Miss is slated to play at least 14 games on TV this year, which will mark the 10th straight season that the Rebels played 10 or more TV games.

 Ole Miss ranks at or near the top of the conference in several statistical categories. The Rebels own the league’s top mark in rebounding (42.6/game), rebounding margin (+7.5) and offensive rebounds (16.13/game), while ranking second in turnover margin (+3.47) and defensive rebounds (26.47/game). Individually, Dwayne Curtis tops the conference with a .664 field-goal percentage and 3.8 offensive rebounds per game. Chris Warren ranks second with 2.93 3-pointers per game and third with 5.13 assists per game. Kenny Williams grabs the third-most rebounds in the league at 8.4/game.

 In addition to providing senior leadership for the one-loss Rebels, center Dwayne Curtis has produced an outstanding senior season stats-wise thus far. Curtis ranks second on the team and 15th in the SEC with 14.9 ppg and ranks fifth in the SEC with 8.2 rebounds per game. The Chicago native leads the league and ranks fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage, hitting shots at a 67.2 percent clip. Curtis has shot 80 percent or better from the field in seven games, including 4-of-5 vs. MVSU, 3-of-3 vs. South Alabama, 8-of-9 vs. Lamar, 8-of-10 vs. New Mexico, 10-of-12 vs. Winthrop, 5-of-6 vs. Alabama A&M and 5-of-6 vs. LSU.
 Curtis has posted double-figure points in all but one game (8 vs. Lousiana-Monroe) and grabbed 10 or more rebounds in six contests.

 Freshman point guard Chris Warren has been a tremendous addition to the Rebels this season after the departure of All-SEC floor general Todd Abernethy. The rookie leads Ole Miss in scoring, assists, three-pointers and minutes played. He ranks second in the SEC and 46th in the nation with 2.93 three’s per game, third in the SEC and 47th in the nation in assists (5.13/game) and 11th in the league in scoring (15.8 ppg). He also ranks eighth in the SEC with a 37.6 three-point percentage and ninth with a 1.79 assist-turnover ratio.
 The Orlando native is the only Rebel to have put up double-figure points in every game this season, and he has dished out 5 or more assists in nine contests. He is averaging 18.2 ppg over the last six contests, including a season-high 24-point outburst at No. 8 Tennessee and 15 more vs. LSU. He has already earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors twice and was named the MVP of the San Juan Shootout.

 Ole Miss has displayed a variety of ways from up and down its roster to amass 85.2 points per game through 15 contests. Five different Rebels currently average eight or more points, and eight Rebels average in double-figure minutes. The Rebels have seen five different players lead the team in scoring among the 14 contests. They aren’t afraid to dish out a pass, ranking fourth in the SEC with 17.6 assists.

 When running an up-tempo style of offense, much of the success is determined by how many turnovers the defense can create and how few turnovers the offense commits. Ole Miss has done an outstanding job in both facets through 15 games, as the Rebels rank fourth in the SEC with 16.3 turnovers forced, fifth with 12.9 turnovers committed and second with a +3.47 turnover ratio. Ole Miss also boasts the league’s third-best assist-turnover ratio at 1.37 (264 A, 193 TO).
 Overall, Ole Miss has forced 20 or more turnovers four times and committed 10 or less on five occasions. The Rebels have lost the turnover battle just four times this season, 16-15 in a win over South Alabama, 21-20 in a win over New Mexico, 10-9 in the loss at No. 8 Tennessee and 9-8 in a win over LSU. The Rebels had a feast with Louisiana-Monroe, creating 31 Warhawk turnovers and giving up the ball just eight times.

 Sophomore guard Eniel Polynice has put up big numbers in several columns of the stat sheet this season. He ranks 25th in the SEC with 12.8 points per game and also ranks among the league leaders in rebounds (19th at 5.5/game) assists (8th at 4.1/game) and steals (8th at 1.9/game).
 Polynice most recently netted 15 points and pulled down six rebounds vs. LSU and poured in 20 points, grabbed eight boards and dished out four assists at No. 8 Tennessee. He had an outstanding game against Southern Miss with a near triple-double of 14 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and a career-high nine assists. He also shattered several career highs with his stellar performance in the Nov. 13 win over South Alabama, including career bests of 28 points and seven 3-pointers.

 One of several freshmen and newcomers contributing for the Rebels this year, guard Trevor Gaskins has made a big impact in the early season. The Alpharetta, Ga., native ranks 14th in the league with 1.87 three’s made per game.
 Gaskins got off to a furious start to his Ole Miss career in the season opener. He finished one 3-pointer shy of the school record with seven treys on 10 attempts, but did collect the freshman record previously held by Josh Hayes, who stroked six three’s against Troy State on Dec. 18, 2000 and Joe Harvell, who had six vs. Kentucky on Jan. 27, 1990. The Ole Miss record of eight was set by Keith Carter against Prairie View A&M on Dec. 29, 1998.

Zach Graham: An “explosive scorer” according to Kennedy, the rookie from Suwanee, Ga., has proved that true by averaging 5.7 points in 11.3 minutes per game. Posted double figure points in back-to-back games vs. Lamar (12) and Louisiana-Monroe (13). Poured in all nine of his points at UCF in the first half. Scored eight points with four free-throws vs. USM. Posted six points and a season-high six boards vs. Alabama A&M.
David Huertas: The Puerto Rican has posted double figure points in five of the last seven games. He has hit at least one three-pointer in each of the last eight games. He tied a career high when he poured in a game-high 17 points against Alabama A&M. Nailed a career-high five 3-pointers vs. the Bulldogs. Scored 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds vs. La Salle and Clemson. Had 12 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals against Southern Miss. The long-range threat made back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half to close a 7-point deficit to just one in the win over Winthrop. He also scored 17 points vs. ULM.
Jermey Parnell: Suffered a high ankle sprain in the second half of the Tennessee game and missed the LSU game. He is day-to-day. Started the first three games of the season and came off the bench for the next nine before starting the next two. In just seven minutes of action at No. 8 Tennessee, made three big blocks to tie a career high. Also posted three blocked shots in a season-high 22 minutes against La Salle. Season-high 12 points on 6-of-7 from the field vs. Troy.
Brian Smith: Senior point guard is averaging 9.7 minutes per game in a reserve role behind Chris Warren. Tied a career high with three steals vs. Alabama A&M. Made two big three-pointers to help extend a Rebel lead in the win over Southern Miss. Season-high 17 minutes and three assists vs. South Alabama.
Terrence Watson: A very long, athletic forward, Watson has 10 blocks in limited action in 11 games. The JC transfer earned the starting nod and logged a season-high 19 minutes vs. Lamar. Swatted four shots against Louisiana-Monroe.
Malcolm White: Sensational freshman leaper saw first significant action filling in for Parnell vs. LSU. Scored a season-high 12 points with 6 rebounds in 21 minutes vs. the Tigers. Made 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 free throws in the game. Saw his previous most action with 14 minutes vs. Troy and put up 6 points and 6 rebounds. Had two huge dunks in that game. Has scored 12 of his 34 points this season on dunks.

 Over the last decade, the "Tad Pad" proved to be one of the toughest arenas in the nation for opposing teams to play, and second-year head coach Andy Kennedy has only added to that success. Ole Miss owns a 24-1 record at Tad Smith Coliseum since Kennedy took the reins last season. Last year’s 16-1 mark established an arena record for single-season wins. Kennedy’s club inspired a huge homecourt advantage during SEC play, averaging 8,241 fans and drawing a record crowd of 9,452 for the victory over No. 18 Alabama. Saturday’s game against LSU saw the Tad Pad’s second-highest attendance ever with 9,328 fans. Ole Miss has won 155 of its last 188 games (.824 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 390-180 (.684 winning percentage) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in the 1965-66 season.

 For the second time this season, Rebel point guard Chris Warren was named the SEC Freshman of the Week, as announced by the league office on Dec. 24. The 5-foot-10 guard received San Juan Shootout MVP distinction after scoring 41 of his 49 points in the second half of the three Rebel wins in Puerto Rico. He poured in 19 points against both La Salle and Clemson, while adding nine assists and just two turnovers against the Explorers. In Saturday's 85-82 win over previously unbeaten No. 15 Clemson, Warren tallied eight of the Rebels' 10 points in the final four minutes to claim the tournament championship.

 After garnering SEC Player of the Week accolades on Dec. 17, senior center Dwayne Curtis was honored as National Player of the Week on Dec. 24 by Curtis poured in 19 points and had nine rebounds in the final against No. 15 Clemson, and he put up 21 points and seven boards against DePaul and 14 and five against La Salle. Curtis shot 61 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free-throw line in the three games.

 With wins over DePaul, La Salle and No. 15 Clemson, Ole Miss claimed the 2007 San Juan Shootout title. The championship game vs. the previously unbeaten Tigers saw Ole Miss earn a victory over its first ranked foe of the season and move to 11-0. Freshman point guard Chris Warren was named the Tournament MVP with 19 points in each of the last two games. Senior center Dwayne Curtis also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team after averaging a team-high 18.0 points over three games.

 After scoring 22 points with 11 rebounds and helping Ole Miss to a 76-71 win over Winthrop, senior center Dwayne Curtis was tabbed as the SEC Player of the Week on Dec. 17. Curtis posted his fourth double-double in the last six games and collected season highs in points and rebounds vs. the Eagles. He finished three points shy of his career high and made good on 10-of-12 from the floor. It was the second weekly honor for a Rebel this season and the second career honor for Curtis, who was the SEC POW on Jan. 7, 2006 after leading Ole Miss to a win at Alabama with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

 Point guard Chris Warren earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Dec. 3 after averaging team highs of 19.5 points and 7.5 assists in two contests. The speedy rookie set career highs with 23 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double in the 102-76 win over Troy. He hit 5-of-9 from behind the arc and directed a 25-0 run at the beginning of the second half to put the game out of reach. He also contributed 16 points, five assists and three steals, with just two turnovers, in a game-high 35 minutes of action in the 85-77 victory over UNM.

 Rebel fans can catch the Ole Miss basketball teams in action on this season, as the Rebels’ official website will air live webcasts of four men’s games and six women’s games.
 In addition, premium subscribers can view replays of all men’s and women’s home games on-demand. Replays will be available at 8 a.m. CST the following day per Southeastern Conference regulations.
 Remaining on the live schedule of men’s games is the Presbyterian College contest on Jan. 11.
 As part of their trip to the Mississippi state capital, the Ole Miss players, coaches and staff visited the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center while in Jackson for the Winthrop game. The Rebels played games and handed out posters and basketballs while visiting with kids at the hospital before their open practice and autograph session later that day.

 Senior center Dwayne Curtis has established himself as one of the top post men in the Southeastern Conference and has been named to the preseason All-SEC second team by the media and league coaches. He was also rated the SEC’s “Most Underrated” by The Sporting News. The Chicago, Ill., native averaged 12.2 points and 8.3 rebounds for last year’s SEC Western Division champions. At 6-foot-8 and 262 pounds, Curtis has been the Rebels’ top rebounder in each of his two years in Oxford. In his sophomore year he put up team highs of 13.6 points and 7.6 boards per game in garnering All-SEC honorable mention status from the Associated Press.



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