GAME 17: #15/18 Ole Miss (15-1, 2-1) at Auburn (10-5, 1-2)
January 19, 2008 4 p.m. CT
Auburn, Ala. Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum (10,500)
Live TV: FSN South (Rich Waltz, play-by-play; Barry Booker, analyst)
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 199 (Ole Miss feed)
REBELS TRAVEL TO DIVISIONAL RIVAL
Coming off Wednesday’s hard-fought 89-87 victory over defending national champion Florida, Ole Miss will make its first trip of the season to an SEC Western Division rival with Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Auburn. At 15-1, the Rebels are off to their best start since the 1925-26 squad began 16-1. Ole Miss is 2-1 in league play while trying to defend last year’s SEC West title campaign in which the Rebels compiled an 8-8 league record. Dwayne Curtis paced the Rebels with 20 points and 12 rebounds against the Gators to post his seventh double-double, second most in the SEC. Trevor Gaskins racked up 19 points with several big shots to stave off Gator runs in the second half. Auburn won at LSU 74-67 Wednesday, but had lost its previous three games to Xavier, Arkansas and Florida.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Auburn enters the weekend with a 10-5 overall record and 1-2 mark in the SEC after their most recent victory, a 74-67 win over LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have lost to Arkansas and Florida in league play. The Tigers rely on a stout defense allowing 67.1 ppg to opponents while racking up 9.5 steals per game, second-most in the SEC. Auburn features four players that average double-figure points, led by Quan Prowell and Korvotney Barber with 13.8 each and Rasheem Barrett with 13.5. Barber is currently out with a broken hand. Leading the charge defensively are DeWayne Reed and Quantez Robertson, who rank second and third in the SEC with 2.5 and 2.2 steals per game, respectively. Jeff Lebo is 53-53 since taking over the Auburn helm in 2004. He guided the Tigers to a 17-15 mark (7-9 SEC) last season.
OLE MISS-AUBURN SERIES
Saturday’s game will be the 115th meeting between the two schools, with the Tigers holding an all-time series lead of 68-46. Ole Miss holds an 8-6 edge in the last 14 meetings and beat the Tigers in both meetings last year (82-59 at Auburn and 83-79 on Senior Day in Oxford). Ole Miss swept the 2004-05 season series, but Auburn came back to take both meetings in 2005-06.
The Tigers own a 46-13 advantage in Auburn, but Ole Miss has won two of the last three meetings at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The Rebels’ starting center will be battling a familiar foe this weekend. Senior Dwayne Curtis spent his freshman season at Auburn in 2003-04, before transferring to Ole Miss in May 2004. Curtis played in 19 games, starting five, in his one year on the Plains and tallied 11 points and 6 rebounds at Arkansas and 10 points and 9 boards at Mississippi State.
In addition, Rebel senior Kenny Williams signed with Auburn out of high school as part of the Tigers’ 2003 football recruiting class. A first-team all-county tight end from Miami, Williams opted for hoops instead at St. Petersburg Community College.
BEST START SINCE 1925-26
At 15-1, Ole Miss is off to its best start since the 1925-26 squad piled up 15 wins in its first 16 games as well. That Rebel team (which averaged 40.6 points per game) started 16-1 before losing its final game of the year to North Carolina in the Southern Conference Tournament to finish at 16-2.
OLE MISS GETS BY DEFENDING CHAMPS
The Rebels put another notch in their ever-growing NCAA Tournament rsum with an 89-87 win over two-time defending national champion Florida Wednesday night. It was the Rebels’ first win over Florida since 2002 after failing the last six tries. It took a gritty battle to tough out the two-point win as the Gators made several second-half runs and Ole Miss had a hard time from the charity stripe, hitting just 7-of-13 free throws in the final 2:17. Freshman Trevor Gaskins knocked down several key shots in the second half en route to his 19 points, while senior center Dwayne Curtis was steady as ever with game highs of 20 points (8-of-9 FGs) and 12 rebounds.
SCHOOL-RECORD 13-0 START SNAPPED
An 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. Ole Miss was one of six unbeaten teams left in the nation at the time of the loss.
SCHOOL-RECORD WIN STREAK ENDS
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. The streak is the seventh-longest in the nation this year.
REBELS DEFENDING SEC WEST TITLE
Ole Miss sits in second place in the SEC West with a 2-1 record 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.
REBELS NEAR TOP OF NATION IN SCORING
Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC and seventh nationally in scoring with 85.4 points per game. The Rebels also rank third in the SEC with a +13.9 scoring margin. The Rebels have scored 80+ points in 11 of their first 16 contests, including three of their last four. Ole Miss is on pace to rack up the second-highest scoring average in school history, behind the 1970-71 team’s 90.8 ppg and in front of the 1974-75 squad’s 81.6 average.
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.
BANGING THE BOARDS
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 second in the SEC and eighth nationally with 42.2 rebounds per contest, while also boasting the SEC’s third-best rebounding margin at +6.8. Ole Miss was out-rebounded for the first time this season by a 39-36 against Florida.
On the individual level, senior center Dwayne Curtis is averaging a team-high 8.4 boards per game, good for third in the conference. The Chicago native ranks first in the SEC and 13th in the nation with 3.9 offensive boards per game and second in the league with seven double-doubles, including his 20-point, 12-rebound performance vs. Florida. He has notched 23 double-doubles in his Rebel career.
Kenny Williams grabs 8.2 boards per contest, good for fourth in the league. The senior forward from Miami has posted four double-doubles this season, including 10 points and 12 rebounds against LSU Saturday.
At No. 10 in the latest CBS Sportsline.com 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 10th to 15th 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 RANKED AFTER 7-YEAR DROUGHT
Ole Miss is ranked for the fourth straight week, 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.
REBELS NEARLY KNOCK OFF NO. 8 VOLS
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.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Ole Miss’ game vs. Auburn televised by FSN South will be the sixth TV appearance this year and the fourth 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.
LEADING THE SEC
Ole Miss ranks at or near the top of the conference in several statistical categories. The Rebels own the league’s top mark in offensive rebounds (15.75/game), while ranking second in rebounds (42.2/game) and defensive rebounds (26.44/game). They also sit in third in rebounding margin, turnover margin, scoring offense, scoring margin, 3-pointers made and assist/turnover ratio. Individually, Dwayne Curtis tops the conference with a .686 field-goal percentage and 3.9 offensive rebounds per game, while posting the third-most rebounds per game at 8.4. Chris Warren ranks second with 5.44 assists per game.
HE CAN'T MISS (MUCH)
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 14th in the SEC with 15.2 ppg and ranks third in the SEC with 8.4 rebounds per game. The Chicago native leads the league and ranks fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage, hitting shots at a 68.6 percent clip. Curtis has shot 80 percent or better from the field in eight 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, 5-of-6 vs. LSU and 8-of-9 vs. Florida.
Curtis has posted double-figure points in all but one game (8 vs. Lousiana-Monroe) and grabbed 10 or more rebounds in seven contests. His seven double-doubles rank second in the SEC.
FABULOUS FRESHMAN FLOOR GENERAL
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 (15.3 ppg), assists (5.44/game), three-pointers (2.75/game) and minutes played (29.5/game). He ranks second in the SEC and 38th in the nation in assists, while draining the fourth-most three’s per game in the league. He ranks 12th in the league in scoring, eighth with a 1.93 assist-turnover ratio and ninth with a 35.8 three-point percentage.
The Orlando native finished below 10 points for the first time this season with 8 vs. Florida. His 10 assists vs. the Gators, however, gives him 5 or more dishes in 10-of-16 contests. It was his second 10-assist performance of the year (Troy). He is averaging 16.7 ppg over the last seven 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.
SHARING THE LOAD
Ole Miss has displayed a variety of ways from up and down its roster to amass 85.4 points per game through 16 contests. Six 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 16 contests. They aren’t afraid to dish out a pass, ranking fourth in the SEC with 17.6 assists.
WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE
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 16 games, as the Rebels rank fourth in the SEC with 16.1 turnovers forced, fourth with 12.8 turnovers committed and third with a +3.25 turnover ratio. Ole Miss also boasts the league’s third-best assist-turnover ratio at 1.38 (282 A, 205 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.
POLYNICE FILLING IT UP
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 12.9 points per game and also ranks among the league leaders in rebounds (21st at 5.3/game) assists (9th at 4.1/game) and steals (8th at 1.9/game).
Polynice recently 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.
GASKINS MAKES SPLASH AS ROOKIE
One of several freshmen and newcomers contributing for the Rebels this year, guard Trevor Gaskins has made a big impact with his ability to hit from long range. The Alpharetta, Ga., native ranks 12th in the league with 1.94 three’s made per game.
Gaskins loomed large in the Rebels’ 89-87 win over Florida Wednesday with 19 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from behind the arc, including several big shots to halt Gator runs in the second half. He 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.
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
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 eight games. He has hit at least one three-pointer in each of the last nine 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: Returned to the court against Florida after missing just one game with a high ankle sprain. 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 9.4 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. Swatted a career-high three shots against Florida. 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 36 points this season on dunks.
PACKING THE PAD
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 25-1 record at Tad Smith Coliseum since Kennedy took the reins last season. The Oxford crowds have jumped on board, too. Saturday’s game against LSU saw the Tad Pad’s second-highest attendance ever with 9,328 fans and the Florida game crowd of 9,304 ranks sxith in arena annals.
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.
Ole Miss has won 156 of its last 189 games (.825 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 391-180 (.685 winning percentage) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in the 1965-66 season.
WARREN GRABS 2ND SEC FRESHMAN HONOR
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 title.
CURTIS TABBED NATIONAL PLAYER OF WEEK
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 CollegeHoops.net. 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.
REBELS CLAIM SAN JUAN SHOOTOUT TITLE
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.
CURTIS NAMED SEC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
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.
WARREN TABBED SEC FRESHMAN OF WEEK
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.
OLE MISS VISITS CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
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.
CURTIS TABBED PRESEASON ALL-SEC
Senior center Dwayne Curtis has established himself as one of the top post men in the SEC 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 West champions.