Ole Miss Basketball Heads West For Division Showdown in Fayetteville
GAME 21: Ole Miss (16-4, 3-4) at Arkansas (16-5, 5-2)
February 9, 2008  4 p.m. CT
Fayetteville, Ark.  Bud Walton Arena (19,200)

Live TV: SportSouth (Ron Thulin, play-by-play; Jan van Breda Kolff, 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 201 (Ole Miss feed), Channel 200 (Arkansas feed)

 Two of the top three teams in the SEC West will meet when third-place Ole Miss travels to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on second-place Arkansas on Saturday. Both teams sit just outside the nation’s top 25 this week, with the Rebels at 27th/28th (AP/Coaches) and the Razorbacks at 29th in both polls. Ole Miss hits the road after dropping its first home contest of the year with an 80-77 loss to South Carolina last Saturday, despite senior center Dwayne Curtis tying his career high with 25 points and posting his 10th double of the year by adding 10 rebounds. Ole Miss, with the second-best offense in the league (83.2 ppg) pits itself against the SEC’s second-best defense (63.7 ppg allowed) in this weekend’s tangle.

 John Pelphrey’s Razorbacks have won their last three contests to move into a tie for first place in the SEC West with a 5-2 league record (16-5 overall). After starting SEC play 2-2, Arkansas has won at LSU and upset a pair of ranked teams in #25 Mississippi State and #19 Florida. As a team, the Hogs rank second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 63.7 points per game. They also force the most turnovers  for their opponents, averaging 16.5 takeaways. Sonny Weems, the SEC’s reigning Player of the Week, tops the squad with 14.5 points per contest, while Patrick Beverley (12.0), Darian Townes (10.9) and Charles Thomas (10.4) all contribute in double figures, as well. Townes and Gary Ervin (9.0 ppg) are non-starters that put in 20+ minutes per game. Ervin is the team’s top assist man averaging 3.4 per game, while the 6-foot-1 guard Beverley tops the squad with 6.9 boards.

 Saturday's game will be the 61st meeting between the two schools, with the Razorbacks holding an all-time series lead of 39-21. The series began in 1937. Since Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference in the 1991-92 season, the series is even at 16-16. Ole Miss has won 13 of the last 19 meetings against the Razorbacks, while the teams split the season series the last two years with each winning on its homecourt. Arkansas holds a 13-6 series lead in games played in Fayetteville, but holds a narrow 6-5 edge in the last 11 encounters in Bud Walton Arena.

 Ole Miss certainly holds a strong connection with the nearby western state of Arkansas. The Rebels have sported 15 Arkansas natives on their roster since 1998-99, including current senior forward Jermey Parnell (Gosnell). Other notable Rebels from Arkansas include Bam Doyne (Little Rock), Jason Smith (Wheatley), Keith Carter (Perryville), Jason Flannigan (Little Rock) and Jason Harrison (Little Rock).

 A few Razorbacks have close ties with the state of Mississippi, most notably Arkansas assistant and former Ole Miss head coach Rob Evans. Evans manned the Rebel bench from 1992-93 to 1997-98, amassing an 86-81 record and guiding Ole Miss to NCAA Tournament berths in 1997 and 98 and SEC West titles both of those years, as well. He was the 97 SEC Coach of the Year (Associated Press) and was tabbed National Coach of the Year by College Hoops Insider. He has not faced the Rebels on the court since his departure from Oxford in 1998 and an eight-year tenure as the head coach at Arizona State.
 Another Razorback assistant, Isaac Brown, is a Pascagoula native and graduate of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, while he also coached at Pearl River CC and Pascagoula HS. Senior forward Charles Thomas is a Jackson native. Senior guard Gary Ervin spent two seasons at Mississippi State before moving on to Fayetteville, while sophomore forward Michael Washington attended Genesis One Christian School in Mendenhall, Miss., the same prep school as current Rebel freshman Malcolm White.

 Saturday’s matchup features the two youngest men’s basketball head coaches in the SEC with 39-year-olds Andy Kennedy and John Pelphrey. Kennedy, born March 13, 1968, is four months older than Pelphrey, whose birthday is July 18. The Rebels’ coach is 58-30 (.659 winning pct.) in his third season as a Division I head coach, while the Razorbacks’ top man is 96-72 (.571 pct.) in his sixth campaign.

 Saturday’s game features a pair of teams looking to inch back into the top 25. After being ranked for six straight weeks, Ole Miss received the 27th-most votes in the AP poll and the 28th-most in the ESPN/Coaches poll this week. Arkansas was ranked for the first two weeks of the season and has received votes off-and-on throughout the campaign. The Hogs have the 29th-most votes in both polls this week.

 Ole Miss’ 16-4 record is its best start through 20 games since the 2001-02 squad also went 16-4. The only other Rebel teams to have fewer than five losses through 20 games were the 2000-01 team (16-4) and the 1936-37 squad’s school-record mark of 17-3.

 At No. 20 in the latest CBS Sportsline.com and Kenpom.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 20th to 22nd in various simulated RPI polls this week.

 Senior center Dwayne Curtis tied his career high with 25 points against South Carolina on Saturday to become the 30th member of the Rebels’ 1,000-Point Club. He enters the Arkansas game with 1,011 points at Ole Miss. The Chicago native is the 20th Rebel to amass 1,000 or more points in three seasons or less. He currently averages a career-high 15.1 ppg after scoring 13.6 and 12.2 points his sophomore and junior years. Including his freshman season at Auburn (55 points in 19 games), Curtis has scored 1,066 points in his college career.

 Hitting shots at an alarmingly high rate, senior center Dwayne Curtis leads the SEC and entered the week ranked second in the nation with a 67.8 field-goal percentage. The nation’s leader is 7-foot-7 UNC Asheville center Kenny George (70.8 pct.). Curtis’ percentage of 67.8 is on pace to shatter Marcus Hicks’ school record of 63.8 set in 1998-99. Curtis has shot 80 percent or better from the field in nine games, including his most recent 11-for-13 performance to tie a career high with 25 points against South Carolina.

 At 6-foot-8 and 262 pounds, senior center Dwayne Curtis has long been known as a big body who can create space to rebound and score in the post, but he has taken his talents to another level in league play this year. After seven SEC games, Curtis is tied with Alabama’s Richard Hendrix for the league lead with five double-doubles, while Curtis’ 10 double-doubles in all games rank second behind Hendrix’s 12. Curtis has posted 26 double-doubles in his Rebel career. He had seven as a sophomore and nine last season.
 The Chicago native currently averages career highs of 15.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg, which rank 15th and 2nd in the SEC, respectively. Curtis pulls down 4.3 offensive boards per game, tops in the SEC and 6th-most in the country.

 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 (16.0 ppg), assists (5.2/game), three-pointers (2.9/game) and minutes played (30.6/game). He ranks third in the SEC and 48th in the nation in assists, while draining the fourth-most three’s per game in the league, good for 49th in the country. He ranks 11th in the league in scoring and sixth with a 1.81 assist-turnover ratio.
 The Orlando native has scored in double figures in all but one game (8 vs. Florida). He has dished out 5 or more assists in 11-of-20 contests. Warren dropped in 20 points vs. Vanderbilt for his fourth 20+ game of the year. He scored a career-high 25 points at Auburn and tied Trevor Gaskins’ Ole Miss freshman record with seven treys. He is averaging a team-high 17.3 ppg in SEC contests. He has earned two SEC Freshman of the Week honors and was named the MVP of the San Juan Shootout.

 Point guard Chris Warren has not been shy when it comes to shooting from behind the arc this season. The rookie has netted 58 triples on 157 attempts through 20 games, which both already rank 10th-most in a season in school history. He has hit at least two three’s in all but three games this year. At his current pace of 2.9 per game, Warren has a chance to break Clarence Sanders’ school record of 96 treys set last year.  

 Ole Miss ranks at or near the top of the conference in several statistical categories. The Rebels own the league’s top mark in rebounds (42.2/game), rebounding margin (+7.0) and offensive rebounds (16.2/game), while ranking second in scoring offense (83.2 ppg) and defensive rebounds (26.1/game). They also sit in third in scoring margin, turnover margin, 3-pointers made and assist/turnover ratio. Individually, Dwayne Curtis tops the conference with a .678 field-goal percentage and 4.3 offensive rebounds per game, while posting the second-most total rebounds per game at 8.9. Chris Warren ranks third with 5.15 assists per game and fourth with 2.9 three-pointers per contest.

 Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC and eighth nationally in scoring with 83.2 points per game. The Rebels have scored 80+ points in 11 of their 20 contests. Their 77.4 average in SEC play ranks third among league schools. 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.

 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 top the SEC and rank eighth nationally with 42.2 rebounds per game, while also boasting the SEC’s top rebounding margin at +7.0 (19th in nation). Ole Miss also leads the league with 16.2 offensive boards per game, having grabbed 20+ offensive boards six times, including three times in league play. The Rebels have been out-rebounded just twice all year.
 On the individual level, senior center Dwayne Curtis is averaging a team-high 8.9 boards per game, second-most in the SEC. Kenny Williams grabs 7.7 boards per contest, good for seventh in the league. The senior forward from Miami has posted five double-doubles this season, most recently 10 points and 10 boards vs. Vanderbilt.

 Ole Miss is 2-1 this season against teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game after last Wednesday’s 74-58 victory over No. 18 Vanderbilt. Ole Miss upended No. 15 Clemson 85-82 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before falling 85-83 at No. 8 Tennessee. The Rebels have defeated a pair of ranked opponents for the first time since 2002-03, when they prevailed over No. 13 Alabama and No. 23 LSU and went 2-8 against ranked foes that year.

 Ole Miss sits in third place in the SEC West with a 3-4 record seven games into its division title defense. 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.

 After seven games of the conference schedule a year ago, Ole Miss was 2-5 and on the brink of a four-game win streak that helped propel them to an 8-8 final record and a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.

 Sophomore guard Eniel Polynice has put up big numbers in several columns of the stat sheet this season. He ranks 27th in the SEC with 12.6 points per game and also ranks among the league leaders in rebounds (20th at 5.4/game) assists (9th at 3.9/ game), steals (6th at 1.8/game), field-goal percentage (12th at .457) and assist-turnover ratio (8th at 1.73).
 Polynice recently posted 18 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks vs. Vanderbilt. He poured in 20 points, grabbed 8 boards and dished out 4 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 9 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 with his ability to hit from long range. The Alpharetta, Ga., native ranks 13th in the league with 1.85 three’s made per game.
 Gaskins loomed large in the Rebels’ 89-87 win over Florida 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 on Dec. 29, 1998.

Zach Graham: Scored 9 points against Vanderbilt and a season-high 14 against South Carolina in his first two starts of the season. An “explosive scorer” according to Kennedy, the rookie from Suwanee, Ga., has proved that true by averaging 6.5 points in 12.9 minutes per game. Had 12 points and 7 rebounds at Auburn. 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.
David Huertas: The Puerto Rican hit at least one three-pointer in nine straight games from 12/21 to 1/16. Broke out of a 3-game slump with 13  points and 3-of-5 from behind the arc against South Carolina. He tied a career high when he poured in a game-high 17 points against Alabama A&M. Nailed a career-high 5 3-pointers vs. the Bulldogs. Scored 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds vs. La Salle and Clemson. Had 12 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 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: Has missed five of the last six games with a high ankle sprain. Injured his ankle in the second half at Tennessee and returned to play limited minutes vs. Florida. He is questionable for the Arkansas game. 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 9.2 minutes per game in a reserve role behind Chris Warren. Has missed just one game this season, at Auburn. Tied a career high with 3 steals vs. Alabama A&M. Made two big 3-pointers to help extend a Rebel lead in the win over Southern Miss. Season-high 17 minutes and 3 assists vs. South Alabama.
Terrence Watson: A very long, athletic forward, Watson has 11 blocks in limited action in 14 games.   After sitting the first four SEC games, has seen action off the bench in the last three league contests. The JC transfer earned the starting nod and logged a season-high 19 minutes vs. Lamar. Swatted 4 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. Tallied 9 points, all in the first half, at Mississippi State. Swatted a career-high 3 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.

  Saturday’s game against Arkansas televised by SportSouth will be the ninth TV appearance this year after the Rebels saw a school-record 22 games televised a year ago. Ole Miss is slated to play at least 15 TV games this year, which will mark the 10th straight season that the Rebels played 10 or more TV games.

 Ole Miss was ranked for six straight weeks, appearing as high as 15th, prior to dropping out of both polls this week following the home loss to South Carolina. The Rebels were 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.

 Ole Miss is a perfect 13-0 against non-conference opponents this season, with just one non-league matchup remaining, vs. Presbyterian on Monday. 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.

 ESPN Regional Television, in conjunction with the BIG EAST Conference and the Southeastern Conference, announced recently the eight men’s college basketball teams, including the Ole Miss Rebels, that will represent the two conferences in next season’s second annual SEC/BIG EAST Invitational.
 On Dec. 16 in Nashville, Vanderbilt will face South Florida while Marquette squares off with Tennessee. On Dec. 18 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Mississippi State will face Cincinnati and Ole Miss will play Louisville. The games will be televised by ESPN and ESPN2.



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