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GAME 26: Ole Miss (17-8, 6-5) vs. Arkansas (15-10, 4-7)
February 17, 2007 4 p.m. CT
Fayetteville, Ark. Bud Walton Arena (19,200)
Live TV: FSN South (Dave Neal, play-by-play; Eddie Fogler, analyst)
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, analyst)
Satellite Radio: SIRIUS 147 (Arkansas broadcast)
WEST LEADERS TAKE STREAK TO ARKANSAS
Alone atop the SEC Western Division, Ole Miss rides its momentum to Arkansas Saturday. The Rebels are on a four-game win streak and coming off a dramatic 71-70 comeback victory over LSU Wednesday. Clarence Sanders matched his career high with 29 points, including the game-winning 17-footer with less than a second remaining to provide their only lead of the final 9 minutes. His 7 3-pointers tied his own school record for treys against an SEC foe. Setting up the game-winner was Todd Abernethy, who added 12 points, a career-high 11 assists with one turnover. The NCAA leader in assist/turnover ratio boasts a 26/2 ratio over the last three games.
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. The Rebels’ current four-game win streak and recent victory over No. 18 Alabama has thrust Andy Kennedy’s club into the national eye as a serious NCAA Tournament contender.
Ole Miss enters the weekend with a 6-8 record against teams currently rated in the top 100 of the RPI. Of the Rebels’ victories, both Alabama and LSU have been ranked top-5 in the AP poll, while Tennessee has risen 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’ eight losses this year, seven 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 two of Ole Miss’ losses were by more than 10 points.
REBEL ROAD TRIP TO BAMA
The Ole Miss Tip-Off Club and Red Riot (Student Section) will be chartering a bus to Tuscaloosa for the Ole Miss-Alabama game on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The bus will depart the coliseum parking lot at 3 p.m. and return immediately after the game. RSVPs must be made by Monday night at 11 p.m. by e-mailing Richard Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org. Price for the trip is $35, which includes a ticket to the game, seat on the bus and boxed dinner. Fees need to paid by Tuesday or no later than 6:45 p.m. Wednesday prior to the Georgia game.
SCOUTING THE RAZORBACKS
Stan Heath’s Razorbacks have dropped their last two games both on the road, including a 84-60 beating at Mississippi State Wednesday. Arkansas is 3-2 at home in SEC play. The Hogs are led by freshman guard Patrick Beverlry and his 14.0 scoring average. Jackson native Charles Thomas is grabbing a team-high 5.5 rebounds and joins fellow junior forward Sonny Weems in adding just over 11 points. Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin has settled in as the starting point guard and ranks third in the SEC in assists at 5.2 per outing. The junior is chipping in 9.2 points, while reserve forward Darian Townes is scoring 8.0 and has teamed with starting center Steven Hill to make the Razorbacks the SEC’s second-best shot-blocking team at 6.5 per game.
OLE MISS-ARKANSAS SERIES
Saturday's game will be the 60th meeting between the two schools, with the Razorbacks holding an all-time series lead of 38-21. The series began in 1937. Since Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference in the 1991-92 season, the Rebels enjoy a 16-15 edge. Ole Miss has won 13 of the last 18 meetings against the Razorbacks, including a 74-72 result earlier this year in Oxford. The teams split the season series a year ago with each winning on its homecourt. Arkansas holds a 12-6 series lead in games played in Fayetteville, although the teams have split the last 10 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 a pair of current players Bam Doyne (Little Rock) and Jermey Parnell (Gosnell). Other notable Rebels from Arkansas include Jason Smith (Wheatley), Keith Carter (Perryville), Jason Flannigan (Little Rock) and Jason Harrison (Little Rock).
A few Arkansas Razorbacks have close ties with the state of Mississippi. Junior forward Charles Thomas is a Jackson native, while sophomore forward Cyrus McGowan hails from Meridian. In addition, junior guard Gary Ervin spent two seasons at Mississippi State before moving on to Fayetteville.
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 leads the SEC in assists per game (5.75) and the nation in assist/turnover ratio (3.54). Over the last three games, he has tallied 26 assists with only two giveaways. Abernethy is also averaging in double-figure points for the first time in his career at 11.4 ppg with a 13.8 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 Wednesday. In addition, he is ninth in the SEC in minutes played at 32.83 per game.
BEST IN THE WEST
On Saturday, Ole Miss defeated Alabama to move into a first-place tie with the Crimson Tide atop the SEC Western Division. With Wednesday’s triumph over LSU, the Rebels grabbed the top spot outright with a one-game lead over Bama and Mississippi State with five regular-season games left. 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 last in the West that preseason as well.
BEST SEASON SINCE 2001-02
Last Saturday's victory over Alabama assured 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 17 wins bests the previous high of 14 over the last four seasons. Ole Miss’ triumph over LSU Wednesday was the team's sixth in SEC play, which is also the most since 2002.
PROTECTING THE BALL
Ole Miss is the SEC’s best in turnover margin (+4.28) and ranks third in assist/turnover ratio (1.25). The Rebels have been in single digits in turnovers in 10 games and five times in league play, including the last two outings. Ole Miss had only 5 giveaways against Alabama and a season-low 4 against LSU Wednesday. Senior guard Todd Abernethy is the NCAA leader in assist/turnover ratio at 3.54 and boasts a 26/2 ratio over the last three games.
DIALING LONG DISTANCE
Aside from his spectacular buzzer-beater against LSU Wednesday, sixth man Clarence Sanders has played a starring role in the Rebels’ current win streak, connecting on 52.6 percent (20-of-38) of his treys and averaging 22.0 points over the last four games. 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 Wednesday against the Tigers. 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. Also in SEC play, Sanders 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 23 of the last 24 games and ranks fifth in the SEC at 16.4 points per game. Sanders is also second in 3s per game (2.92) and eighth in the league in 3-point percentage (39.5). After a 35.7 shooting clip a year ago, he boasts a 43.2 field goal percentage this season.
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 74.8 points per game, a 9.6 raise from a year ago, and the highest clip since scoring 77.0 per game in 1998-99. Prior to last Saturday's Alabama win, Ole Miss had scored 80-plus points in four consecutive SEC games 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.
Ole Miss ignited second-half comebacks in three straight games earlier in SEC play and have pulled the feat again in the last two. Playing for the SEC West lead last Saturday, 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. The Rebels rallied again Wednesday, 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.
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.
STEALING THE SHOW
Ole Miss is second in the SEC in steals in league play at 8.18 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. Doyne is tied for 14th in the SEC in league-play steals (1.27 pg) and has tallied multiple steals in nine games overall this year.
DOYNE IT ALL
Bam Doyne has been among the SEC statistical leaders this season, ranking sixth in scoring (16.4), ninth in free throw accuracy (77.7) and 15th in minutes played (31.84). Doyne has three 20-point games in his last five, 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, including last Saturday's win over Alabama with 17.
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 against 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) and Alabama last Saturday (14 points and 8 rebounds). He has collected a season-high 3 steals in each of the last two games.
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.
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
Todd Abernethy: The fourth-year Rebel is quietly sliding up the Ole Miss career lists. The Carmel, Ind., native recently moved into fifth on the all-time chart for assists with 387, passing current assistant coach and former Rebel Michael White (1996-99). This year, Abernethy also entered the top five for 3-pointers made by passing Joezon Darby (1996-98) ... Abernethy 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 seven 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.
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 has struck for 6 points twice in the last five games. He hit that mark against Alabama last Saturday while equaling his season high for rebounds with 8, his most in SEC play. Parnell also scored 6 points in the home win over Mississippi State ... Parnell started 11 straight games during non-conference play but has graced the starting lineup only once in SEC action, against Arkansas ... After only five double-figures scoring games in his first two seasons, the junior forward has already scored 10 or more points six 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: The freshman guard has earned the starting nod in each of the last five 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 Wednesday’s 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 Wednesday, 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 Wednesday’s LSU game. 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 has hit 10 of his last 17 shots and 7-for-13 from 3-point range over the last 10 games. 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 against 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 Saturday ... 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 is eighth in the SEC on the offensive boards (2.48) and 15th in overall rebounding (5.5) ... 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 12th in the SEC in blocks in league play (1.09) ... Williams has scored in double figures in three SEC outings, including at Vanderbilt where he amassed 10 points, on 4-for-4 shooting, with 6 rebounds. He struck for 10 points, on 5-of-7 field goals, with 7 rebounds against Arkansas, and was also 5-for-7 for 10 points at LSU with 6 boards and 2 blocks. 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.
HITTING THE BOARDS
The Rebels are second in the SEC in offensive rebounds (13.52 per game), and pulled down 21 off the offensive glass at Mississippi State. Dwayne Curtis is the team leader in total rebounds per game (8.9) and ranks fourth in the SEC in league play (8.5). Kenny Williams has also helped lead the charge, ranking eighth in the SEC for the season on the offensive boards (2.48) and 15th in overall rebounding (5.5)
NOTHING FOR FREE
Ole Miss has had seven 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. Wednesday’s game saw Ole Miss at the stripe only 6 times.
The Rebels currently rank fifth in the SEC in free throw percentage at 69.5. That figure is almost 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, Todd Abernethy at 78.8 and Bam Doyne at 77.7.
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.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Ole Miss is making its 15th TV appearance of the year against Arkansas, as the game is available on FSN South. The Rebels are scheduled to make at least 18 television appearances in 2006-07, marking the ninth straight season that Ole Miss has played on TV 10 or more times. Ole Miss and Mississippi State renewed their bitter rivalry in Oxford with an ESPN "Super Tuesday" showdown. The Arkansas contest is the fourth of five on FSN, while four games will be played on Lincoln Financial. In non-conference play, the Rebels were in front of the cameras four times on SportsSouth, three on CSS and an ESPNU appearance at Connecticut. In addition, four early-season games were streamed live over the internet on OleMissSport.com's premium site, OleMissSports.tv.