GAME 26: Ole Miss (18-7, 4-7) at LSU (9-16, 2-9)
February 23, 2008 5 p.m. CT
Baton Rouge, La. Pete Maravich Assembly Center (13,215)
Live TV: FSN South (Dave Neal, 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 231 (Ole Miss feed), Channel 200 (LSU feed)
REBELS BEGIN KEY TWO-GAME ROAD SWING
With NCAA Tournament hopes still in sight, Ole Miss heads to LSU for the first of two straight league road games that could go a long way in deciding the postseason fate of the 2008 Rebels. Ole Miss earned a 74-71 home win over LSU on Jan. 12, but has not broken the win column on the road in league play with an 0-5 record in those games. Four of the five road defeats have been by less than 10 points, including a two-point loss at Tennessee and a three-point loss at Auburn. The LSU Tigers, meanwhile, have struggled to a 2-9 league record and have yet to notch a win among their five SEC contests in Baton Rouge. The Rebels snapped a four-game league losing streak with their 74-63 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday.
A school-record 13-0 start and 13 consecutive victories, a 6-3 record against teams currently ranked in the RPI top 100 and a 2-1 record against top-25 ranked teams are all accomplishments that could help Ole Miss earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2002. The Rebels’ record of 18-7 equals the 25-game start of that 2002 squad.
Second-year Rebel mentor Andy Kennedy has pumped life into the Rebel team and fan base. Ole Miss places among the top 20 teams in the nation in scoring and rebounding, putting up 80.7 points per game and pulling down 41.0 boards per contest. The Rebels were ranked among the nation’s top 25 for six straight weeks during December and January. They boast a 12-2 record at Tad Smith Coliseum, where they are averaging record crowds, and have gone 5-0 in neutral-site contests.
In non-league action, Ole Miss went a perfect 14-0, including quality wins over No. 15 Clemson, South Alabama and New Mexico. Those three teams have a combined 58-18 record entering the weekend. The Rebels racked up an umblemished non-league record for the first time since 1948-49 and just the second time ever.
The Rebels are 4-7 in SEC games, with wins over LSU, defending National Champion Florida, No. 18 Vanderbilt and SEC West-leading Mississippi State. Five of the seven defeats have come on the road, including a two-point loss at current No. 2 Tennessee, as well as losses at the SEC West’s top two teams in Mississippi State and Arkansas.
SCOUTING THE FIGHTING TIGERS
LSU enters Saturday’s game with a 9-16 overall record and 2-9 mark in conference play. The Tigers have sandwiched a pair of road wins at Auburn and Florida between their nine league losses. They are 0-5 at home and 2-4 away from Baton Rouge in league play. The Tiger offense has struggled to 68.0 points per game, which ranks last in the SEC. Their 64.7 ppg in league play ranks 11th. LSU is led, however, by a dynamic duo of junior Marcus Thornton and freshman Anthony Randolph. Thornton, a junior college transfer, leads the team and ranks fourth in the SEC with 18.4 points per game. He has provided even more punch in league play, scoring 19.5 points per game and draining 3.3 triples per contest, both second-most in the conference. Randolph chips in 14.6 ppg and grabs a team-high 8.6 rebounds, good for third in the SEC. He leads all SEC freshmen in rebounds and blocks.
OLE MISS-LSU SERIES
The series with the Tigers, which began in 1909, is the second-longest in Ole Miss basketball history. LSU leads the all-time series 113-80, although the Rebels hold a 14-11 edge in the last 25 meetings. Ole Miss has won three of the last four encounters, including this year’s previous meeting in Oxford by a 74-71 margin. Five Rebels scored in double figures in that game, led by Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice with 15 apiece, as the Rebels held off several Tiger comeback attempts late in the contest (see page 7).
LSU holds a 74-25 lead in games played in Baton Rouge. The last Rebel triumph at the PMAC was a 67-57 win during the 2002-03 campaign.
Second-year Ole Miss mentor Andy Kennedy owns a 4-1 advantage over LSU in his career. He also faced the Bayou Bengals as Cincinnati head coach in 2005-06, earning a 75-72 victory at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.
The Rebel roster features two Louisiana natives in sophomore guard Rodney Jones, who hails from Alexandria, and freshman forward Malcolm White, a native of Greensburg. Two of the Rebels’ four early signees also call Louisiana home - Terrance Henry and Brandon Wilson are teammates at Carroll High School in Monroe, coached by former Rebel player Chris Oney. In addition, Ole Miss assistant coach and former point guard Michael White spent his prep days at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, under coach Chris Jennings. During Michael's youth in Louisiana, his father Kevin White served as Athletic Director at Tulane. He is currently in that same position at Notre Dame.
REBELS RETURN TO WINNING WAYS
Ole Miss began the season with 13 straight wins and 15 in its first 16 contests, but had fallen on hard times recently with just two victories in its previous eight league games prior to Wednesday’s 74-63 win over Mississippi State. Ole Miss’ record of 18-7 is its best start through 25 games since the 2001-02 NCAA Tournament team also began 18-7.
With Wednesday’s win, the Rebels have earned at least four league victories for the 13th straight year.
WARREN ON BRINK OF FRESHMAN RECORD
After his fifth performance of 20 or more points in a league game with 22 against Mississippi State Wednesday night, point guard Chris Warren needs just eight points to set the Ole Miss freshman scoring record, currently owned by Joe Harvell (395 points, 1989-90). Warren, with 388 points entering Saturday’s game at LSU, can tie the record with seven points or break it with eight. If he breaks the record at LSU, he would do it in four less games (26) than Harvell used (30) in 1990. Warren averages a team-best 15.5 points in all games and 17.3 points in league contests.
The chart below shows Warren’s scoring mark against the all-time best freshmen in school history:
Points by a Freshman:
1. 395 Joe Harvell (30 games, 1989-90)
2. 394 Tim Jumper (29 games, 1987-88)
3. 388 Chris Warren (25 games, 2007-08)
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 (15.5 ppg), assists (4.8/game), three-pointers (2.9/game) and minutes played (30.7/game). He ranks third in the SEC in assists, while draining the third-most three’s per game in the league. He ranks 10th in the league in scoring and ninth with a 1.71 assist-turnover ratio.
The Orlando native has scored in double figures in all but three games. He was held scoreless for the only time vs. Presbyterian. He has dished out five or more assists in 13-of-25 contests. Warren has six games with 20 or more points, including five in league play. He scored a game-high 22 points against Mississippi State Wednesday night. He dropped in a career-high 26 points on six 3-pointers at Arkansas. He scored 25 points at Auburn and tied Trevor Gaskins’ Ole Miss freshman record with seven treys, while also posting 24 at Tennessee and 20 vs. Vanderbilt. He is averaging a team-high 17.3 ppg in SEC contests, good for seventh in the league. He has earned three SEC Freshman of the Week honors and was named the MVP of the San Juan Shootout.
WARREN DRAINING THREE’S AT RECORD PACE
Despite his quiet, reserved personality off the court, point guard Chris Warren has not been shy when it comes to shooting from behind the arc this season. The rookie has netted 72 triples on 188 attempts through 25 games, which both rank top 5 in a season in school history. His 72 three’s are fifth in the Rebel records, while the 188 attempts are fourth. He has hit at least two three’s in all but five 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.
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. The Chicago native is tied with Alabama’s Richard Hendrix for the SEC lead with 13 double-doubles and tops the league with seven double-doubles in conference games only. He has been on a tear recently, with nine double-doubles in his last 13 games. He has the most by a Rebel since Rahim Lockhart also posted 13 in 1999-2000. Curtis and Hendrix are the only two players that average a double-double in league play, as Curtis posts 12.5 points and 10.3 boards per SEC tilt. Curtis has posted 29 double-doubles in his career. He had seven as a sophomore and nine last year.
Curtis has also reached the 20-point, 10-rebound plateau on five occasions, including three times in league play. He has hit for 20-and-10 eight times in his Rebel career.
HE CAN'T MISS (MUCH)
Hitting shots at an alarmingly high rate, senior center Dwayne Curtis leads the SEC and entered the week ranked third in the nation with a 65.6 field-goal percentage. The nation’s leader is 7-foot-7 UNC Asheville center Kenny George (70.7 pct.). Curtis’ percentage of 65.6 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 an 11-for-13 performance to tie a career high with 25 points against South Carolina.
CURTIS BECOMES 30TH REBEL TO 1,000 POINTS
Senior center Dwayne Curtis tied his career high with 25 points against South Carolina on Feb. 2 to become the 30th member of the Rebels’ 1,000-Point Club. He enters the LSU game with 1,068 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 14.4 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 1,123 points in his college career.
CLEANING OFF THE GLASS
In addition to ranking second in the SEC with a career-high 9.2 rebounds per game, senior center Dwayne Curtis pulls down 4.2 offensive boards per game, tops in the SEC and 7th-most in the nation.
As a team, Ole Miss tops the SEC with 15.6 offensive boards per game and ranks second in the league and 10th in the nation with 41.0 total rebounds.
THREE-PEAT FRESHMAN HONOR FOR WARREN
For the third time this season, Ole Miss point guard Chris Warren was tabbed the SEC Freshman of the Week, the league office announced Feb. 11. The Orlando, Fla., native poured in a career-high 26 points at Arkansas on Saturday, his fourth 20-point performance in league play. He single-handedly kept Ole Miss in the game, scoring 18 points in the second half, including 11 straight for the Rebels in the stretch run to cut a 12-point Razorback lead with just under three minutes remaining to a three-point edge with 51 seconds left in the game. Warren also earned Freshman of the Week honors on Dec. 3 and Dec. 24. He is the second SEC freshman to three-peat on the weekly honors, joining Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy.
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 10th nationally with 41.0 rebounds per game, while also boasting the SEC’s top rebounding margin at +6.0. Ole Miss also leads the league with 15.6 offensive boards per game, having grabbed 20+ offensive boards six times, including three times in league play. The Rebels have been out-rebounded just three times all year.
Individually, senior center Dwayne Curtis is averaging a team-high 9.2 boards per game, second-most in the SEC and 35th in the country. Kenny Williams grabs 7.0 boards per contest, good for ninth in the league. The senior forward has posted five double-doubles this season, most recently 10 points and 10 boards vs. Vanderbilt.
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 rebounding margin (+6.0) and offensive rebounds (15.6/game), while ranking second in total rebounds (41.0/game) and defensive rebounds (25.4/game) and third in scoring offense (80.7 ppg), assist/turnover ratio (1.26) and turnover margin (+1.80). Individually, Dwayne Curtis tops the conference with a .656 field-goal percentage and 4.2 offensive rebounds per game, while posting the second-most total rebounds per game at 9.2. Chris Warren ranks third with 4.80 assists per game and 2.88 three-pointers per contest.
POINTS INCREASING IN 2007-08
Scoring 80.7 points per game, Ole Miss is on pace for the highest season average since the 1974-75 squad posted 81.6 points per contest, which is the second-highest average in school history. Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC and 17th nationally in scoring. This despite a recent offensive slump in which the Rebels have posted below 70 points in three of the last five games and under 80 in nine straight. The Rebels have scored 80+ points in 11 contests this season. Their 75.5 average in SEC play ranks third among league schools.
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 66-55 win over Presbyterian on Feb. 11, Ole Miss finished with a perfect 14-0 record against regular-season non-conference opponents this season. The only other 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.
PACKING THE PAD
Over the last decade, the "Tad Pad" has proven 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 28-3 record at Tad Smith Coliseum since Kennedy took the reins last season.
The Oxford crowds have jumped on board, too. This year’s LSU game saw the Tad Pad’s second-highest attendance ever with 9,328 fans and the Florida game crowd of 9,304 ranks sixth in arena annals. Six of this year’s crowds rank among the top 20 in facility history. This season’s averages of 7,507 fans per game and 9,146 fans at each SEC contest are both on pace to set school records.
Ole Miss has won 159 of its last 194 games (.820 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 394-182 (.684 winning percentage) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in 1965-66.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Saturday’s game at LSU televised by FSN South will be the 12th TV appearance of the year, marking the 10th straight season that the Rebels have played 10 or more TV games. After seeing a school-record 22 games televised a year ago, Ole Miss is slated to play at least 16 TV games this year.
SUCCESS VERSUS TOP 25
Ole Miss is 2-1 this season against teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. The Rebels upended No. 15 Clemson 85-82 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before falling 85-83 at No. 8 Tennessee. They most recently earned a 74-58 victory over No. 18 Vanderbilt. 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 RANKED AFTER 7-YEAR DROUGHT
Ole Miss was ranked for six straight weeks, appearing as high as 15th, prior to dropping out of both polls 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 berth.
REBELS DEFENDING SEC WEST TITLE
Ole Miss sits alone in third place in the SEC West with a 4-7 record 11 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.
POLYNICE FILLING IT UP
Sophomore guard Eniel Polynice has put up big numbers in several columns of the stat sheet this season. He ranks 29th in the SEC with 11.9 points per game and also ranks among the league leaders in rebounds (22nd at 5.3/game) assists (10th at 3.6/ game), steals (6th at 1.8/game) and assist-turnover ratio (8th at 1.75).
Polynice most recently posted 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a career-high 3 blocks in the win over Mississippi State. He had 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 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. He recently scored a team-high 15 points in the loss to Auburn, making 3-of-4 from behind the arc. He 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.
ANOTHER REBEL ROOKIE ENTERS SPOTLIGHT
Georgia native Zach Graham joined his Rebel freshman counterparts by making a significant contribution since he started six straight games from Jan. 30-Feb. 16. Prior to Wednesday’s game vs. MSU, the rookie guard was putting up 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in his starts over six straight games, including averages of 10.0 and 5.6 in five SEC games. He chipped in 10 points and grabbed six rebounds at Alabama, while making 6-of-7 free throws. He poured in a season-high 14 points against South Carolina and grabbed a season-high nine rebounds at Arkansas. He also scored nine points in both the Vanderbilt and Arkansas games.
HUERTAS RECLAIMING HIS STROKE
Sophomore guard David Huertas fell on hard times with his outside shooting stroke during the month of January, but since February hit, the Puerto Rican has reclaimed his touch. Huertas has scored nine or more points in each of the six games this month and is shooting at a 46.3 percent clip from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc in February, well above his season averages of 37.3 and 30.9. The last six games broke a six-game slump after he poured in a career-high 17 points on the strength of five 3-pointers against Alabama A&M.
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
Jermey Parnell: Against MSU on Wednesday he made his first start since the Jan. 9 game at Tennessee. He returned to the court at Arkansas after missing four straight and five of the previous six games with a high ankle sprain. Tallied SEC season highs of 8 points and 4 rebounds at Alabama. Injured his ankle in the second half at Tennessee and returned to play limited minutes vs. Florida. 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 9.6 minutes per game in a reserve role behind Chris Warren. Played 15 minutes and dished out a career-high five assists Saturday vs. Auburn. Has missed just two games this season. 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 USM.
Terrence Watson: A long, athletic forward, Watson has 11 blocks in limited action in 17 games. Has seen action off the bench in 5-of-11 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: Has not seen action in the last three contests. 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.
REBELS TO PLAY IN SEC/BIG EAST INVITATIONAL
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.