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REGULAR SEASON FINALE: Ole Miss (18-11, 7-8) vs. Auburn (17-13, 7-8)
March 3, 2007 12:45 p.m. CT
Oxford, Miss. C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum (8,700)
* Senior Day *
Live TV: Lincoln Financial Sports (Tom Hammond, play-by-play; Larry Conley, analyst)
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, analyst)
Satellite Radio: SIRIUS 153
SHOWDOWN FOR SHARE OF WEST TITLE
In the regular-season finale, Ole Miss hosts Auburn Saturday with the winner earning a share of the SEC Western Division title and a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament in Atlanta. The Rebels will also be holding Senior Day ceremonies, as Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders will be honored in pregame. After winning four of five, Ole Miss dropped its second straight game with Wednesday’s 69-58 setback at Alabama. Sanders led the Rebel scoring for the fifth straight game with 18 points while notching his 12th multiple-steal game of the year with 3. Dwayne Curtis posted his 10th double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.
After a slow start to the SEC season, Ole Miss fired back to take the Western Division lead and establish itself as one of the league’s hottest teams. With a four-game win streak that included a victory over No. 18 Alabama, Andy Kennedy’s club thrust itself into the national eye as a serious NCAA Tournament contender.
Ole Miss enters the weekend with a 4-6 record against teams currently rated in the top 60 of the RPI and an 7-10 mark against the index top 101. Of the Rebels’ victories, Tennessee is eighth in the latest RPI, while both Alabama and LSU have been ranked top-5 in the AP poll. 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’ 11 losses this year, 10 were on the road, four were against top-20 teams, while three others were to squads that have spent time in 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.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Auburn rebounded from a four-game losing streak to win its last three, including an 80-68 home victory over LSU Wednesday that thrust the Tigers into the four-way tie atop the SEC Western Division. Auburn won the game despite missing head coach Jeff Lebo, who was out with illness. The Tigers have five players averaging between 11.3 and 12.2 points. Josh Dollard posts 12.2 points and 6.5 boards, while fellow sophomore forward Korvotney Barber scores 11.4 points and is top-10 in the SEC in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and blocked shots (1.8 bpg). Junior guard Frank Tolbert is posting 11.8 points per game, and junior forward Quan Powell is adding 11.3 since serving an 11-game suspension. Sophomore guard Quantez Robertson is the third in the league in assists (5.17 apg) and is sixth in steals (1.77 spg).
OLE MISS-AUBURN SERIES
Saturday’s game will be the 114th meeting between the two schools, with the Tigers holding an all-time series lead of 68-45. Ole Miss holds a 7-6 edge in the last 13 meetings and beat the Tigers 82-59 in this year’s first meeting in Auburn. Ole Miss swept the 2005-06 season series, but Auburn came back to take both meetings a year ago.
The Rebels hold a 32-22 series lead in games played in Oxford, and have won five of the last seven and 10 of the last 13 meetings versus the Tigers in Tad Smith Coliseum. Auburn earned a rare Tad Pad triumph 58-54 last year in Ole Miss’ home finale.
The Rebels’ starting center will be battling a familiar foe this weekend. Junior 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 junior forward 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.
The various scenarios for the Rebels are fairly simple. Win and earn a share of the SEC Western Division title and a first-round bye in the tournament. Lose and finish anywhere from third to fifth in the West and play Thursday in the tourney’s opening round. If the Rebels win and Alabama defeats Mississippi State Sunday in Starkville, Ole Miss takes the West No. 1 seed in the tournament. If both Mississippi schools prevail this weekend, Ole Miss is the West No. 2.
TURNER TO BE HONORED AS SEC LEGEND
Former Ole Miss star Elston Turner will be part of the SEC Basketball Legends 2007 class to be honored at the league tournament next week at the Georgia Dome. Turner captained the Rebels to their first ever SEC Tournament Championship and the program’s NCAA Tournament debut in 1981. The forward from Knoxville, Tenn., garnered All-SEC honors his final two seasons and was a unanimous first team choice as a senior, when he was second in the conference in scoring with a 20.6-point average. Turner still ranks second all-time at Ole Miss in rebounds (828) and fourth in points (1,805).
His stellar collegiate days in the Red and Blue led to a career in professional basketball that has spanned more than two decades. Turner was selected by Dallas in the second round of the 1981 NBA Draft and played eight seasons in all three with Dallas, three with Denver and two in Chicago. He later entered the NBA coaching ranks and enjoyed a six-year stint as an assistant with the Sacramento Kings.
ABERNETHY NAMED ALL-DISTRICT
Ole Miss' Todd Abernethy has picked up the first hardware of his senior season, earning All-District honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The guard from Carmel, Ind., was named to the District 6 second team. Selected and voted on by member coaches of the NABC, the 150 student-athletes honored, from 15 districts, are now eligible for the NABC All-America teams to be announced at the conclusion of the regular season.
A three-year Team Captain, Abernethy has directed the Rebels to their best season since 2001, leading the SEC in assists per game and ranking second in the NCAA in assist/turnover ratio. He is averaging 12.1 points in SEC play and boasts two 20-point games and a pair of double-doubles. In addition, Abernethy is a two-time SEC Good Works Team selection, a three-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and an Academic All-America nominee this season.
BEST IN THE WEST
Since the home victory over Alabama on Feb. 10, Ole Miss has either been in a tie atop the SEC Western Division or alone in first, as was the case following the dramatic win over LSU. 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 to finish last in the West that preseason as well.
BEST SEASON SINCE 2001-02
The home victory over Alabama secured 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 18 wins bests the previous high of 14 over the last four seasons. Also, after five or less SEC victories in each season since 2002, Ole Miss assured itself of exceeding that mark with the home triumph over LSU, and the tally has now reached seven.
DIALING LONG DISTANCE
Aside from his spectacular buzzer-beater against LSU, sixth man Clarence Sanders has played a starring role of late, leading the scoring efforts in five straight games and averaging 19.5 points over the last seven 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 against the Bayou Bengals. 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. In last week’s win over Georgia, Sanders posted his 10th 20-point game of the year with 21, drilling 5 3-pointers. Also in SEC play, he struck for 16 and 18 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 27 of the last 28 games and ranks fifth in the SEC at 16.5 points per game. Sanders is also second in 3s per game (3.00) and eighth in the league in 3-point percentage (38.0). In SEC play, Sanders is first in 3-pointers (3.47) and third in scoring (17.2). Also, after a 35.7 shooting clip a year ago, he boasts a 42.6 field goal percentage this season.
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 is the SEC leader in assists per game (5.71) and ranks second in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (3.33). He has posted 15 assists with three turnovers over the last two games.
Abernethy is also averaging in double-figure points for the first time in his career at 10.8 ppg with a 12.1 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. In addition, he is eighth in the SEC in minutes played at 33.11 per game.
Since his return from a fractured foot late in non-conference play, Dwayne Curtis has notched 10 double-doubles, including six in SEC play. He has twice reached the 20-point, 10-rebound plateau this year, including his 20 and 12 performance in the home win over 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. On Wednesday, he hit for 12 points and 10 rebounds against Alabama and their vaunted frontcourt of Davidson and Hendrix. Curtis just missed double-doubles against Tennessee (18 points and 9 rebounds), Mississippi State (14 points and 8 boards), Alabama (14 points and 8 rebounds). He also scored 14 points in each of the last two games against Georgia and South Carolina. In SEC play, Curtis ranks fourth in the conference in field goal percentage (54.6) and fifth in rebounding (8.3).
With his 3 3-pointers at South Carolina, senior Clarence Sanders moved atop the Ole Miss single-season chart for treys, passing Aaron Harper’s 2002 total of 83. Sanders’ tally is now at 87.
In addition, Todd Abernethy is close to joining the Ole Miss 1,000 point club, sitting 33 points shy of becoming the 29th player in Rebel history to reach that mark. This season, Abernethy has already moved into fourth on the all-time chart for assists (409) and fifth in 3-pointers made (151).
PROTECTING THE BALL
Ole Miss is second in the SEC in both in turnover margin (+3.83) and assist/turnover ratio (1.25). The Rebels have been in single digits in turnovers in 10 games and five times in league play. Ole Miss had only 5 giveaways against Alabama and a season-low 4 against LSU. Senior guard Todd Abernethy is second in the NCAA in assist/turnover ratio at 3.33.
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 73.2 points per game, a 8.0 raise from a year ago, and the highest clip since scoring 77.0 per game in 1998-99. Ole Miss scored 80-plus points in four consecutive SEC games this year 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.
DOYNE IT ALL
Bam Doyne ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring (15.1) and sixth in free throw accuracy (77.7). Doyne has three 20-point games in SEC play, 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, most recently in the win over Alabama with 17.
NOTHING FOR FREE
Ole Miss has had nine 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. Ole Miss has been at the stripe only 6 times in three of the last five games, including at Alabama Saturday.
The Rebels currently rank fifth in the SEC in free throw percentage at 69.6. 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 upperclassmen are leading the charge with Bam Doyne at 77.7, Todd Abernethy at 77.4, Dwayne Curtis at 77.1 and Clarence Sanders at 76.7.
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
Todd Abernethy: The fourth-year Rebel 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.
Dwayne Curtis: The junior center 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.
Bam Doyne: The senior forward has tallied multiple steals in eight games, including a career-high tying 4 against Arkansas ... Doyne has led or tied the team-lead in rebounds six times this year ... 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.
Trey Hampton: Playing in only his fourth game in the last 12, Hampton tipped in a pair of baskets for 4 points and tied the team-lead in rebounds with 5 at South Carolina. Both were SEC highs this year. The sophomore forward had one previous bucket in league play (in the opener), and his rebound total was the most since the fifth game of the year (6 at UConn) ... Hampton appeared in 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. Hampton made 9 starts as a freshman a year ago ... 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 11 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.
Rodney Jones: The freshman guard scored his first basket in SEC play at Arkansas, going 1-for-1 with 2 points and 1 rebound in 6 minutes. Jones has seen action in five league games with the most minutes, 7, coming at Florida.
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 turned in his first career double-double against Georgia, posting SEC highs of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Prior to that, Parnell had not scored more than 6 points against a league foe this year, doing so against Alabama and Mississippi State at home. He totaled 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench Wednesday at Alabama ... Parnell returned to the starting lineup in two of the last three games. His only other start in SEC action came against Arkansas at home. Parnell started 11 straight games during non-conference play ... After only five double-figures scoring games in his first two seasons, the junior forward has already scored 10 or more points seven 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 seven SEC games, including six straight at one point. 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 the 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 in the home victory over LSU, 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 the LSU win. 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 is shooting 50.0 percent from the field (13-of-26) and from 3-point range (10-of-20) in league play. He has scored 5 or more points in five games, including Wednesday when he hit a pair of late 3-pointers at Alabama. Smith was 2-for-2 from the field in scoring 5 points against both Mississippi State and Tennessee. He also came off the bench to hit a key trey with 8:11 left in the home win over Arkansas, and was 2-for-2 from behind the arc during the Rebels' 29-11 second-half comeback at Florida. In addition, he hit a crucial 3-pointer in the midst of the Rebels' late game-winning rally against Alabama ... 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 leads Ole Miss in field goal percentage at 54.8 percent and 58.8 in SEC play ... 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 15th in the SEC in blocks (1.07) ... Williams has scored in double figures in four SEC outings, including at Arkansas where he tallied 10 points, 8 rebounds and a career-high 4 assists. He struck for 10 points and 7 rebounds in the home win over Arkansas, and he amassed 10 points and 6 rebounds on the road against both Vanderbilt and LSU. 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.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Ole Miss is making its 18th TV appearance of the year against Auburn, as the game is available on Lincoln Financial. The Rebels are scheduled to make at least 19 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 Auburn contest is the fourth of five on LFS, while five games will be played on FSN. 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.
TOUGH AT THE TAD PAD
Over the last decade, the "Tad Pad" proved to be one of the toughest arenas in the nation for opposing teams to play. With a 14-1 mark this year, Ole Miss has won 146 of its last 179 games (.816 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. Included during this run are homecourt winning streaks of 29 and 15 games.