Ole Miss Battles 19th-Ranked UConn in Tournament Finale

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Ole Miss (4-0) vs. #19/21 Connecticut (3-0)
November 19, 2006 8 p.m. ET
Hartford, Conn.   Hartford Civic Center (16,294)

Live TV: ESPNU (Joe Tessitore, play-by-play; Doug Gottlieb, color analyst)
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (Richard Cross, play-by-play)

 In a battle of undefeated teams, Ole Miss faces tournament host UConn in the finale of the Hispanic College Fund Classic. In their first ever trip to Connecticut, the Rebels are matching up with their first ranked opponent of the year (19/21) and making their first TV appearance (ESPNU) of 2006-07.
 With Saturday’s victory over Central Arkansas, Ole Miss is off to its first 4-0 start since beginning the 2000-01 season 11-0. Leading the Rebel charge are the three senior guards, Clarence Sanders (17.0 ppg), Bam Doyne (16.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Todd Abernethy (7.7 ppg, 4.0 apg).

 On March 24, 2006, Andy Kennedy was introduced as the 20th head men's basketball coach in the history of the University of Mississippi. A Louisville, Miss., native, Kennedy spent the 2005-06 season as the interim head coach at the University of Cincinnati.
 With less than three months to prepare and shorthanded on staff and scholarship players, Kennedy had to lead a shaken Bearcat program that was preparing for its debut season in the BIG EAST. Despite the obstacles, he directed Cincinnati to a 21-13 record, defeating 12 foes ranked in the Top 100 of the RPI and playing a schedule rated fifth-toughest in the nation. Kennedy's Bearcats narrowly missed an NCAA Tournament bid and had their season end in the NIT quarterfinals.
 Kennedy proved himself both as an astute strategist and a top-notch recruiter in more than a decade of coaching in the college ranks. Athlon named him one of the nation's top 10 assistant coaches, and Rivals.com listed him among the top 20 college basketball recruiters. In addition to Cincinnati, Kennedy was also an assistant at his alma mater UAB and South Alabama.

 This will mark the first ever meeting between Ole Miss and UConn. In fact, the Rebels’ only previous showdown with a school from the state of Connecticut was two days ago against Fairfield.

 While Ole Miss has never faced Connecticut, a couple members of the Rebel party have encountered the Huskies before. As Cincinnati’s head coach, Andy Kennedy took the Bearcats into the Hartford Civic Center last year for a January 9, ESPN “Big Monday” meeting with UConn. The No. 2 Huskies prevailed 70-59 in snapping UC’s 10-game win streak.
 Kennedy battled Connecticut during his playing career as well. On March 22, 1989, he dropped in 22 points and hit 6-of-11 3-pointers in leading UAB past UConn 85-79 at Greer Field House in Storrs in the 1989 NIT quarterfinals.
 Rebel guard Justin Cerasoli also faced Connecticut as a freshman on Seton Hall’s 2004-05 squad. The Pirates lost that East Rutherford encounter 77-68, but Cerasoli filled the stat line with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in 35 minutes.

 Andy Kennedy’s style of “pressure basketball” has paid some early dividends for the 4-0 Rebels. Ole Miss is averaging 71.5 points per game, a 6.5 raise from a year ago, and connecting on 38.7 percent of its 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the team is committing only 9.3 turnovers, tied for second-best in the SEC. Defensively, the Rebels have held all four opponents under 40-percent shooting at an average of 34.5, and limited the opposition to only 23.8 percent from 3-point range.

 Ole Miss is without junior center Dwayne Curtis after the preseason All-SEC honoree fractured the third metatarsal in his left foot in the third day of preseason practice. Midway through last week, Curtis moved from crutches to a walking boot, and is expected to be wearing the boot for an additional two weeks. The foot will be x-rayed at that point, and Curtis may begin full workouts with the team.

 Bam Doyne leads the team in rebounding (8.0) and is a narrow second in scoring (16.5), and assists (2.8). The senior guard has topped the team in boards in every game, including a career-high 12 in Friday’s win over Fairfield. Doyne notched his fourth career 20-point game against the Stags and dropped in a team-high 19 points against Mississippi Valley State in the opener. He is also 21-22 from the charity stripe and was good on his first 13 free throws of the year.

 After tallying only 8 points in the season opener, Clarence Sanders has found his stroke over the last three games, averaging 20.0 points per contest. In the Louisiana-Lafayette win, the senior guard connected on 4-of-7 3-pointers in leading the Rebels with 22 points. He followed up by turning in his fourth career 20-point outing with a team-high 21 against Fairfield. He also topped the team Saturday with 17 points vs. Central Arkansas. After posting a .357 shooting clip a year ago, Sanders boasts a .426 field goal percentage in the season’s early goings. In addition, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder has recorded a team-high 6 blocks.

 After missing the first game of his career Tuesday against Louisiana-Lafayette, senior guard Todd Abernethy has bounced back strong, averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 34.5 minutes during the HCF Classic. 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. Abernethy did not play the rest of the way but did return to the bench for the second half. After sitting out a game, the three-time Team Captain returned to the Ole Miss starting lineup Friday with 13 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds against Fairfield.

Trey Hampton: The sophomore forward is coming off his best game of the year. 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 has 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.
Jermey Parnell: After averaging 12.0 points per game over the final three games of last season, Parnell picked up where he left off with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals off the bench in the season opener against Mississippi Valley State. The junior forward has gotten the start in the last three games, and scored 6 points in two of those contests.
Eniel Polynice: The big freshman guard sparked Ole Miss to victory against Central Arkansas with his best game as a Rebel. With Ole Miss clinging two a two-point advantage midway through the second half, Polynice scored 8 points in 2:18 to push the lead up to 10. The Sarasota, Fla., native drilled a pair of 3-pointers in recording that career-high point total.
Brian Smith: With starting point guard Todd Abernethy leaving with injury in the game’s opening moments, junior guard 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. The 5-foot-11 guard earned his first career start against Louisiana-Lafayette and saw 17 minutes of action.
Kenny Williams: The junior forward started and tallied 5 points and 6 rebounds against Fairfield, but left the game with 5:31 remaining with a sprained right ankle. The JUCO transfer showed few ill effects Saturday, playing 18 minutes against Central Arkansas ... Williams had his best game as a Rebel against Louisiana-Lafayette, posting season highs for 12 points and 8 rebounds.

 Since the 1993-94 season, the Rebels have posted an impressive 126-41 record (.754 winning percentage) versus non-conference opponents. Ole Miss has been particularly dominant against out of conference clubs at home. Last year’s loss to No. 5 Memphis was only the Rebels’ fifth non-SEC home loss since 1995. 

 Including Friday’s over Fairfield, the Rebels have an all-time record of 60-56 (.517 winning percentage) in regular-season tournaments in their history, and are competing in one for the third straight season. Last year, Ole Miss posted a 2-1 mark at the Jim Thorpe Classic at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. The Rebels defeated Southern Utah (69-62) and South Carolina State (71-47) and lost to host New Mexico (95-42).
 In 2004-05, Ole Miss took part in the Black Coaches Association Classic at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. The Rebels went 1-2 in the event, collecting an opening win over South Carolina State (64-52) but falling to Air Force (60-36) and Illinois State (70-52).
 In 2001-02, the Rebels placed fourth at the BP Top of the World Classic, notching wins over Wichita State (80-68) and host Alaska-Fairbanks (75-58) but falling to Bowling Green (82-78) in the opener.
 In 2000-01, Ole Miss placed second at the Yahoo! Sports Invitational (formerly Pearl Harbor Invitational). The Rebels defeated Southern Illinois (70-66) and Southern Cal (84-83, OT), but came up short against Iowa State (73-68) in the championship game.
 In 1999-2000, Ole Miss won the inaugural SoCon Holiday Hoops Tournament in Greenville, S.C., defeating Wisconsin-Green Bay, 57-53 in the title game. Prior to that tournament title, the Rebels' previous regular-season tournament crown came in the 1993-94 season, a 78-74 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Cellular South/Mississippi Beach Shootout (one-game tournament). The previous time Ole Miss won a two-day tournament title was in the 1988-89 campaign when the Rebels claimed the Bayou Classic championship with wins over Southern (90-88) and Nicholls State (74-53).
 The Jim Thorpe Classic will be only the ninth three-day tournament for the Rebels in their history. The last three-day tournament came a year ago at the BCA Classic. The Rebels' other three-day tournaments were at the BP Top of the World Classic in 2001-02, the Yahoo! Sports Invitational in 2000-01, the SoCon Holiday Hoops Tournament (Greenville, S.C.) in 1999-2000, Puerto Rico Holiday Classic (San Juan, Puerto Rico) in 1998-99, All-College Tournament (Oklahoma City, Okla.) in 1972-73, Gulf South Tournament (Shreveport, La.) in 1960-61 and All-American City Tournament (Owensboro, Ky.) in 1954-55.



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