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GAME 11: Ole Miss (8-2) vs. South Alabama (5-4)
December 16, 2006 5 p.m. CT
Mobile, Ala. Mitchell Center (10,000)
Live TV: CSS (Tom Hart, play-by-play; Richard Cross, color analyst)
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst)
SIRIUS Channel: 143
OLE MISS HITS ROAD FOR SOUTH ALABAMA
For the second time in three games, Ole Miss faces a 2006 NCAA Tournament team on the road, as the Rebels battle the South Alabama Jaguars Saturday in the first game of the Coors Classic doubleheader. The late game features No. 9 Alabama against Southern Miss. Ole Miss has equaled its best start since 2000-01 and is coming off an 87-53 win over Louisiana-Monroe Tuesday. Bam Doyne matched his career high with 25 points, and Dwayne Curtis notched his eighth double-double as a Rebel with 16 points and 11 rebounds in his second game since returning from injury.
SCOUTING THE JAGUARS
South Alabama faces its third straight SEC Western Division foe, after suffering road losses at Auburn 82-71 and Mississippi State 84-46. Fifth-year head coach John Pelphrey is coming off a season in which he guided the Jaguars to a 24-7 record, the Sun Belt Conference title and their seventh NCAA Tournament berth. Five letterwinners are back from that squad including junior guard Demetric Bennett, who leads the team averaging 14.8 points and 6.0 rebounds. Richmond transfer Daon Merritt, a 5-foot-10 guard, is posting 11.0 points and 5.9 assists, while senior guard Carlos Smith is adding 10.6 points and 3.6 dimes.
OLE MISS-USA SERIES
Saturday’s game will be the third meeting between the two schools, and the third to be staged in Mobile. The all-time series is tied at 1-1 with Ole Miss winning 80-61 on Dec. 30, 1969 and South Alabama prevailing 70-54 on Dec. 30, 1975.
REBEL-JAGUAR COACHING TIES
This weekend marks a return for Andy Kennedy to the site of his first coaching position. After playing professionally for three years, the 26-year-old Kennedy served one year as an assistant coach for the Jaguars during the 1994-95 campaign.
Bob Weltlich manned the Rebel sidelines for six years (1977-82) and directed Ole Miss to the SEC Tournament title and the program’s postseason debut in 1981. Weltlich later took the reins of USA for five seasons (1998-2002) and recorded an 81-65 record. He also took the Jags to the NCAA Tournament and managed three 20-win seasons.
USA sophomore forward Brandon Davis will see a few of familiar faces on the Ole Miss bench Saturday. In 2004-05, current Rebel assistant Torrey Ward coached Davis as an assistant on the Jacksonville State staff. Ole Miss’ operations assistant Robi Coker was also film coordinator for that JSU team. A year later, while Davis was sitting out as a transfer at Birmingham-Southern, he practiced under BSC assistant coach Bill Armstrong, who now serves as the Rebels’ Coordinator of Basketball Operations.
Several members of the Rebel family will be returning to their homestate this weekend. Senior guard Clarence Sanders is a native of Phenix City, sophomore forward Trey Hampton hails from Hoover, and junior guard Kiah Brown is from Haleyville. In addition, Dwayne Curtis spent a season at Auburn University before arriving at Ole Miss. On the Rebel staff, assistant coach Torrey Ward and coordinator of operations Bill Armstrong are both from Birmingham, while operations assistant Robi Coker is from Skirum. Andy Kennedy spent three years playing at UAB and later served assistant coaching stints for both the Blazers and the Jaguars.
Andy Kennedy’s style of “pressure basketball” has paid some early dividends for the 8-2 Rebels, particular on the offensive side. Ole Miss is averaging 77.3 points per game, a 12.1 raise from a year ago, and connecting on 38.3 percent of its 3-pointers, which is a 5.5 improvement. 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’ current scoring clip is the highest since averaging 80.5 per game in 1997-98.
The Rebels currently rank third in the SEC in free throw percentage at 71.2. That figure is over 8
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 Bam Doyne at 84.8, Todd Abernethy at 82.6 and Clarence Sanders at 80.8.
In only his second game back from injury, Dwayne Curtis looked like his old self against Louisiana-Monroe Tuesday, notching a double-double less than 15 minutes into the contest. The preseason All-SEC honoree finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. 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. He returned to the court Saturday at Memphis and saw 17 minutes of action, grabbing 6 rebounds and scoring 2 points.
In his first season in the Red and Blue, Curtis earned AP All-SEC honorable mention status and NABC All-District second team honors. He ranked among the league leaders in nine categories and topped Ole Miss in scoring (13.6), rebounding (7.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6) and field goal percentage (.568, which ranked second in the SEC). Curtis scored in double-figures in 21 games with six 20-point outings and seven double-doubles.
DOYNE IT ALL
Bam Doyne is among the SEC statistical leaders this season, ranking fourth in scoring (17.1), 10th in rebounding (6.9), second in free throw accuracy (84.8) and 12th in minutes played (31.60). The senior guard has topped the team or tied for the team-lead in scoring in five games, including a career-high 25 in wins over Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe Tuesday. The ULM performance marked his seventh 20-point game in the Red and Blue and fourth of the year. Doyne has also notched his first two career double-doubles this season 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 five times.
Eniel Polynice has come into his own over the last three games, posting a pair of double-digit scoring performances, hitting 6-of-9 3-pointers and averaging 24.0 minutes. 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 to victory against Central Arkansas in the HCF Classic. 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.
After a streaky first season in the Red and Blue, Clarence Sanders has been a steady point provider for the Rebels this year, scoring in double-figures in nine of the last 10 games and ranking 13th in the SEC at 14.8 points per game. He is also 11th in the league leaders in 3-pointers per game (1.90). In the Louisiana-Lafayette win, the senior guard connected on 4-of-7 treys in leading the Rebels with 22 points. He followed up with a team-high 21 against Fairfield and turned in his fifth career 20-point outing with 20 against Nicholls. After posting a .357 shooting clip a year ago, Sanders boasts a .446 field goal percentage in the season’s early goings.
RAISING HIS GAME
Senior 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 again. He is averaging double-figure points for the first time and turned in the best offensive game of his career against Nicholls with 23 points, missing only two shots all night. Abernethy is second in the SEC in assist/turnover ratio (3.25) and ranks sixth in the SEC in assists (4.33 per game). He is also shooting 51.6 percent from the field. Below charts
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
Todd Abernethy: The senior guard 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.
Trey Hampton: 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: Hardy began practicing with the team on Nov. 27, following Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State in the football season finale. He has yet to dress for a game. As a freshman 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.
Jermey Parnell: The junior forward recently enjoyed a three-game span of averaging 14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 75.0-percent shooting. 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.
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 recently averaged 14.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 65.5-percent shooting over a three-game span. Williams hit for 15 points and 6 boards against New Orleans and had his best game as a Rebel against Nicholls with his first double-double, posting career highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Those numbers bested his strong totals in the previous game against Tennessee Tech when he struck for 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals ... Williams also stood out in the win over Louisiana-Lafayette, posting 12 points and 8 boards.
IMPRESSIVE IN NON-CONFERENCE PLAY
Since the 1993-94 season, the Rebels have posted an impressive 130-43 record (.751 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.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Ole Miss is making its fifth TV appearance of the year against South Alabama, as the game is available on Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS). 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. In one of five games on Fox Sports Net, the Rebels open league play with Kentucky in a Saturday night clash in Oxford on FSN South. Ole Miss and Mississippi State renew their bitter rivalry in Oxford with an ESPN “Super Tuesday” showdown. The Rebels are playing four games on Lincoln Financial Sports, four 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.
REBELS VISIT ST. JUDE
The Ole Miss basketball team took a break from its trip to Memphis to visit St. Jude Children’s Hospital on Friday. The Rebels shared and took photographs with the children and their families, and at least one patient has expressed to being a long-time, loyal Ole Miss basketball fan.
“We want our players to understand the impact they can have on young people,” said Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy. “It’s exciting for our program to give back to such a great cause.”
REBELS ENTER KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION
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.