The 16th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels (17-2, 6-0 SEC) will square off with the Kentucky Wildcats (13-6, 4-2 SEC) tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN in the Tad Smith Coliseum. It will be the Rebels’ third game in a six-day span.
This year’s team is off to the best start in Rebel basketball history, posting a 17-2 overall record and a 6-0 conference record. While junior guard Marshall Henderson has received most of the credit for the success, head coach Andy Kennedy sees his three seniors, guard Nick Williams, forward Reggie Buckner and forward Murphy Holloway, as vital pieces.
“I think our guys have learned some things over the course of 100-plus games in an SEC uniform,” Kennedy said in Monday’s SEC teleconference. “I think they are playing to their experience, and that’s what’s helped us.”
In the Rebels’ most recent victory, a 63-61 win at Auburn on Saturday, it was two sophomores who stepped up. Guard LaDarius White led the team with 17 points, and point guard Jarvis Summers added 14. The two combined to go 5-of-5 on 3-pointers, which was key to beating Auburn’s 2-3 zone. However, they also combined to go 0-of-6 from the free throw line.
Kentucky is led by two freshman, guard Archie Goodwin and forward Nerlens Noel. Goodwin is the Wildcats’ leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game.
Noel averages 10.6 points per game. He also leads Kentucky with 9.4 rebounds per game, and is tied for second in the country with 4.3 blocks per game. Noel is also ranked 16th in the country with 2.4 steals per game.
Kentucky will bring a balanced attack, as five players average double-digit points and five players average 4.5 rebounds or more. Ole Miss has had nine different players score in double figures, but only two, Henderson and Holloway, are averaging in double figures.
In three of the six SEC games, Ole Miss has trailed at halftime, and Kentucky head coach John Calipari has taken notice.
“They’re older,” Calipari said in Monday’s teleconference. “They don’t seem to be rattled. (In) a bunch of the games I watched, even if the team comes at them and gets (the) lead, they don’t get rattled. And if they get you down, they try to keep you down.”
The second half is when Ole Miss has played their best basketball this season. They have outscored SEC opponents by 38 points in the second half and have not been outscored in the second half by an SEC team.
“I’m just proud of the guys being resilient, tough-minded, having a belief that we’re going to win,” Kennedy said. “I’ve never had the sense that our guys felt like they were going to lose.”
A win for Ole Miss would keep them in good position for a NCAA Tournament bid, while the Wildcats are looking to add a quality win to its NCAA Tournament resume. Ole Miss is No. 31 in the latest NCAA RPI rankings, while Kentucky is No. 62.
ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz shed some light on the Rebels’ success so far this season.
“Ole Miss could be the SEC front-runner if the Rebels and their wildcard Marshall Henderson beat Kentucky and win on the road Saturday at SEC preseason favorite Florida,” Katz said on SportsCenter Monday.
The game against Kentucky has already been deemed a sellout, the fourth straight, making this sellout-streak the longest ever at the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Kennedy has 142 wins as Ole Miss head coach. With three more wins, he will become the all-time winningest coach in program history.
Holloway will look to break the all-time record for rebounds at Ole Miss, as he needs five rebounds to break Walter Actwood’s record of 945. Buckner can pass Robert Horry of Alabama and move into sixth on the SEC’s all-time block list with five blocks.
Student section gates to open at 5:30 p.m.
Ole Miss announced Monday that “Club Red,” the student section for Rebel basketball, will open at 5:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. tipoff.
Students can enter through the Gate 9 red doors. They can begin lining up at the gate at 4 p.m. Those who get there early will be part of King Kobraz’s new music video shoot. Hot dogs and drinks will also be given to the first 500.
The student section has been full for Ole Miss’ three previous sellouts, so the student section will be limited to 1,500 students.
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