December 18, 2007

Rebel opponents turn to zone defense

It didn't take long for word to get out.

With game tapes circulating between coaches, Ole Miss opponents have shared a distinct strategy in trying to slow down the Rebel men's basketball team and its offense - play zone.

Whether it's because of the Rebels size, speed and athleticism or the veteran interior presence, teams have elected to zone the Rebels almost exclusively.

And, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said, it's worked.

"We've been working on it, and we'll continue to work on it," he said. "When you're working with so many new guys, a zone has a tendency to make them passive. We start settling for shots."

In the Rebels' win Thursday over Winthrop in Jackson, Ole Miss (8-0) scored 76 points, and in Ole Miss' win at Central Florida, the Rebels scored 76 points - the worst scoring nights of the season.

Both teams played a lot of zone.

"We have to do a better job of focusing on where we want to attack the zone," Kennedy said. "It slows the game down. It's what people are doing in order to slow us done and get away from Chris Warren making things happen off the dribble.

"We just have to make adjustments."

Senior forward Dwayne Curtis said zone offense has been a priority for the Rebels as they prepare for three games in Puerto Rico, starting Thursday against DePaul.

"We've been stressing it at practice. Teams think it's the only way they can slow us down," Curtis said. "When teams play zone, we've been stressing that we need to attack it. The guards have to get into the pockets of the zone off the dribble, and the big men need to find those open spaces so we can be in a good position to score."

But while a zone defense may limit the Rebels' success by forcing Ole Miss into a slowed down, half-court offense, it has played to one Rebel strength.

Against Central Florida, Ole Miss grabbed 12 offense rebounds and scored 14 second-chance points.

And Winthrop felt the Rebel supremacy on the glass even more, as Ole Miss pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points.

Winthrop head coach Randy Peele saw enough.

"They rebound like a beast," he said.

The Rebels are grabbing almost 10 more rebounds than their opponents each game, and Ole Miss has grabbed 38 more offensive rebounds than its opponents.

Soon, maybe word again will get around. If you zone Ole Miss, the Rebels will make you pay other ways.

"A big reason a lot of people aren't comfortable in a zone is because you don't have specific block out responsibilities," Kennedy said. "If people are going to zone us and we're not shooting it well, it does lead to a lot of offensive rebounds.

"We have to take advantage of those opportunities, and we have the last two games. It's a big reason why we're undefeated."

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