December 27, 2007

Rebels not satisfied with 11-0 start

The Ole Miss men's basketball team has spent much of the season fighting for respect. With win after win after win, the Rebels have worked their way on the national radar.

The experience taught the team something about playing with fire, passion and hunger.

But despite a No. 22 ranking, the Rebels aren't satisfied. They want to move up the rankings and they want more wins.

They're hungry.

"We still think we don't get enough respect," junior Terrence Watson said. "We want to be No. 1. That's the ultimate goal."

The Rebels hope to play with that edge Friday at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, when Ole Miss will take on Southern Miss at 7 p.m.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said things definitely change after cracking the Top 25.

"It's amazing, and we experienced it with Clemson. When a team has a number in front of its name, the opponent will certainly be excited to play," Kennedy said. "We've been on the other side of the fence, and this will be a whole new experience for us."

After winning the San Juan Shootout, Kennedy's players had some time off before returning to practice on Wednesday.

Kennedy said the quick turnaround could play a factor.

"My biggest concern is the timing of it. We were together in a foreign land for three big games in three days. We achieved something we set out to achieve," Kennedy said. "We came back after a few days off and everyone kind of scurries back in. The game gets here really quick.

"I just want to make sure the guys are focused on the task at hand."

Freshman guard Chris Warren said the team's more than focused. He knows the Rebels are playing for plenty of different things - and playing with a chip on their shoulders.

"That makes it fun," Warren said. We've got something to go get. Now that we're ranked, people want something from us."

A win against Southern Miss would give the Rebels a 12-o start - the best in school history.

But while the Rebels know what's at stake, veterans like Kenny Williams are keeping things in perspective.

Williams said Ole Miss (11-0) has already learned a lesson about letting down its guard.

"LaSalle taught us a lesson," Williams said. "The two teams we were worrying about were DePaul and Clemson. Once we beat DePaul, we went into the LaSalle game thinking it was just a stat game - thinking we'd blow them out. We kind of had to get our heads straight. That taught us a valuable lesson."

And now, Warren said, the team's going out of its way to not let the No. 22 ranking dictate their attitude.

"We don't want to get mentally messed up because we're ranked," Warren said. "We're ranked - and we have to play like we're ranked."

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