December 28, 2007

Rebels can't make excuses against USM

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy knows the territory. With success comes a price.

The time for excuses is gone. Kennedy's seen what his team can do. Now, the Rebels need to do it.

With a chance to make history, the No. 22 Ole Miss men's basketball team will have to get past Southern Miss at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven at 7 p.m. Friday.

A win would give the Rebels (11-0) the best start in school history.

But more importantly, the Rebels have a chance to show they're building on three-straight wins in the San Juan Shootout - a coming out party for Ole Miss basketball.

Kennedy said by winning in San Juan, Ole Miss proved it belongs with the eight other undefeated teams.

"It showed what we're capable of doing if we take the right approach," Kennedy said. "When you're in a neutral setting where the fans aren't an influence and it's us against them, typically, those games are won by the better team - or at least the better team that day.

"I told the team it exposed them. Now, all the excuses we want to make for not playing as well, those go out the window because we've shown we're capable. Now, it's our responsibility to be at that level consistently."

And the Rebels will have to be at a high level Friday.

Kennedy praised Southern Miss (8-4) and its head coach Larry Eustachy and said the Golden Eagles present some serious challenges.

"Southern Miss is a tremendous rebounding team, and they play very hard. There are a lot of characteristics in that program run by Coach Eustachy that I was a part of at Cincinnati," Kennedy said. "They play very tough, hard-nosed man-to-man defense, and they really rebound and limit second-chance points, something this team's made a living off of."

Ole Miss is out-rebounding opponents by 7.8 boards per game. Junior Kenny Williams leads Ole Miss with 8.7 rebounds a game.

Much of the Southern Miss offense runs through the hands of sophomore guard Jeremy Wise.

Wise, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound Jackson native, can score in bunches. His 19.5 scoring average is fourth in Conference USA.

Kennedy said Wise's a versatile scorer who can hurt an opponent with a diverse arsenal.

"He's an explosive scorer who's really fast. He's got a knack for scoring that scorers just have. His speed gives him separation," Kennedy said. "He's a confident scorer and he can do it a number of different ways. He shoots the three at a good percentage, he can bounce it and get to the rim, he's a good foul shooter and he's got that in-between game.

"He's got a motor that always runs."

Wise has led the Golden Eagles in scoring six times this season, including 33 points in 79-77 loss at Alabama and 29 points in an 84-62 win over New Orleans.

Southern Miss could be without its top rebounder, 7-foot-1 center Gjio Bain, who's missed the last three games with a foot injury.

Kennedy said the Rebels are preparing for Bain to play.

Southern Miss enters the game fresh from its most disappointing loss of the season, falling 63-57 to McNeese State in Hattiesburg. In the loss, Southern Miss shot just 30.6 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range.

Dwayne Curtis' 15.6 points per game and Chris Warren's 15.1 scoring average pace things for the Rebel offense.

Warren said he expects Southern Miss to do some particular things on offense and defense.

"They run a lot of motion offense," Warren said. "They play defense really well, and they'll get in our face. We just have to be strong with the ball."

If Southern Miss plays a lot of man-to-man defense, Williams said he thinks the trip to Southaven should be a good one.

"We're going to be coming in hungry," Williams said. "Southern Miss will play us man-to-man and a lot of teams have been zoning us lately. This game here, for us, will be a nice game."

But Southern Miss won't go away quietly.

Kennedy's assured his team that things are a little different when you're the hunted - and not the hunter.

"This would be a big game regardless," he said. "But the fact that we come in as one of nine undefeated teams and nationally ranked, it'll only add to Southern Miss' excitement."

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