March 19, 2008

Rebels advance to face Nebraska

For the bulk of 30 minutes, Chris Warren wasn't a factor.

He was being bumped and pushed, guarded so closely, he might as well have worn a UC Santa Barbara jersey.

Minutes into the second half, he'd gotten bumped again, turning the ball over for an easy Gaucho layup.

Instead of sulking or playing intimidated, he did what he's done in second halves for much of the season - drained a back-breakingly deep three to snap momentum's neck.

Warren scored 16 points, all in the second half, as Ole Miss took care of UC Santa Barbara 83-68 at Tad Smith Coliseum Wednesday.

"He's got confidence," Andy Kennedy said.

Ole Miss will host Nebraska Monday in the second round of the NIT.

Warren got help from David Huertas on the perimeter and Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams in the paint.

Huertas, coming off the best game of his collegiate career, said his confidence is riding high after another good performance. Huertas hit five shots, all 3's, as he finished with 15 points.

Curtis and Williams exploited the Rebels' size advantage. Curtis had a monster game, pulling down 16 rebounds to go with a team-high 17 points. Williams finished 13 points and nine rebounds.

Curtis said the Rebels didn't worry about which tournament they were playing in; Wednesday, they just played.

"I don't even think about any of that," he said. "I just kept playing hard."

Alex Harris led all scores with 20 points for the Gauchos (23-9).

Ole Miss (22-10) struggled some in the first half, as UC Santa Barbara forced Ole Miss out of its offense and into 11 first-half turnovers.

"We knew they'd come at us aggressively," Kennedy said.

But it still caught some of the Rebels off guard.

"Maybe we thought it'd be a little easier," Huertas said. "They came at us hard."

Despite the rough start, Ole Miss adjusted enough to lead 37-36 at the half, and then things changed.

"We were attacking," Curtis said. "In the first half, we were passive."

No one exhibited that more than Warren, the Rebels' diminutive guard.

"I was playing back on my heels," Warren said. "I had to get in attack mode."

And Warren did just that, going to the rim for three-point plays while stepping back for three the easy way.

Warren and the Rebel offense left an impression on Gaucho head coach Bob Williams, who said Ole Miss showed they could've been playing in the NCAA Tournament.

"If they would have shot the ball in the previous 10 games like they did tonight, they would be playing in the other tournament," Williams said. "They got more physical in the second half and turned up their defense a notch."

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