November 24, 2007

Rebels guarding against a letdown

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team hasn’t played a game in nearly a week, but just because the Rebels haven’t suited up in uniform, it doesn’t mean the team has been idle.

Ole Miss and head coach Andy Kennedy[/b] have been working through the past week, installing and fine-tuning some things.

The Rebels get back on the floor Saturday afternoon at 2, when Ole Miss hosts Louisiana-Monroe at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Senior forward [db]Kenny Williams said the Rebels have used the extra practice time to refocus.

“We’re using this time to get better as a team �" to fix all the mistakes we’ve made as a team,” Williams said. “This is a good time to get better.”

The Rebels are off to a 3-0 start, but the team may have been given a wake-up call.

Kennedy said his team’s gotten a chance to see some of the preseason upsets that have cost some SEC teams wins.

“There have been a lot of surprises early. I hope it gets the attention of our team; we’ve certainly talked about it,” Kennedy said. “It’s an eye-opener. There’s been a lot of upsets. We can’t fall prey to that because we didn’t focus on an opponent.”

Williams said the upsets are just one more reason for the Rebels to stay motivated.

“Those are the things we don’t want to happen to us. Watching these teams lose from Arkansas to Alabama, it just shows us the SEC’s wide open,” Williams said. “You see all these teams getting knocked off, and it gets you, the reality that you have to come in and work hard every day.

“Saturday, we need this game.”

Louisiana-Monroe (1-3) is coming off of a 71-68 loss at Sam Houston State. The Warhawks’ other two losses came at the hands of a pair of Top 15 teams, losing at Kansas (107-78) and at Michigan State (83-65).

Jordan Payne leads Louisiana-Monroe in scoring, averaging 15.8 points a game. Payne, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is also the Warhawks top perimeter threat, making 10-of-30 three-point shots.

Ole Miss defeated Louisiana-Monroe 87-53 in Oxford last season.

“They’re an uptempo team. We played them last year, so we’re pretty familiar with them,” Kennedy said. “They want to play fast. We know they’ll be a quality an opponent.”

Kennedy will continue to look to 10 players to give him quality minutes. Of those 10, five are averaging in double figures, and two more are averaging 8.0 points or better.

With such depth, Kennedy said the competition in practice takes on greater importance.

“When you’re playing 10 guys, you want to make sure competition in practice determines who’s going to play on game night,” he said.

Freshman Zach Graham’s one of the young Rebels working for minutes. Graham’s come off the bench to spark the Ole Miss offense. In his first three games, the athletic forward’s averaging 8.0 points a game.

Graham said the extra practice team over the past week’s helped the younger Rebels continue to build on the foundation laid so far.

“Coach really wants us to come back with our minds mentally focused. We’ve got to keep getting prepared of the next game,” Graham said. “As we go through each day and each practice, I think we’re getting more comfortable �" especially the young guys.

“We’re learning more about what we need to do.”

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