December 7, 2007

Ole Miss heads to UCF for first road test

They say you always remember your first time, but Ole Miss senior forward Dwayne Curtis doesn't really remember his.

Curtis' memory is fuzzy when it comes to his first collegiate road trip, but he, along with his Rebel teammates, will get a reminder of what it's like to travel when Ole Miss travels to Orlando to take on Central Florida Saturday night at 6.

While Curtis has been through a collegiate road trip before, Ole Miss has plenty of players - including some key freshmen - who haven't.

"It's a different atmosphere," Curtis said. "Their fans will call you out - call you all sorts of names. They can expect it all."

Chris Warren said he's glad his first trip will be to his hometown, but if the Rebels (6-0) fail to keep their record perfect, the Ole Miss veterans have let him know what to expect.

"They say it's fun - if you win," Warren said. "If you win, trips are fun, but if you lose, it's a long ride back. That's not what we want."

Ole Miss is hoping to continue its best start since the 2000-01 season, when the Rebels won 11-straight games to start the year.

But standing in Ole Miss' way is a talented UCF team.

The Knights (4-3) fell in tight losses to Villanova and Kansas State over Thanksgiving and recently lost by eight at Southern Florida.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said UCF mirrors some of the teams Ole Miss has already seen.

"They can make shots," Kennedy said. "They're perimeter-oriented and up-tempo - similar to a lot of the teams we've faced already. Their guard play will be terrific."

UCF's shooting 46 percent from the field, shooting 37 percent from three-point rang and averaging 71 points a game.

Jermaine Taylor, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, will be the Rebels' biggest defensive test. Ole Miss will run a variety of defenders at UCF's top scorer (17.4 points per game).

"I hope we've got enough guys on the perimeter where we can try different things, whether its Eniel Polynice, who is 6-foot-5 and long, Trevor Gaskins, who is 6-foot-2 and strong, or Chris Warren, who is 5-foot-10 and quick," Kennedy said. "We can do different things and find what's working."

But on the road, the margin for error shrinks, Kennedy said.

"Things you may overcome at home, you're less likely to get away with them on the road," he said. "I hope our guys understand that, but of course, they don't. They've never experienced it.

"We're trying to make them understand it."

And the elder Rebels are doing their part to help.

Ole Miss senior forward Kenny Williams said the freshmen need to stay focused and accept the responsibility that comes with traveling.

"Our coaches come at us like men. They expect us to act like men and represent Ole Miss right," Williams said. "On the road trips, we have a lot of freedom, but we need the young guys to understand that this isn't a fun trip. It's a business trip.

"Once you handle your business, if you're able to have fun, we'll take it."

Ultimately, Curtis said, the Rebels need to find ways to play like they have on their home court, and on the road, that's not easy.

"You have to bring a lot more intensity," he said. "It's just us. We're coming by ourselves."

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