February 9, 2008

Rebels drop fourth straight on the road

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.- New game, same problems.

Trouble is how do you fix them?

"There aren't any easy answers," senior Dwayne Curtis said.

The Ole Miss basketball team continued its struggles on the road, and after falling 75-69 to Arkansas, head coach Andy Kennedy admitted he's running out of answers.

As far as bad starts go, things couldn't have been much worse for the Rebels. After scoring on its first possession, Ole Miss suffered a drought of Saharan proportions, missing nine straight shots over a 7-minute, 40-second span, leading to a 16-2 deficit.

"I don't understand it when you get to this point in the season," Kennedy said. "We've played in some tough venues before; we've played good teams. And, we came out timid.

"We dug ourselves a huge hole. I didn't like the look in our guys' eyes because we came out very passive. "

And, Curtis said, it was embarrassing.

"You don't want to look bad," he said. "And we could either look bad on TV or make it respectable."

Ole Miss (16-5, 3-5 SEC) did just that, fighting all the way back to a 36-36 tie early in the second half. But as soon as the Rebels clawed close, Arkansas (17-5, 6-2) pushed back out in front.

"They're playing as good as any team in our league right now," Kennedy said.

After tying things, Ole Miss would go on to trail by as many as 12 points as late as 2:41 before climbing back into the game one last time.

The Rebels went on an 11-2 run, with all 11 points coming from freshman guard Chris Warren, to make it a one-possession game with under a minute to go.

But Ole Miss couldn't get the critical stop, as Sonny Weems knifed though Eniel Polynice, Curtis and Kenny Williams for a slashing scoop that stopped any thoughts of a miracle comeback.

Weems finished with a double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds), and Patrick Beverley added 17 points and 13 rebounds.

"We won a dog fight tonight," Beverly said. "The crowd came prepared for a good game, and I think we gave them one. We came out with a lot of intensity tonight, but Ole Miss kept fighting - give them credit."

Despite the result, Kennedy said Warren, who lead all scorers with a career-high 26 points, came to play - hitting 6-of-8 from beyond the three-point line.

"He's one guy that you never have to really worry about where he's going to be," Kennedy said. "He's going to make some mistakes; he's a freshman. He's a true competitor and we challenged him to go make plays off the bounce.

"In the first half, he passed up some of those shots, but in the second half, he stepped up and made them when we needed them to stay close."

But close isn't good enough when the goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament, and Kennedy and the Rebels still haven't been able to find a win on the road in league play.

"You're not going to come into this environment playing someone playing a team as good as Arkansas, playing as good as they are, and hope they give you the game," Kennedy said. "You have to go out and pursue victory.

"I thought our effort was pretty good, but our execution failed us."

The effort it took to fight back from a 16-2 deficit wasn't lost on Warren, who said the slow start didn't prevent the team from challenging late.

"We didn't come out mentally ready to play," Warren said. "…We had to work hard to get back into the game, and we still had a chance to win the game at the end.

"It's just how we're preparing ourselves to come out and play. Hopefully, we'll get that together."

Curtis chipped in with 12 points and 14 rebounds in the loss, and David Huertas came off the bench for 10 points.

But Kennedy said he didn't get enough from players like Williams (3 points, 3 rebounds, 1-of-6 free-throw shooting.) and Polynice (7 points, 6 rebounds, 3-of-10 shooting, 1-of-4 free-throw shooting).

"The reality is you can't overcome it. We can't. Arkansas can't. No one can," he said. "We're all playing eight or nine guys. Three or four of those guys better come to play, especially when you're playing a team as talented as Arkansas in front of 20,000 people. Of your four core guys, you can't have two not show up.

"Unfortunately for us, we're just not executing. We know we're capable; we just need to be more consistent."

The Rebels have a quick turnaround when they go out of conference Monday to host Presbyterian at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Ole MissSports.tv.

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