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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Key road swing for Ole Miss starts at ‘Bama

By Davis Potter

Assistant Sports Editor

 

Alabama and Georgia are both looking up at Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference standings. That makes this week just as important as any chance to notch more high-profile wins later in the season for the Rebels.

Ole Miss is fresh off its first top-50 RPI victory with Saturday’s 91-88 win over Missouri, but games against Alabama and Georgia — teams with RPIs outside of the top 100 — could serve as proverbial land mines for any postseason momentum created with the win over the Tigers.

First up for Ole Miss (16-7 overall, 7-3 SEC) is tonight’s trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to tangle with the Crimson Tide (9-14), whose 3-7 mark in league play is tied for the second-worst in the conference. The Rebels will travel to Athens, Ga., on Saturday for a matchup with the Bulldogs (12-10), who have won back-to-back games to climb above .500 (6-4) in SEC play for the first time all season.

With a three-game homestand to follow, including monster opportunities against No. 14 Kentucky next Tuesday and No. 3 Florida on Feb. 22, the Rebels, who enter the week in sole possession of third place in the conference standings, have a chance to create some serious momentum heading into next week’s tilt with the Wildcats.

But the Rebels have to take care of business away from home first, something guard Marshall Henderson acknowledged following the win over Missouri.

“If we play like we did tonight as far as being focused and really high energy, then it will give us a chance at those places,” Henderson said on Saturday. “But we also know that if we get those two, we have the biggest week in Ole Miss history probably in basketball with Kentucky and Florida coming in here back-to-back. We’ve got to get these two, starting with the one in Tuscaloosa. We’ve got to get them.”

Alabama is mired in a four-game losing streak, but the Rebels know better than to take the Crimson Tide for granted. Alabama has played the second-toughest schedule in the nation with more than half of its losses coming against No. 4 Wichita State, No. 8 Duke, Oklahoma, UCLA, Xavier, Missouri and Florida twice, most recently on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

Tough at home

All nine of the Tide’s wins have come at Coleman Coliseum, a place where Ole Miss has won just once in the last decade.

“I watched Alabama and Florida play earlier (on Saturday), and they played Florida tough. Florida’s unstoppable in that building,” Henderson said. “They played them tough there all the way until the very end. Alabama’s definitely a lot better than their record shows, that’s for sure.”

Alabama owns the SEC’s sixth-ranked scoring defense, holding opponents to less than 70 points per game, and should test the patience of the Rebels’ fourth-ranked scoring offense (77.5 points). The Tide have been even stingier on their home floor, limiting opponents to 64 points in Tuscaloosa.

The matchup will feature two of the conference’s top scorers in Alabama guard Trevor Releford and Henderson. Releford, who’s coming off a 25-point outing in the loss to the Gators, ranks seventh in the league at 18.3 points a game while Henderson is averaging 19.6 points per contest. Henderson leads the SEC in 3-pointers made with 89.

“Really impressed watching Ole Miss on film coming off a big win this weekend against Missouri at home,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “It seems like they’re playing really well. They’re obviously an explosive team offensively, and they’re throwing a variety of defenses out there. Obviously that will be a great challenge for our team.”

—potter@oxfordeagle.com (February 11, 2014, Page 8)

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