Rebels enjoying strong start to SEC season
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes had a feeling going into this season that his team was improved.
Proving it on the court was another matter.
With two conference wins to start the season, the Rebels (12-3) have served notice that they are a contender in the injury-riddled SEC West. Ole Miss is off to its best conference start since 2000-01, a season that ended with a Sweet 16 appearance.
"That's huge," Barnes said. "One thing about this league is that it's so tough when you get off to a bad start."
Timing has helped the Rebels. Ole Miss opened the season at Alabama, four days after Tide senior forward Chuck Davis was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee. With Davis out and point guard Ronald Steele playing through back problems, Ole Miss pulled off a 71-61 win at Coleman Coliseum.
Ole Miss followed it up with a 68-63 win Wednesday night in its league home opener against South Carolina.
"If we lost that first game at Alabama, our kids would be questioning themselves," Barnes said. "We accomplished that. To come back and play an experienced team like South Carolina and win, it helps with our confidence."
The big improvement has come inside, where space-eating sophomore Dwayne Curtis is starting to make an impact. Curtis (6-foot-8, 290 pounds), a transfer from Auburn who sat out last season, is ninth in the league in scoring (14.4 ppg) and tied for sixth in rebounding (7.5 pg).
Curtis and 6-8 sophomore forward Jeremy Parnell give the Rebels some added muscle inside.
"Last year, we had Tommy Eddie in the post, who was 6-7," Barnes said. "Kendrick Fox started and was not really a post player."
Junior point guard Todd Abernathy also is rounding into a solid basketball player and has experience running the offense.
"Ole Miss is a better basketball team because they have better players," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "They have greater depth, are quicker in faster in all areas. They haven't changed in terms of their style of play, they are just doing it better."
The Rebels will no doubt take some confidence into their Saturday meeting at home against Mississippi State. Ole Miss has lost the last nine games against its state rivals.
"I don't know about ending the streak," Barnes said. "We just want to come out and continue to play well."
Something is stirring in Lexington, where in its SEC opener, reeling Kentucky lost for the first time at home to Vanderbilt since 1974.
The 57-52 defeat dropped the unranked Wildcats to 10-5 and prompted some postgame, finger-pointing. In a desperate search for answers on offense, Kentucky turned to senior walk-on Ravi Moss, who drained four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.
Afterward, Moss took shots back at his teammates.
"We don't really practice hard enough," Moss told the Cincinnati Post. "I think the biggest problem is we don't take a mature approach to practice.
"We don't come out focused every day and work hard like we need to and it shows during the games. We're just immature. We're not serious minded enough."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said Moss's frustration was warranted.
"In a two-hour session, you have to have some serious-mindedness," Smith said. "We haven't had that in all of our practices. Ravi is one of those guys who is serious minded. It comes down to maturity, leadership, being able to get everyone in line."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, on the strength of an SEC East that includes No. 2 Florida, "We've got a guy who probably could be national coach of the year at this point in Billy Donovan because nobody expected what they're doing, and his team is ranked No. 2 in the country."
RISING: Tennessee (11-1, 2-0 SEC), hey this Bruce Pearl guy can coach ... Vanderbilt (11-2, 2-0 SEC), first-ever win at Rupp Arena
FALLING: Arkansas (11-4, 0-2 SEC), too much talent to start SEC play this poorly.
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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