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Rebels finish memorable season in the Sweet 16

By Gregg Ellis

Daily Journal

SAN ANTONIO – The storybook season has ended.

But not before Ole Miss gave Arizona fits for 40 minutes.

The Wildcats, who improve to 26-7, survived the Rebels’ stingy defense Friday at the Alamodome and now advance to the finals of the Midwest regional Sunday with a 66-56 win.

Ole Miss, which led 24-23 at intermission, concludes its season following a Southeastern Conference best 27-8 record and a run not many expected.

“You’re not going to see any two teams play any tougher defense,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said. “It was two teams playing extremely tough on the defensive ends of the court.”

Despite the loss and a preseason prediction of a last-place finish in the Southeastern Conference, the Rebels enjoyed their greatest season ever.

In addition to winning its third Western Division title in the last five years, Ole Miss set a school record with 27 wins, as well as advancing to its first-ever Sweet 16 after outlasting Iona and Notre Dame last weekend in Kansas City.

“It’s been a special year, both on and off the court,” Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. “We had a successful season. We have nothing to be ashamed about.”

The Rebels, who finished the season ranked No. 14 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, opened the 2000-01 campaign with an 11-0 mark before losing to Iowa State in the finals of the Yahoo! Invitational in Hawaii. Prior to that 73-68 setback to the Cyclones, Ole Miss posted wins against Oklahoma, Memphis and Southern California.

After going 0-8 on the road in conference play last year, the Rebels opened with wins at Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They finished 4-4 on the road en route to an 11-5 overall mark.

The Rebels’ play certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Rahim Lockhart was named first-team All-SEC, and Justin Reed was tabbed the league’s freshman of the year. On Tuesday, Barnes was recognized nationally when he received the Naismith Coach of the Year award, the highest honor a coach can receive.

“I’m thankful for my teammates,” Lockhart said. “They gave me a season to remember.”