PARRISH ALFORD: Slumping Rebels put in more work

By Parrish Alford / NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Perhaps one or more Ole Miss basketball players one day become a banker or federal employee, but on Monday’s holiday, they worked.
Twice as a matter of fact.
With the prospect of a three-game SEC-opening losing streak growing with Wednesday’s road trip to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy changed things up, starting with his number of practices.
“We’re not in school, and there are a number of areas we need to address,” Kennedy said. “We’re just trying to make the best use of time.”
The best use of time within the workouts has been to focus on defense, players said.
Kennedy said he attributed the Rebels’ 98-76 loss to Georgia to a combination of “hangover” from an emotional 69-64 loss to the in-state rival on Thursday followed by the short time to prepare for what he called Georgia offense complex in its varied offensive styles.
Georgia shot 63.5 percent and came within a bucket of being the first SEC team to score 100 points against a Kennedy-coached Ole Miss team.
In statistics against conference teams only, the Rebels (12-6, 0-3) are last in scoring defense (81.3 ppg) and in field goal defense (53.1 percent).
“When we got back (together) Sunday he was telling us how in our past two losses, our defense just wasn’t very good. We’ve been doing straight defensive drills, just working on defense,” junior forward Terrance Henry said. “We have to get our field goal defense down. Georgia shot a real high percentage against us, and that’s not acceptable.”
The slow start has also affected the confidence in a team that three games ago was 12-3 and picked as a Western Division contender, an NCAA tournament hopeful.
“When you lose your first three SEC games, two of them at home, after that your confidence as a team and an individual gets down,” Henry said. “We’re just trying to be good teammates. Our coaches try to keep us up, and we’re just going to try to get it together and get this first win at Vandy.”
Nothing helps confidence surge like winning, but that creates a chicken and egg debate. Which comes first, improved confidence or victory?
Players believe they can right the mental ship with good workouts leading to the Vanderbilt game. They hope to achieve an Ole Miss win in Nashville for the first time since 2001. The Commodores have won eight of the last nine in the series.
“We have to get a win. Our mindset is definitely changing. We’ve been doing a lot of defense, focusing on defense. We’ve got to get some stops,” senior guard Zach Graham said. “Early (game) success definitely helps, but confidence changes with every person, and it’s something you have to find within yourself.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@journalinc.com.