By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Coaches routinely call for consistency from their players but not in the way the Ole Miss Rebels are showing it down the stretch.
Backs to the wall as they attempt to play their way into postseason, the Rebels will try to correct mistakes they’re repeating when they take on Florida today.
The tip at Tad Smith Coliseum is 11 a.m., and the game will be televised by CBS.
“We know we have six games left. We have to learn from our mistakes. We have to get over the hump. We have to have a belief that we’re going to close games,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Having lost four of its last five games, Ole Miss (17-8, 5-6 SEC) may need to win the remainder of its games to attract strong interest from the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Thursday’s 82-78 loss to No. 17 Vanderbilt, the Rebels’ third at home, was costly in terms of what it could have offered to a resume. Ole Miss won’t face another regular season opponent with a top 50 RPI.
Florida (18-8, 7-4) arrives after beating Auburn 78-70 Thursday night even though the Gators had no field goals in the final 8 minutes, 24 seconds.
“They’re playing for their lives, like we are,” Kennedy said.
Life got harder against Vanderbilt because of missed opportunities in the lane and at the free throw line on offense and by allowing Vandy center A.J. Ogilvy to win the battle for position on the defensive end.
Catching the ball near the basket, Ogilvy was able to score 27 points.
“We had seven or eight opportunities in the lane at point-blank range where we came away empty, the two charges, as well as missed layup opportunities in traffic. We just cannot afford to leave those points on the table,” Kennedy said.
Now the focus turns from winning a key game against a ranked opponent to create momentum to a feeling that there is no remaining margin for error. Players believe they have to win out.
‘We have to have the desire’
A six-game win streak to close the season would require – in addition to efficient play – great effort, and effort was called into question by players following Thursday’s loss.
“I believe we can do it as long as we play hard,” point guard Chris Warren said. “We have the players. We have to have the good desire.”
It was Warren, however, who said the Rebels only played “fairly hard” in a high-stakes game against Vanderbilt.
“There would be possessions where four of us were busting hard, but one was lacking and was a little bit late. That caused a deep catch for Ogilvy or an open 3, or just not getting to loose balls,” he said.
The quick turnaround leaves little time for more work to fix recurring problems.
“Oh, our backs are against the wall, no question. The reality is we’re one of about 15 teams with our backs against the wall,” Kennedy said. “Trust me, I understand the importance of this game. I understand the missed opportunity, but as the coach, it’s my job to push forward, and that’s what we are going to do.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or email@example.com