By Parrish Alford
LaDarius White follows his coach’s instructions on most matters, but not when it comes to the look-ahead rule.
While Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy stresses focus on the here-and-now of college basketball, White said a home loss to South Carolina could have been “devastating” for the Rebels’ NCAA tournament chances.
A loss is what Ole Miss would have had if not for a 15-point second-half comeback for a 75-71 win over the Gamecocks last Saturday.
“This game was based on the NCAA tournament. If we would have lost this game, it would have been devastating. We probably would have to win the rest of our games,” said White, who had 12 points off the bench. He had started the previous 12 games.
Kennedy says Ole Miss (15-6, 6-2 SEC) has “opportunities on the horizon” for NCAA tournament resume building.
One of those is tonight at No. 18 Kentucky.
With March Madness little more than a month away, Kennedy deflects questions regarding the Rebels’ status in the quest for an at-large bid.
Ole Miss advanced as SEC tournament champion last year, the Rebels’ first NCAA trip since 2002.
“We don’t pay a lot of attention to projections in the first week of February. There’s so much basketball left,” Kennedy said.
That isn’t the approach for White and his teammates. White says his teammates considered their future, not their present, when the Gamecocks went up by 15 points with less than 11 minutes remaining.
A loss to South Carolina – which currently carries a 139 RPI ranking – would have been a serious drag on the Ole Miss resume.
Kentucky’s RPI 13 could do wonders for the resume. There’s another opportunity later this week at home against Missouri (52 RPI), and the Rebels will face Kentucky a second time on Feb, 18 in Oxford.
Ole Miss is just 2-50 against Kentucky in Lexington. The Rebels’ last road win over the Wildcats was a 73-64 decision in 1998. The Rebels have beaten Kentucky only three times since then, twice under Kennedy. The only other win for Ole Miss in Lexington was in 1927.
Whether at Kentucky or against another team at another place, the Rebels will have to nail down a couple of these opportunity games at some point.
They also need to avoid bad RPI losses – like South Carolina could have been.
“It really got serious (in the second half). People were emotional,” White said. “Our goal is to reach the NCAA tournament, nothing less.”