|No. 19 Tennessee tries to keep SEC title hopes alive|
Mississippi won its first game under interim coach Tony Madlock, beating an NCAA Tournament-caliber Missouri team in overtime on the road. The Rebels face another stiff challenge on Saturday when No. 19 Tennessee comes to Oxford, Miss.
The Volunteers (20-7, 10-5 SEC) were picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference in a preseason media poll. But with three games remaining in the regular season, Tennessee is in second place, two games behind Auburn.
The Vols stayed in the hunt for the regular-season title with a win over Florida on Wednesday. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, Tennessee's one-two inside punch, combined for 39 points and 14 rebounds, and Tennessee held Florida to 35 percent shooting, prompting Gators coach Mike White to call Tennessee "one of the best defensive teams in the country."
"You've got linebackers like Williams and Schofield that move like guards," White said. "They've got great speed and quickness in the backcourt. They've got great depth. They run different guys at you, and they play extremely hard."
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes also praised his team's defense, but said they're still experiencing too many rebounding lapses and the Volunteers' transition defense needs to get better.
"You're not going to win games if you don't get back in transition and take away easy baskets and protect the goal," Barnes said.
The Rebels (12-16, 5-10) like to push the ball with guards Breein Tyree and Deandre Burnett. Tyree scored 25 points in the Rebels' win over Missouri, their first game since former coach Andy Kennedy stepped down.
Kennedy coached the Rebels for nearly 12 full seasons and is the all-time winningest coach at Ole Miss with a 245-156 record. He initially announced that this would be his last season on Feb. 12, and planned to finish out the season. He reconsidered and decided last Sunday to resign effective immediately.
"It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of the standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade," Kennedy said in a statement announcing his decision. "Therefore, I believe that it is in everyone's best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that 'clean breaks' are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies."
Barnes said he was impressed with the Rebels' mindset in the win over Missouri.
"They've got guards that can shoot the ball, score the ball. They change defenses well. I think they play hard," Barnes said of Ole Miss. "They've got a foundation that's been there for quite some time. I just know this time of year, the mindset is probably as important as anything right now, and after watching what they did against Missouri, they've got a pretty good mindset right now."
Tennessee blasted Ole Miss 94-61 in Knoxville on Feb. 3. Williams and Schofield combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds in the win.
The Vols have won two straight over the Rebels.