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December 16, 2009Ole Miss has overcome a pair of slow starts in its last two games, coming from behind to defeat Southern Mississippi and McNeese State.
Still, the 20th-ranked Rebels don't want lethargic openings to become a trademark, knowing that's a habit that will result in losses as the level of competition increases.
Ole Miss (8-1) will look to jump out of the gate with a sense of urgency tonight against Texas-El Paso (5-1) at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss.
"We have to come out with the right mindset and take every team as if they're a good team," Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice said. "We didn't do that (against McNeese), and in the first half, they gave us what we deserved."
Ole Miss trailed McNeese by as many as 15 points in the second half Saturday in Oxford before rallying for a 16-point win. The Rebels trailed Southern Miss by six points with a little more than a minute remaining a week earlier before closing strong for a two-point victory.
"We start looking to hit home runs and we put pressure on ourselves, then we miss free throw after free throw, which again speaks to one thing and we all know that: You're not focused. You're just not focused," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "And as a result, we put ourselves behind the eight-ball."
Speaking of free throws, Kennedy is emphasizing to his team the importance of making more of the uncontested 15-footers. Ole Miss is shooting just 65.5 percent from the free throw line.
"It's frustrating and it's going to cost us if we don't make the adjustment," Kennedy said. "Again, it's a handful of guys. It's a concentration issue. It's a repetition issue. It's a consistent release point, as if talked about ad nauseum. It's like we told our first group. When you get tired of losing, you'll do something about it. When you get tired of missing free throws, you'll figure out a way to start making them.
"(Polynice) is one guy who's done that. He's prolifically been a poor foul shooter over the course of his career and he's shooting of the best, if not the best, (percentages) on our team. He's in the upper 70s (73.9 percent) simply because he got tired of missing them. I'm hoping some other guys get that same message."
The Rebels figure to encounter a determined UTEP team tonight. The Miners are coming off their first defeat of the season, an 87-80 setback to New Mexico State on Sunday. Former Memphis assistant Tony Barbee has led the Miners to improved records throughout his four-year tenure, including 23 wins a season ago. He's done it by recruiting Memphis heavily. Five Miners boast double-digit scoring averages, led by Memphis native Randy Culpepper's 18.3 points per game.
Five UTEP players hail from Memphis, including all three of the team's top scorers - Culpepper, fellow starter Arnett Moultrie (13.3 points per game) and key reserve Jeremy Williams (12.2 ppg).
There also figures to be quite a bit of familiarity between the Rebels and Miners. Ole Miss' Terrico White and UTEP's Gabriel McCulley were teammates at Craigmont High School. Ole Miss' DeAngelo Riley and UTEP's Myron Strong and Williams played together last season at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis. Also, White and Moultrie were teammates for the U.S. squad at this summer's FIBA U19 World Championships. The Bluff City duo helped Team USA win a gold medal in Auckland, New Zealand.
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