January 30, 2008

Defense keeps Vandy offense in check

For the overwhelming bulk of the Rebels' first 15 wins, Ole Miss' offense dictated the outcome. Wednesday night, it was the defense's turn.

Ole Miss held No. 18 Vanderbilt to under 35 percent shooting from the field, as the No. 22 Rebels snapped a two-game losing streak with a 74-58 win at Tad Smith Coliseum,

For just the second time this season, the Rebels held an opponent under 60 points after holding Vanderbilt to a season-low 58.

"That was the major thing we put an emphasis on, just playing defense," senior forward Kenny Williams said. "We didn't want to play zone; we didn't want to press. We wanted to just play half-court, man-to-man and 'D' up.

"A lot of people have been saying we can't play defense and that our guards can't stop penetration… We took it personal."

Vanderbilt, the SEC's third-best scoring offense, never could crack the Ole Miss defense, which was highlighted by Eniel Polynice's job on Vanderbilt's Shan Foster.

"We came out with a lot of intensity and energy," Polynice said. "We didn't let them get anything easy."

Polynice limited Foster, the SEC's second-leading scorer, to 5-of-13 shooting from the floor and 4-of-11 shooting from three-point range.

"EP was the difference in the game without question," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy. "He did a terrific job on Shan Foster… He did a great job on him when we were in man."

Polynice also got the job done offensively, where he scooted past Vanderbilt defenders for 18 points. Freshman guard Chris Warren led all scorers with 20.

"We couldn't keep their perimeter players in front of us," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said.

And the Rebels (16-3, 3-3) needed big games from their guards with Dwayne Curtis held in check. Curtis managed a season-low three points.

But while he wasn't scoring, Curtis defended Vanderbilt freshman A.J. Ogilvy, limiting the big man to just 10 points.

Kennedy said he saw a fire in his team that hadn't looked lit in the Rebels' previous two games - both losses.

"It seems like an eternity since I've seen smiles in the locker room," Kennedy said.

Whether it was a steal and a slam from Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds), a key three from Zach Graham or a big block from Terrence Watson, energy fueled the Rebels.

And for once, it all started on the defensive end.

"I thought our intensity was where it needs to be," Kennedy said. "We were really locked in and focused on guarding. We guarded and that's been the biggest issue with our group."

Ole Miss returns to Tad Smith Coliseum Saturday when the Rebels host South Carolina. The game reunites Kennedy and South Carolina guard Devan Downey - both ex-Cincinnati Bearcats.

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