Bulldogs, Rebels hit the SEC homestretch|[03/04/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mississippi State will use the final week of the Southeastern Conference regular season to improve its seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Ole Miss will use it as a chance to bolster a 19-win season and earn a tournament bid that in December seemed like a lock.

Neither team will have an easy time.

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The Rebels (19-9, 5-9 SEC) play host to Arkansas in an ESPN-televised senior night tonight. The home-standing Rebels are 13-2 at Tad Smith Coliseum, but only 1-7 on the road. Arkansas has a similar plight, having won 14 of 15 games at home, but only 2 of 6 on the road.

“I think all of the coaches in this league have been frustrated by not being able to bottle up what we do at home and take it on the road,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, whose team is coming off a 91-88 victory over Alabama on Saturday in Oxford. “People play with great comfort at home.”

The Rebels will end the regular season at Georgia on Saturday. The Rebels can finish no higher than third in the SEC West. Arkansas locked down the No. 2 seed in the West behind Mississippi State.

The Razorbacks (19-9, 8-6) are led by Sonny Weems’ 14.6 points per game. Patrick Beverley and Darian Townes each average 11 points per game.

Arkansas beat Ole Miss on Feb. 9 by six points in Fayetteville, but have lost 4 of 6 games since beating the Rebels.

Ole Miss is led by freshman point guard Chris Warren (15.9 points per game) and Dwayne Curtis’ 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

“This is a very big week for our basketball team,” Kennedy said. “We have a big challenge coming up against a great Arkansas team that had their way with us in Fayetteville.”

Mississippi State (20-8, 11-3 SEC) will not be immune to the quality play of SEC teams at home. The Bulldogs will play at Vanderbilt Wednesday on the Commodores’ senior night. Vandy is 18-0 at home this year and is coming off a victory over No. 1 Tennessee last week.

“Obviously we are going to an atmosphere where no one has had any success all year,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, still hoarse from the Bulldogs’ 68-59 SEC West-clinching victory over two-time defending national champion Florida. “Vanderbilt is 18-0 at home and 7-0 in the SEC. What makes it even more difficult is that they have a tremendous basketball team.”

Jamont Gordon leads four Bulldogs in double figures with a 17.1 points per game average. Charles Rhodes, who on Monday earned SEC Player of the Week honors, averages 16.2 points per game, while Barry Stewart and Ben Hansbrough each average in double figures.

Vanderbilt counters with high-flying Shan Foster and his 19.8 points per game. He is ranked 36th nationally in scoring average.

The Bulldogs have already locked up the No. 1 spot in the Western Division and will be a top seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs will end the regular season on Saturday at home against LSU.

The SEC Tournament begins on March 13 in Atlanta and culminates on March 16. The NCAA Tournament selection show is on March 16 as well.

“Our teams is playing well right now and we will have to continue to play well against a team like Vanderbilt,” Stansbury said.

COLLEGE BASKETBALLOn TV8 p.m. ESPN – Arkansas (19-9, 8-6 SEC) at Ole Miss (19-9, 5-9).On the radio: 1490 AM

On the radioWednesday, 7 p.m. 105.5 FM – Miss. State (20-8, 11-3) at Vanderbilt (24-5, 9-5)