Ole Miss Men’s head basketball coach Andy Kennedy has always had respect for Alabama’s head coach Avery Johnson, whether Johnson was on the court pushing the ball up the floor for the San Antonio Spurs or Dallas Mavericks or on the sideline guiding his team to victory.
Now Kennedy will have the opportunity to coach against Johnson when the Rebels face off against the Crimson Tide Thursday night (8:00 p.m. CT, ESPNU) in the highly-anticipated opening of the Rebels’ new $95 million arena, the Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss got a taste of what it will feel like to play for the first time on its new home floor Monday night when the team had practice in its new home.
“I have been focused on getting our team prepared and getting through the non-league part of our schedule,” said Kennedy, who admitted his team has a bad taste in its mouth after falling to No. 10 Kentucky, 83-61, in its Southeastern Conference opener last Saturday night.
“Obviously we had a little break for Christmas where we had won seven in a row and we were feeling a little better about ourselves. We closed out Tad Smith in the right way with a victory. It’s going to be nice to play in the arena and it’s a real game changer for our program.”
Rebels look to move forward, shake off the Kentucky game
Against the Wildcats, the Rebels (10-3, 0-1) shot 40 percent (20 for 50) from the floor, including going 3-for-14 from 3-point range. Ole Miss also committed 16 turnovers and Kennedy realizes that turn of events can’t occur against Alabama, which has limited its opponents to shooting just 38.8 percent from the field.
Kennedy also realizes the type of talent on the Crimson Tide team. Alabama is led by senior guard Retin Obasohan and junior forward Shannon Hale, who are averaging 13.4 and 11.7 points per game, respectively.
“I think they do a good job with their spacing. They have guards that can really make plays off the bounce,” said Kennedy, who has a 9-7 career record versus Alabama. “Defensively they are very solid; they got size in their front line with Jimmy Taylor, who does a good job of defending the paint and giving them a presence at the basket.”
Kennedy knows it will be a challenge to win the first-ever game in the Pavilion:
Alabama has played well in tough, non-conference schedule
With a 9-3 record, the Crimson Tide is currently in the same position it was this time last season in its first 12 games. However, this season’s non-conference schedule has been far tougher. Alabama played four teams that were part of the 2015 NCAA Tournament and split the matchups, defeating Wichita State and Notre Dame in the AdvoCare Invitational, but falling to Dayton and Xavier.
Coach Johnson did not have a problem filling up his early schedule with juggernaut opponents. He felt the team would benefit from it heading into the second half of the season.
“A lot of people questioned why we wanted to schedule an early season game against Dayton,” said Johnson, whose team has won seven of its last nine games and enters Oxford on a two-game winning streak. “But it was a win for us even though we lost because we got a lot of experience on the road, playing in a tough, tough building.
“We thought we were going to need that experience, especially looking at what we are going to experience in the SEC.”
Series History vs. Alabama
Thursday’s game will be the 175th meeting the Rebels and Crimson Tide. Alabama holds a 118-56 lead in the series, which began in 1921, but the Rebels have won six of the last nine against the Crimson Tide, including an 82-74 victory in Tuscaloosa last season.
Ole Miss leads the series 42-38 in Oxford and has won 14 of the last 17 meetings at home.
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)