Aiming for just their second trip ever to the Sweet 16, the Ole Miss Rebels find the La Salle Explorers standing in their way as the two teams hit the hardwood at the Sprint Center in the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening.
The 12th seed in the West Region, Ole Miss tied the school's single-season wins mark of 27, as it stunned fifth-seeded and nationally-ranked Wisconsin on Friday by a score of 57-46. Now 4-6 in the NCAA Tournament all-time, the Rebels can exceed their win total from the 2000-01 campaign on Sunday, but they have to get by 13th-seeded La Salle first.
As for the Explorers, winners of the NCAA Tournament 59 years ago here in Kansas City versus Bradley, they now have two wins in this year's event thanks to a victory over Boise State in the first round earlier in the week, and then a stunning upset of fourth-seeded Kansas State on Friday, 63-61.
Ole Miss won the only previous meeting between these two squads by a score of 84-77 at home during the 2007-08 campaign as part of the program's 13-game win streak to kick off that campaign.
The winner this time around heads to the round of 16 in Los Angeles and will face the survivor of the Wichita State/Gonzaga battle.
The Explorers led by a staggering 18 points at the break against a Kansas State squad that wasn't quite ready to keep up. However, the underdogs made sure that there was plenty of drama in the final minutes as they ended up winning by just two points.
Going with a short bench that accounted for just seven points and seven rebounds, the Explorers were paced by Jerrell Wright who erupted for a game- high 21 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the floor, adding eight rebounds and a couple of blocked shots for good measure. Ramon Galloway contributed 19 points, although he shot just 6-of-15 from the field and turned the ball over five times. Sam Mills pitched in with another 10 points for the squad.
Galloway remains the top scoring option for the Explorers, averaging 17.2 ppg on the campaign as he shoots 40.6 percent from 3-point range, which isn't that far behind his 41.8 percent accuracy from the floor overall. Tyreek Duren (14.3 ppg) will hopefully be more of a presence on Sunday, while Wright (10.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) handles the action in the paint yet again.
The Rebels' Marshall Henderson was almost invisible during the first half of the meeting with Wisconsin, and because of that the Badgers were out in front at the break by three points. However, Henderson, who shot only 1-of-11 from the floor over the first 20 minutes, showed why he can be one of the most devastating players still in this tournament, as he finished with a game-high 19 points. Also scoring in double figures for the Rebels was Murphy Holloway with 10 points, to go along with nine rebounds, while Reginald Buckner came up a point shy of a double-double as he tallied 12 boards and blocked five shots.
Named the SEC Newcomer of the Year and the SEC Tournament MVP, Henderson is an enigma at best for the Rebels, averaging 20.0 ppg and shooting 35.4 percent behind the 3-point line, yet he is just 38.1 percent accurate from the floor overall. Streaky and sporadic at the same time, Henderson can be dangerous for other teams to handle, but the same goes for his own teammates who may not always know what's coming next from the sniper.
Holloway is the other double-digit scorer for the Rebels with his 14.5 ppg, while also accounting for a team-best 9.6 rpg to help the squad generate just under 39 boards per contest.