Kennedy walks tall in Walton

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2018
Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy yells to his offense during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in Fayetteville, Ark. Mississippi defeated Arkansas 96-82. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy yells to his offense during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in Fayetteville, Ark. Mississippi defeated Arkansas 96-82. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy has won as many games in Walton Arena as a visiting coach as Tubby Smith and John Calipari combined.

Smith and Calipari won national championships as Kentucky coaches, but they have losing records on the road against the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Smith, now the coach at Memphis, is 3-5 in Walton Arena during stints with Tulsa (0-1), Georgia (0-1), Kentucky (3-2) and Texas Tech (0-1).

Calipari, in his ninth season as the Wildcats' coach, is 2-4 at Arkansas with Memphis (1-1) and Kentucky (1-3).

Kennedy has a 5-4 record in Walton Arena during his 12 seasons at Ole Miss.

Among visiting coaches with more than five games at the Razorbacks' 25-year-old basketball home, Kennedy is the only one with a winning record.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan -- who over 19 seasons led the Gators to 467 victories and back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 before leaving for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder -- went 5-5 in Walton Arena.

Kennedy will try to improve to 6-4 at Arkansas when the Rebels (10-8, 3-3) play the Razorbacks (12-6, 2-4) at 2:30 p.m. today in Walton Arena.

"I look forward to playing at Bud Walton," Kennedy said. "I enjoy it.

"I know it's going to be a difficult challenge, but I appreciate the passion of the Razorback fans. I know they love basketball, and I know it's going to be an intense environment with a lot of noise.

"I kind of relish those things, and I try to get our guys to look forward to the opportunity, because you just don't get this every day. They should look forward to it and try to take advantage of it."

Today's game is a sellout despite Arkansas' 1-4 record since beating Tennessee two weeks ago.

Kennedy, who as a senior guard at Alabama-Birmingham scored 20 points when the No. 2 Razorbacks beat the Blazers 104-72 at Barnhill Arena during the 1990-1991 season, said he's not surprised about today's sellout.

"I think it speaks to the tradition and heritage of Arkansas basketball," Kennedy said. "Arkansas is second only to Kentucky in our league when it comes to history.

"The fans have always supported the Hogs in Bud Walton. It's always been a very, very difficult place to play, and I'm sure [today] will be no exception."

Kennedy is the SEC's longest-tenured coach and has a 244-148 record with the Rebels.

"Andy's a good coach," Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. "He's been around awhile. He played the game. He understands it.

"Twelve years in this league, you don't just stay in here unless you're doing a pretty good job. He gets guys in that fit what he wants to do. He was a big guard that shot the basketball, so he gets those kind of players."

The Rebels are led by senior guard Deandre Burnett (averaging 14.3 points per game) and junior guard Terence Davis (13.1 ppg).

In two games against Arkansas last season, Davis averaged 25.0 points and Burnett 21.5.

Ole Miss has five players averaging in double figures, including senior guard Markel Crawford (10.3), junior forward Bruce Stevens (10.3) and sophomore guard Breein Tyree (10.1).

"They're a team with more balance," Anderson said. "And they're playing pretty good basketball."

The Rebels handed Florida its only SEC loss when they beat the Gators 78-72 last Saturday at home.

On Tuesday night, Ole Miss lost at Texas A&M 71-69 to fall to 0-4 on the road this season as Tyree's last-second three-point attempt rimmed out of the basket.

"We've played better recently," Kennedy said. "We haven't broken through on the road this year, but at A&M I thought our guys went in there and fought and we gave ourselves a chance.

"Unfortunately, we just didn't make a play at the end."

Davis, who has played off the bench the past two games, is averaging just 7.2 points in SEC play and shooting 22.6 percent (14 of 62), including 4 of 33 on three-pointers.

"Davis has just really, really struggled to find any rhythm at all offensively," Kennedy said. "It's just kind of snowballed on him. He missed some shots and then he got to forcing action.

"A lot of times you press when you're not scoring, and you look for opportunities that aren't there, and so you take lower percentage shots. To his credit, he's still doing other things -- rebounding, trying to be a playmaker defensively."

Davis scored 24 points and hit 9 of 19 shots at Arkansas last season when the Razorbacks beat the Rebels 98-80.

"My hope is that he can go into Bud Walton and make a couple of shots and break out of this slump that he's in offensively because we desperately need him," Kennedy said. "He's a guy that in nonleague games was leading us in scoring, and we certainly need him to play to his potential."

Arkansas is 12th in the SEC standings, but Kennedy said the Razorbacks are talented.

"This is a tough league," Kennedy said. "Top to bottom, man, it's a difficult gauntlet. You've got to play well every night or you're not going to win. That's for us and for Arkansas and for everyone in this league.

"They've got a really good team, and Mike knows what he's doing. I'm sure they're going to be fine."

A lot of former SEC coaches would love to have Kennedy's record in Walton Arena.

Dale Brown never won at Arkansas in six tries and was 0-4 in Walton Arena before he retired as LSU's coach.

Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury was 4-10 in Walton Arena; Alabama's Mark Gottfried was 3-8; and Auburn's Cliff Ellis and Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings each were 1-9.

After Kennedy and Donovan, visiting coaches with the best records in more than five games in Walton Arena are Rod Barnes and John Brady.

Barnes is 4-5, including 4-4 as Ole Miss' coach and a 95-68 loss with his California State University, Bakersfield team this season.

Brady, now retired from coaching and working on LSU's radio broadcast, was 4-6 as the Tigers' coach in Walton Arena before being fired and moving on to Arkansas State University.

"I've been fortunate, because Arkansas is a really tough place to win," Kennedy said. "I also feel blessed to have been coaching in this league for 12 years.

"I've had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I just hope to live to fight another day."

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Today’s game

ARKANSAS MEN VS. OLE MISS

WHEN 2:30 p.m. WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville. RECORDS Arkansas 12-6, 2-4 SEC; Ole Miss 10-8, 3-3 SERIES Arkansas leads 45-32 TV SEC Network RADIO Razorback Sports Network

Sports on 01/20/2018

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