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No. 23 Mississippi piling up points, victories

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No. 23 Mississippi piling up points, victories

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi's Nick Williams knows what it's like to just miss the NCAA tournament.

That's why the fifth-year senior isn't too giddy about the Rebels' current seven-game winning streak, including a 4-0 start in Southeastern Conference play and a national ranking for the first time since 2010.

``We don't want to just be 4-0,'' Williams said after Saturday's win over Arkansas. ``We want to keep it going.''

The cautious approach is probably warranted.

The Rebels have been in the NCAA tournament hunt many times over the past several years, only to falter down the stretch during late January and February. The program has won at least 20 games in five of the past six seasons, but has no NCAA tournament appearances during that span, settling for the National Invitation Tournament in all five of those seasons.

Ole Miss hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2002 - the longest drought in the SEC.

But there's little doubt seventh-year coach Andy Kennedy has his most talented team - and certainly his most dynamic on the offensive end. No. 23 Ole Miss (15-2) is averaging more than 82 points per game this season, which ranks 3rd nationally out of 345 Division I teams and easily leads the SEC.

It's an experienced, diverse group that includes Marshall Henderson, a sharpshooting guard who's averaging a league-best 18.9 points per game. But when Henderson's touch goes cold, there are plenty of other options. Murphy Holloway is the only player averaging a double-double in the SEC, with 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Reginald Buckner and Williams are also averaging more than 10 points per game. Buckner - a 6-foot-9 forward who combines with Holloway to form a ferocious duo in the paint - is second in the SEC with nearly three blocked shots per game.

``That's the great thing about our team, we've got so many different people who do some many different things,'' Williams said. ``When two or three people aren't doing what we need to win, we've got other guys who can step up. We're a deep team.''

And because of that, the Rebels are rolling, though they're certainly not invincible. They needed a 35-footer from Henderson at the buzzer in regulation to tie Vanderbilt and eventually beat the Commodores in overtime last week.

But a win is a win, and because the SEC as a whole struggled so badly during nonconference play, the Rebels will likely need a lot of them during the conference's 18-game slog to stay in the NCAA tournament picture. The NCAA's current RPI rankings have Ole Miss at No. 32.

``My hope is that our guys will continue to embrace the grind, because that's what it is,'' Kennedy said. ``We're two weeks into a nine-week grind. We've got seven more and we've got to be ready for those.''

The third week begins on Thursday when Ole Miss hosts Tennessee (9-7, 1-3) at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin had high praise for the Rebels on Tuesday, saying ``they have all the pieces to be very successful.''

Ole Miss certainly played well against Tennessee two weeks ago, beating the Volunteers 92-74 in Knoxville. Henderson scored a career-high 32 points in that game - combining hot shooting with some added theatrics that irritated some of the Tennessee players.

But Martin didn't seem to have an issue with it. He suggested that if his players were embarrassed by Henderson's show, they should play better defense.

``The guy's scoring baskets, making plays. I enjoyed watching him,'' Martin said. ``I hate being on the other side, but this is competitive basketball. You've got to step to the plate.''

Henderson might be the main focus of Tennessee's defensive attention on Thursday, but the entire program is starting to deal with added expectations.

Holloway says he doesn't expect any slippage just because the Rebels are starting to get noticed. If anything, he said it adds to the excitement. Ole Miss has announced two straight sellouts at Tad Smith Coliseum, and expects another on Thursday.

``I've waited so long just to be relevant,'' Holloway said. ``We've still got to be hungry.''

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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Trae Young joins Kobe Bryant in historic feat against Wizards

Trae Young joins Kobe Bryant in historic feat against Wizards

Following the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday, emotions were high. 

Many current and former players paid tribute to Bryant, including Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, who dominated in the Hawks 152-133 win over the Wizards. 

He ended the night with a spectacular performance of 45 points, with 14 assists, making 13-of-24 FGs and 13-of-16 free throws as well as six 3-pointers, six rebounds and one assist. 

Young is the first player to have a 45-point double-double with under 25 field goal attempts against the Washington Wizards, since Kobe Bryant on December 17, 2006.

In honor of his mentor and favorite NBA player, Young wore a No. 8 jersey and took an 8-second-violation after the opening tip. 

He even wore his shoes with a tribute to Bryant as well. 

Young was able to channel his emotions into the game, leaving everything on the floor.

In an emotional night, Young was able to keep himself composed leading the Hawks past the Wizards. 

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Isaiah Thomas: NBA should have canceled games after Kobe Bryant's death

Isaiah Thomas: NBA should have canceled games after Kobe Bryant's death

The news of Kobe Bryant's death shook the sports world to its core, and while there were NBA games scheduled throughout Sunday, some felt the league should have canceled the games in light of the tragic news. 

Isaiah Thomas was one of them. 

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Thomas looked up to Bryant, admired him from afar and found his love for the game of basketball because of Bryant's greatness. Spending 20 years as a Laker, Bryant won five championships, an MVP and two Finals MVP awards to go along with 15 All-NBA selections and 18 trips to the All-Star game. 

For Thomas, his relationship with Bryant started to grow when he broke out as an All-Star in Boston. When Thomas suffered the tragic loss of his sister, they grew closer. After his hip injury that cost Thomas over a year of his career, Bryant supported him throughout. 

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The NBA had a difficult decision to make on whether or not to cancel games since there were two games already in progress.

But before, during and after the game, everyone's thoughts were with Bryant and his family and not on a basketball game. Because as Thomas said, it's bigger than basketball. 

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