FEB 17, 2014 4:54p ET
Two straight road losses have sent Ole Miss tumbling down the Southeastern Conference standings.
A chance for redemption comes this week.
The Rebels (16-9, 7-5) will host No. 18 Kentucky (19-6, 9-3) on Tuesday night and then must take on No. 2 Florida on Saturday. Ole Miss is usually very good at Tad Smith Coliseum - with a 110-22 record under eighth-year coach Andy Kennedy - but that dominance will be tested by the league's best teams.
"It's two tremendous challenges for our group," Kennedy said. "But also two tremendous opportunities."
The stakes are certainly high. The Rebels probably have to sweep both games to have any serious hope at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Rebels have received consistent production from a backcourt that includes Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers. Henderson is once again one of the league's top scorers - averaging 19.5 points and making more than four 3-pointers per game - while Summers scores 16.8 points and dishes nearly four assists per game.
But the team's young frontcourt hasn't been nearly as consistent. Sophomore Anthony Perez and freshman Sebastian Saiz have been the most unpredictable, with moments that range from awesome to awful.
Kennedy says both have been much more assertive at home - a trend he hopes will continue against the Wildcats' big frontcourt that includes Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
Cauley-Stein had arguably the best game of his career when the two teams met at Rupp Arena earlier this season. The 7-foot sophomore had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, leading Kentucky to an 80-64 victory on Feb. 4.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said it was a close game until the final few minutes. Kennedy said Calipari was just being diplomatic.
"We stayed around for a while," Kennedy said. "... But we couldn't get a rebound which is kind of a broken record for us."
Calipari said the Rebels' frontcourt is capable and athletic, but like most coaches across the league, he's more worried about Henderson's ability to change a game with a quick barrage of 3-pointers.
"Henderson at any time can make five straight shots," Calipari said. "Can you keep your head about you?"
While Ole Miss might be the most desperate team at the Tad Pad on Tuesday night, Kentucky probably won't be far behind. The Wildcats fell 69-59 at home to Florida on Saturday and haven't played particularly well on the road this season.
But Calipari was upbeat about the Florida loss. There's certainly no shame in losing to the veteran Gators, who are on a 17-game winning streak and haven't lost in more than two months.
"I'm happy with my team," Calipari said. "That game showed me we're as good as anybody in the country. Now we've got to shore up a few things."
Beating Ole Miss on the road would be a sign things are going in the right direction.
"They'll try to prove something against us," Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison said. "But we're trying to prove something against them as well."
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves contributed to this story from Lexington, Ky.
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