SEC tourney will be Barnes' swan song at Ole Miss

Thursday, March 9, 2006 at 1:00am

Ole Miss at a glance
Coach: Rod Barnes (eighth season; 141-108)
Regular-season record: 14-15
Last SEC Tournament title: 1981
Leading scorer: C Dwayne Curtis (13.5)
Leading rebounder: Curtis (7.5)
MVP: Curtis, an Auburn transfer, has been a bright light in a dreary season for the Rebels. Leads the team in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage, blocked shots and steals.
Sleeper: Guard Todd Abernathy has improved greatly as a 3-point shooter and dropped 22 points on Mississippi State in a January victory.
Best win this season: Topped Alabama on the road, 71-61, on Jan. 7 in the SEC opener.
Most disappointing loss: A Feb. 8 loss at Auburn was Ole Miss' sixth straight in SEC play and put the downward spiral into overdrive.
Fogler's Focus
"If my son was a good enough basketball player, I would have been proud to have him play for Rod Barnes. He's a great guy, and nobody's team plays harder than Ole Miss. They're just undermanned. It's just another commentary on winning being the end-all. What's the message? There's not a coach in the conference who is not disappointed with that decision."

Rod Barnes oversaw the greatest success in Ole Miss basketball history, but the school's appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2001 now seems light years away.

On March 3, Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone announced Barnes will be fired as head coach at the end of the season. Barnes arrives in Nashville with his team this week for the SEC Tournament for what likely will be his swan song with the Rebels.

Barnes is well-liked around the SEC. He begins each news conference, regardless of the outcome of the game, by thanking God for another day and the opportunity to coach basketball.

Barnes was again counting his blessings this season when the Rebels bolted to a 10-1 start and 3-0 mark in SEC play. But Ole Miss was 1-11 in its final 12 league games, and Boone had seen enough.

After Ole Miss lost 55-52 to LSU on Saturday to close the regular season, Barnes still deflected attention from his lame-duck status.

"It was just like every other day," he said. "I've coached today like I always coached, coaching to win. I will reflect on what has happened after this is all over. I don't have time for that right now. All of my energy and all of my focus has to be on our players.

"I got into this business for student-athletes, their welfare and their being. As long as I am coaching, that is what it is going to be. I deal with my emotions later. Right now, we have a team that is 14-15. We are headed to the SEC Tournament. It is my job to get us to the tournament and play well again, and that is what I am going to do."

- Brett Hait

Filed under: Sports