Backcourt Injuries Changing Ole Miss' Outlook

FAYETTEVILLE — When guard Trevor Gaskins went down with a season-ending knee injury in November, it was tough blow for Ole Miss.

When guard Eniel Polynice found out after the opener he was done for the season because of a knee injury, too, it was a stroke of bad luck.
br>But when Chris Warren — the team's leading scorer — tore up his knee last month, junior David Huertas couldn't believe what was happening.
br>"I really didn't know what to think," Huertas said Monday. "I really didn't know what to say. I've never heard of anything like that before."
br>One, two, three. Just like that, Ole Miss' outlook for 2008-09 has changed because of the rash of knee injuries that have ravaged the backcourt.
br>The Rebels had hopes of challenging for the Southeastern Conference's Western Division championship and earning their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001-02 when the season began. While those thoughts haven't disappeared, Coach Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss (9-6, 0-1 SEC) are admittedly a little more realistic as they prepare to host Arkansas (12-2, 0-1) on Wednesday night.
br>"Our goal in SEC play is to try to be the most improved team in the league from start to finish," Kennedy said.
br>It's understandable considering the losses.
br>The three guards averaged a combined 32.4 points last season and were part of a backcourt counted on to lead a team loaded with youth up front. But Huertas (19.9 points) and Zach Graham (6.7) are the only guards remaining with experience now. Only one other member of the team's nine-man rotation, forward Malcolm White, had played in an SEC game before last Saturday.
br>"Unfortunately, it comes with the sport and you can't give into it," Kennedy said of the injuries. "This is a rugged league and it will chew you up and spit you out. We have to continue to work with the pieces we have and we have to put our kids in a position where they can be successful."
br>Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said he's impressed with what Kennedy and the Rebels have done despite the turmoil.
br>Pelphrey was part of Florida's staff in 2000-01, when the Gators dealt with a rash of injuries to key players, too. Florida opened SEC play 1-3 that season before rebounding to finish 12-4.
br>"It's devastating," Pelphrey said. "Everyone talks about foul trouble and injuries being part of the game, but until you have to go through it and deal with it, you never know what it's like."
br>Kennedy said the injures have forced Ole Miss to change its entire philosophy.
br>Warren was the clear-cut catalyst for their up-tempo game, sprinting up and down the court at a breakneck pace. Without him, the Rebels' rotation has fallen to nine players. Long possessions are more common now. So are halfcourt defenses, replacing the full-court press Kennedy prefers.
br>Freshman Will Bogan has started the past four games at the point and Kennedy said he's doing well, considering he was a candidate to redshirt before the season began.
br>"We put Chris in a position to make a lot of decisions on the floor and it would be unfair to put will in that same position," Kennedy said. "Obviously is still capable of doing a lot of good things but we have to be careful in thrusting too much responsibility on him too early so we've made some adjustments on both sides of the ball."
br>Kennedy credited his group for its effort during the hard times, which also included his December arrest for allegedly punching a cab driver during the team's trip to Cincinnati to play Louisville.
br>It was evident at Florida last week where the Rebels trailed by as much as 21 in the first half. But they chipped away at the lead, crawled to within six late in the half and finally fell 78-68.
br>Huertas said it was a sign that the Rebels are finally moving on. And, more importantly, learning how to play without the three injured guards.
br>"That's our approach right now," Huertas said. "I know we've got a lot of young guys, but they've got to step up. We've all got to step up.
br>"We've got 15, 16 games left. We've got to keep playing. We've got to keep battling, We've got to keep fighting. Hopefully we can win some games."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories