Gators Open SEC Play With Ole Miss

Billy Donovan's Gators finished their non-conference schedule with a record of 13-2 and now begin SEC action at home against Ole Miss. The Rebels will bring a 9-5 record into the contest as they try to survive a rash of injuries that have been devastating.

Ole Miss came into the season with perhaps the best collection of guards in the league, but that didn't last long. Trevor Gaskins and Eniel Polynice went down before the season started eliminating two members of that unit. Things went from bad to worse during the 11th game of the season when All-SEC candidate Chris Warren tore up his knee in the final minute of the Rebels' loss to Louisville. Those three guys are lost for the year and with them Ole Miss is without 76 minutes, 32.4 points and 9.5 assists from a year ago.

To add insult to those injuries two of the guys are from Florida and this game was going to be a homecoming for them. Instead Warren (Orlando Dr. Phillips) and Polynice (Sarasota Booker) will have a two year wait to face the Gators in their home state.

The game will feature a familiar face to Gator fans. Former Florida player David Huertas is now a fourth year junior with the Rebels and has emerged as their number one scoring threat averaging 20.1 points a game. Huertas spent one year with the Gators, but transferred to Ole Miss after the first NCAA Title. After sitting out a year Huertas became a part of the Ole Miss rotation last season. He posted solid numbers (107/3.7) and was the team's third leading scorer. However, he was not much of a factor in his only game against his old team, scoring seven points in the Ole Miss victory. He'll have to play a much larger role for the Rebels on Saturday.

Behind Huertas the Rebels rely on a group of role players who all can score a bit, rebound a bit and defend quite a bit. That group is led by 6'7" forward Murphy Holloway (8.0/5.9) and 6'5" wing Terrico White (7.8/3.1). Add in Zach Graham (6.1/2.4), Terrance Henry (5.4/3.9), Malcolm White (5.3/4.7) and DeAundre Cranston (2.8/4.1) and you certainly have enough players to compete with. On the year Ole Miss has struggled on the glass since most of its big players are quite thin (Cranston at 250 pounds is the exception). Florida has had its own issues with rebounding, but the Gators' plus-3 is significantly better than the minus-2 Ole Miss has managed.

The Gators head into conference play riding a seven-game winning streak and continue to be led by sophomore guard Nick Calathes (17.0/4.4) who leads the team in scoring, assists (6.7) and steals (2.1). The Gators got great play from its all-freshman bench in Tuesday's win over Longview. Kenny Kadji (14/2), Erving Walker (16/3), Ray Shipman (8/5) and Allan Chaney (8/4) combined for 56 points, outscoring the starters by 17 on the night.

Florida needs to get Alex Tyus (12.9/6.3) back on track as soon as possible. Tyus had been tremendous this season, but in the last two games he has totaled just nine point and seven rebounds. In the five previous games he had averaged 17 points and 8.4 boards. While the improvement of Chaney and Kadji is encouraging, Tyus needs to be a constant in the middle for this team. Dan Werner (10.2/4.8) remains solidly reliable.

The game is set for six O'clock Saturday as part of the SEC Regional TV package and will be picked up by Sun Sports. It should be the best crowd and atmosphere of the season. If the Gators are going to be a 10-win team in SEC play this is a game they need to win.

Fightin Gators Top Stories