By: Jeff Roberson
But that won’t be easy. Vanderbilt is up next, and the Commodores present a formidable challenge. Their 77-60 win over Top 10 foe Texas A&M Thursday night proves that.
Kennedy said the 13-9 Commodores, who visit The Pavillion at Ole Miss Saturday at 7 p.m., are one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference.
“Man, they’re good,” he said. “When you look at their record, nobody really knows what’s happening with somebody else’s team. I remember (former coach, now TV commentator) Seth Greenberg predicted them to be a dark horse for a Final Four. I know when I filled out my ballot for who I thought was going to win the league, I put Vanderbilt on the one line. I just think they have all the pieces.”
The Commodores have some catching up to do to make it to the top, though. With their latest win they are now 5-4 in the SEC.
“We’re two-thirds of our way through the regular season (halfway through the SEC season), and they’re still very capable of going on a tremendous run,” Kennedy said. “Tell me in college basketball how many teams have three of five starters which will be first-round picks. And they do.
“They have the best low-post scorer in our league in Damian Jones. Luke Kornet is about 7-1 now and leads the SEC in shot blocks. They run offense through him with his ability to make good decisions with the ball. They surround those guys with Wade Baldwin who is a tremendous, long, athletic point guard. And they’ve got shooters spotted around them. Offensively they pose a lot of challenges.”
Still there is hope for Ole Miss, now 14-8 and 4-5, that it, too, can make a run. And that the Rebels can build off the road win at Missouri (8-14, 1-8), no matter how the game actually unfolded in Columbia.
“You typically can’t win SEC road games, regardless of the opponent, when you turn it over 17 times and you allow the other team to shoot 50 percent in their own building,” Kennedy said. “But we made a season-high 14 3s and we made over 80 percent of our free throws. So we made every big play we needed to offensively down the stretch.”
Kennedy is hoping the Commodores’ quick turnaround from Thursday night at home to a Saturday night game in Oxford will work in the Rebels’ favor.
“You never know,” he said. “They’ll have one day prep and travel to come here. Hopefully (Thursday) we can take a little bit of advantage of that and get a head start on them.
“This (Ole Miss) team needs to win games. We need to keep this thing in the road until we can get whole. Hopefully there’s no setbacks, try to protect our home floor and stay in the running so we’ve got a chance to make a run at the end.”
Kennedy on Tomasz Gielo stepping up against Missouri with 16 points, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range: “We don’t have much bulk at the basket. We don’t have anybody that can replicate what Sebas brought us as it relates to low-post scoring. So that puts even more of a premium on our ability to make shots from the perimeter out of that power forward spot. And (at Missouri) Tomasz stepped up in a huge way. I was really proud for him. He’s struggled with his shooting all year, and it’s affected really all parts of his game.”
Gielo on his game at Missouri: “I think it just clicked. I went through a stretch when I couldn’t make a shot. When you’re not making the shots you usually make, you should go put extra work in in the gym. And that’s what I did. The results were not there still. You start questioning yourself. You just have to clear your head and go out there and enjoy the game as much as you can. After I made the second three (against Mizzou), I knew I was going to have a good game.”
Kennedy on Sebastien Saiz’s status with his eye situation: “He is progressing as well as to be expected. Everything that has transpired has been scheduled. He has had no setbacks whatsoever. Obviously we are proceeding with extreme caution with his eye and his well-being long term. He’s itching to get back. We don’t know what will happen by Saturday. More than likely next week will be the first opportunity to get clearance, at which time we’ll proceed based on what he’s able to do.”
Kennedy on Stefan Moody’s hamstring recovery: “It’s hard to get a clear answer. I watch him. I don’t see much of a grimace. I don’t see much of a holding back. He’s still pretty explosive when he needs to be based off instinct. I don’t think he’s 100 percent. Some of that is physical. Some of it is mental. I do think he’s making progress day in and day out.”