Ole Miss forward will be game-time call at Florida

Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz has been cleared to play after missing the last six games due to a procedure to repair a partially detached retina in his right eye.

Saiz woke up the morning of Jan. 13 and noticed his vision was off. He played later that night anyway, a 90-81 loss at LSU, and followed three days later with 17 points and six rebounds in a loss to Florida. 

He was shut down the following week, and he missed six games in total. Ole Miss was 3-3 in his absence.

“He’s been cleared this morning,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “He got cleared from the doctor. He’ll be back with us today.”

Saiz is tied for fifth in the SEC with six double-doubles on the season, and he’s pulling down 9.8 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the conference and 28th nationally. He’s averaging 10.2 rebounds over his last 10 games.

“He hasn’t done much, obviously, based on the injury and us following the doctor’s protocol,” Kennedy said. “We’ll see how he responds in the next 48 hours and make a game-time decision.”

Ole Miss (15-8, 5-5 SEC) travels to face Florida (15-8, 6-4) Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. The Gators, a top-30 RPI team, beat Ole Miss 80-71 earlier this year, though the Rebels have taken three of the last five meetings in the series, including a home-and-home sweep of Florida last year.

Ole Miss knocked off Vanderbilt at home in its most-recent action. Tomasz Gielo, one of the few bigs on the roster  available to help fill in for Saiz, had 16 points and four rebounds in the 85-78 win. He’s averaging 16.0 points per game and shooting 52.4 percent form the field (6 of 12 from 3) over his last two games.

“We’ve got eight regular season games left, plus the (SEC) tournament. I’m not sure we’re to the stage yet of must-wins,” Kennedy said of Florida. “Us beating a team the caliber of Vanderbilt our last outing, I think, is tremendous for our guys’ confidence. Vanderbilt is going to be a team that is going to be right in the thick of the league chase to the bitter end because of their abilities. We thought it was a quality win that our team desperately needed at that time. Anytime you can break through on the road it’s going to do wonders for your numbers. 

“Where we are right now, the greatest thing we’ve got going for us is Sebas was cleared. Now we have not only our best low-post player back in the lineup, but we’ve got a guy who when he went out was second in the league in rebounding. He just provides a completely different aspect to our game-planning moving forward. We’ll be a much better team once he gets back and establishes his rhythm.”

With Saiz back, Kennedy said his rotation can now fall into its normal place. Ole Miss leaned on inexperienced depth with Saiz on the shelf, with perhaps no players showing more progress with his extra minutes than redshirt freshman Marcanvis Hymon, who posted 11.0 points per game and 8.0 rebounds as Saiz’s primary replacement.

Hymon is shooting 51.2 percent from the field over the last six games.

“Going into the season it was an area of concern because of some personnel issues we had in the postseason,” Kennedy said of the front court. “We knew we were going to be thin as it relates to size and girth at the basket. Sebas had anchored us through our non-league portion of our schedule and was playing like a all-conference player. Gielo and (Anthony) Perez and Hymon were trying to fill around him. When he went out, we had to completely change a lot of the things we were doing philosophically. It’s really helped (Hymon) develop. He’s been inconsistent at times, which is to be expected I suppose, but he’s really, really flourished in the role of having to be the guy at the basket. 

“What was a perceived weak point of our team may now turn into a strength for us down the stretch.”

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