Gielo's four-game hot streak helping keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive

The real Tomasz Gielo has finally stood up.

The one-year graduate transfer from Liberty has emerged as a catalyst for Ole Miss over its last four games, including three wins. The Rebels moved to 16-9 (6-6 SEC) on the season with a 76-60 win over Arkansas on Saturday.

Gielo was averaging 5.3 points per game and shooting 21.8 percent from the field in the seven games leading up to a road trip to Missouri. Against the Tigers, however, he led a second-half comeback with his deadeye shooting from 3, knocking down 6 of 8 shots overall and 4 of 6 from beyond the arc for 16 points.

And he’s rolled ever since.

“Playing with confidence, man,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “He’s got a good understanding, and I think our spacing offensively is so much better with (Sebastian Saiz). What he creates from a spacing standpoint with his ability to score with his back to the basket, I think, opens the floor for Tomasz and (Anthony Perez).”

Saiz returned from injury at Florida - the Rebels’ lone loss in two weeks - after a six-game absence due to surgery to repair a partially detached retina in his right eye. Saiz is the second-leading rebounder in the SEC and the anchor of the Ole Miss front court. 

Gielo, though, was showing signs of a hot streak well before Saiz returned to the court, and he’s only gotten better with Saiz back in the fold.

Gielo totaled 16 points and four rebounds off the bench to help Ole Miss knock off Vanderbilt. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Gators. He finished with 15 points and five rebounds Saturday. In all, Gielo is averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 52.2 percent (12 of 23) from 3 in his last four. 

“There’s no more excuses for us,” Gielo said. “We’ve got everybody back. The team is relatively healthy. Everybody’s able to play, now it’s time for us to step up and make that run when it matters. There’s no time to make calculations for us. We’re in a position where every game brings us closer to the NCAA Tournament or takes us completely out of the picture. Getting that win (Saturday) helps a lot. But what matters is what we do next, and if you’re going to step up to the challenge and play hard in College Station against Texas A&M.”

The emergence of Gielo couldn’t have come at a better time. Ole Miss next travels to face Texas A&M (18-7, 7-5 SEC) in College Station. For the Rebels to reasonably be considered for the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need quality wins to add to their resume.

Ole Miss ranks No. 87 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index released by the NCAA, while Texas A&M checks in at No. 25. The Rebels boast three RPI top-75 wins over No. 37 Alabama, No. 57 Vanderbilt and No. 67 Georgia. Ole Miss also ranks No. 80 in the latest ESPN Basketball Power Index.

“You think that one game may not matter in the long run, but every game is going to matter,” Gielo said. “Even our losses earlier in the season. We lost to George Mason and Seton Hall. Looking back, I would think we’d win both of those games now relatively easy. You can’t look back, you can only look at what’s in front of you and take it one day at a time.”

“We’ve shown spurts,” Kennedy said. “I would like, collectively, us to shoot the ball like we did in the second half (against Arkansas). I’d like for us to continue to win the effort areas, make free throws and get back to where we can play man-to-man along with some of the other zones. If we can do all those things and play healthy down the stretch, I think we have a chance in every game we’ll be in.”

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