Rebs head to Orlando for first road contest

Chris Warren's headed home today. It will be quite a homecoming.

Saturday night's Ole Miss-Central Florida men's basketball game means a lot of things to a lot of people. For Warren, it will be the chance to get home for the first time in a while.

"I haven't been down there in a few months now, and so I'll get to see a lot of people and they'll get to watch me play again," said the Rebels' starting point guard, a freshman who graduated earlier this year from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando.

So how many friends and family members does Warren expect to see in the brand new 10,000-seat UCF arena when the Rebels and Golden Knights tip off at 7 p.m. Eastern time?

"Good question. I don't really know," said Warren, the Rebels' leading scorer at 14.8 points per game and also the SEC's assists leader at 7 per contest. "I'll have all my family members there and a lot of friends there, too. "

Warren is excited but a bit apprehensive as well.

"It makes me nervous to think about it," said Warren, the SEC's Freshman of the Week last week following a 23-point, 10-assist performance against Troy and a 16-point, 5-assist, 3-steal game against New Mexico. "I hope to play well in front of a lot of people I know. It will be a good experience, and hopefully we'll do well as a team and get a win."

Warren isn't alone in returning home. Sunshine staters Kenny Williams, Eniel Polynice, David Huertas, and Kevin Cantinol are also heading "home" for this one.

UM head coach Andy Kennedy says taking a group of Florida kids home to play was part of the reason for scheduling this game.

"We know there will be some distractions, and we'll try to minimize them as much as possible," Kennedy said. "One of the reasons we did this was to give those kids an opportunity to have a chance to go back and play in front of their friends and family. But as a staff we have to be very cognizant of the fact that there will be some things we need to control as it relates to their environment."

Ole Miss made a trip to Middle Tennessee State during preseason practice to scrimmage the Blue Raiders. They tried to make it as much like a road trip as possible. This weekend is the first time since then that Ole Miss has left Oxford as a team.

"I hope that helps us," said Kennedy, whose team at 94.5 points per game is the nation's second-leading scoring squad this season. "At least we have traveled together as a team. So I'm hopeful that will help. One of the reasons we wanted to do that was so that when we made our first road trip, that it will have been beneficial to our team."

Kennedy said 4-3 Central Florida is a tough foe for his team to be facing on the road.

"They've lost three games, two on a neutral site to a very good Villanova team and a very good Kansas State team close. They lost at South Florida in a competitive situation. They're a good team. They won 22 games last year and have their three perimeter players returning. Their guard play is terrific. I hope we have enough players on the perimeter to be able to try different guys out there."

Junior Terrence Watson should be ready to play in this one following a turned ankle some 10 days ago.

"He's practiced the last couple of days, so I hope physically he's ready to help us," Kennedy said. "When you sit out three or four days, it's amazing how quickly you lose some of your cardiovascular. He's been fine. His ankle was sore for a couple of days, but I think he's gotten beyond that."

The Knights won their opening game against Nevada. After dropping those two games to nationally ranked Villanova and Kansas State at the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Knights beat Penn State 70-59 to close out the tourney. Central Florida lost to South Florida 75-67 in its first true road game of the year.

The Knights average 71.0 points per game, led by junior guard Jermaine Taylor's 17.4 ppg. Kirk Speraw is in his 15th year as the head coach of the Knights and has guided them to an average of 21 wins over the past five years. He has also led the team to four NCAA Tournaments (‘94, ‘96, ‘04, ‘05).

Now that the Rebels, at 6-0 and off to their best start since the NCAA Sweet Sixteen team of 2000-01, are actually in the air and flying to Florida, Kennedy says things should at least seem more normal.

"I'm sure our guys will feel better once we leave, get on an airplane and go," he said after a week of shuffled practice times because of exams. "By then all their tests will be taken, they can exhale, we can regroup and then have about 24 hours to get ready. This is a big opportunity for us."

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