Huertas hopes to continue improved play

David Huertas hopes to have as much fun in Southaven tonight as he did in San Juan for three games. The Puerto Rico native played well and had more supporters than any single player in the tournament.

"I got to take my teammates to my hometown and show them around," said Huertas, who struggled early in the season but has gotten his average up to 10 points a game now. "I got to see my family and a lot of my friends. I had a blast."

The Rebels are beginning to have a blast now, too. They're 11-0 and ranked 22nd in the latest Associated Press poll, 24th by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. A dangerous Southern Mississippi team is next at 7 p.m. today. A crowd that is predicted to approach 6,000 is expected for the neutral site contest. The vast majority of them will be Ole Miss fans.

It was a bit that way but on a smaller scale for the Rebels in San Juan. Huertas' family and friends put Ole Miss over the top in tourney attendance. Huertas also mentioned there were several Rebel fans from the states who made the trip, and he appreciated their support as well.

"I had about 40 people at the games, family and friends," said Huertas, who scored 10 against DePaul and 14 each against LaSalle and Clemson. "I was real excited. We won all three games, and that's what we went there for."

Huertas, who sat out last year after transferring from Florida, says he's feeling more comfortable as the season moves on.

"My confidence is way up after playing well down there," he said.

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Andy Kennedy says the three-game series with Southern Miss came about by chance. He and USM head coach Larry Eustachy felt it would be good for a lot of reasons.

"Last year at the doubleheader in Mobile, we played South Alabama and they (USM) played Alabama," Kennedy said. "We stayed at the same hotel. I've known Larry a long time. He was an assistant coach at Mississippi State when I was coming out of high school. We thought this would be good for basketball in the state of Mississippi.

"We felt the timing of it was important. We wanted to do it right before we got into league play, because this will have the intensity of a league game. And we felt the neutral site thing was good because we're taking games to areas that don't typically have a home game, and we felt that was important."

Kennedy says beating the Golden Eagles, 8-4 on the season, won't be easy.

"This will be a good test for us. There are a number of challenges for us. Nothing will be easy. They'll make us earn everything we get. That's what this team needs. That's what we've been building toward. We've had some tough tests with some differing styles, and this will be another one."

Next year the two teams will meet in Jackson, and the following year they'll play in Biloxi.

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Terrence Watson says his ankle continues to improve, but it isn't 100 percent yet. The defensive specialist says he hopes it won't be long before he's totally ready again. It's been more than three weeks since he severely turned it.

"It's getting better, but it's still kinda swollen," he said. "But I can tell it's getting better."


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