Huertas lifts game in season's latter stages

One of the reasons for the resurgence of the Ole Miss men's basketball team the past couple of weeks has been the play of David Huertas. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound third-year sophomore has elevated his game heading into the postseason.

It hasn't been the easiest of roads for the transfer from Florida. With a good bit of hype going into this season, Huertas had some struggles finding his game.

There were good nights and bad nights, with off nights that were more plentiful than Huertas chooses to recall.

But through it all, the native of Puerto Rico kept a positive attitude and a smile, and his perseverance has paid off.

"I feel more relaxed," he said. "I'm playing more confident. I'm more comfortable out there."

It shows. In the past three games, all Rebel wins, Huertas had 18 points, nine rebounds, a block and a steal against Alabama; 19 points, four rebounds, five assists, and a steal vs. Arkansas; and 10 points, six boards, three assists and a steal at Georgia.

But there was more to this story. Huertas hadn't seen much playing time the past few years at any level until this season. Actually it had been three seasons with quite a bit of inactivity from competition for him.

"I didn't play my senior year (of high school) because I hurt my back," he said. "My freshman year (with the Gators) I played just a little. Then I sat out a whole year here (last season). My timing of the game was off. It took me a while to get comfortable on the court."

Huertas worked constantly to get better and to contribute to his team. It wasn't always easy not seeing the results he wanted.

"I came to the gym every day to try to make something happen," he said. "It was real frustrating at the beginning of the season, but I am much better now."

With postseason play beginning Thursday night, Huertas admits to keeping up with how the Rebels stack up in the run to the NCAA Tournament. He doesn't necessarily like what he's hearing and seeing – or not hearing and seeing.

"I'm on ESPN every day, just looking. But I never see our name," he said. "I see teams on the bubble that are 18-12. We're 21-9. What's wrong with that?

"I see Kentucky on there. I see Florida on there. But I never see our name."

Huertas agrees with many that the Rebels might just make it into the NCAA Tournament with two wins in Atlanta.

"Win two more games. Beat Georgia on Thursday and beat Kentucky on Friday. Then we should be in good shape."

One of the reasons the Rebels are in better shape at this point of the season is the improved play of Huertas. Andy Kennedy says he's not only seen that from Huertas but also from his team as a whole.

"Sense of urgency. Finally understanding," Kennedy said. "The Georgia game we didn't play over the top. Chris Warren was un-Chris-like. Our wings were very average. Dwayne Curtis was average. But Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell really played with a sense of urgency. Hopefully we can carry that on."

Kennedy said with a season as long as basketball that things have a chance to go in both directions.

"You get caught up in the day to day grind of this, and you experience both the good and the bad. And before you know it, eight wins in a row turn into 13, and two losses in a row turn into four. It's the nature of the beast."

Kennedy said Huertas has been one of the keys lately and will continue to be.

"It's been huge for us," he said. "It gives us another scoring option. After Dwayne and Chris, we've needed that third and fourth option. David's emergence has offset Eniel Polynice not scoring as well, and with Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell, it really gives us more balance, which is what we're searching for.

"Not only is David shooting it better, but his rebounding is better. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better. He's just kind of settled into a role a little bit.

"Better late than never, I guess," Kennedy said.

On that point David Huertas would agree with his coach completely.

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