Building Blocks

With a trip to Gainesville on the horizon, now's the time for the Ole Miss basketball team to show their true colors. Read about it inside.

As followers of Rebel athletics, not one of us cares to witness an Ole Miss loss in any type of athletic competition.

We expect success (as any fan would) and wish only the best upon the Red and Blue. But Saturday's trip to Gainesville means far more than a simple win or loss.

As this season has shown thus far, the Rebels are stacked against some pretty steep odds in 2008. When you lose a core of point guard Chris Warren, junior leader Eniel Polynice and sharp shooter Trevor Gaskins to ACL injuries, an ability to endure becomes of far greater importance.

"With a young team, you typically like to establish a foundation," said head coach Andy Kennedy. "Unfortunately for us because of what's transpired, we've had to reinvent ourselves a couple of times. We're certainly still a work in progress."

No kidding.

Following the injuries previously mentioned, Ole Miss now features only four scholarship guards on the roster – junior David Huertas, sophomore Zach Graham and freshmen Will Bogan and Terrico White.

All nine available scholarship players have earned at least one starting nod, with junior David Huertas the only Rebel to have started every contest.

Kennedy has employed multiple combinations and rotations, all in search of some form of consistency for his squad.

"There's a very fine line with where we are, and it limits you," he said. "I'm not giving into this. We're not giving into this. We've got to get guys some game experience. And then they have to go out and do their jobs.

No one has given up on this season, let's make that perfectly clear. With talent sprinkled throughout the roster and the SEC West certainly up for the taking, a 9-5 record allows a golden door waiting to be knocked down.

Terrance Henry, Murphy Holloway, White and Bogan represent the future for Ole Miss basketball and could very well carry this team to heights not imagined a mere month ago.

Of course, the journey begins at Florida.

The Gators will take the court riding a seven-game winning streak and sitting 13-2 on the year. They're 9-0 at home and have reeled off 11 straight inside the Stephen C. O' Connell Center dating back to last year.

Florida is led by point guard Nick Calathes who averages 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. Dan Werner follows, scoring over 10 points per outing and, collectively, Florida leads the league with 7.6 three's per contest.

To say the backcourt has its hands full would be an understatement.

But again, this game will not be totally judged by the final score. Rather, the competitiveness with which the Rebels play will tell the tale and provide direction for such a tumultuous season.

With improved defense over the last few games, I wouldn't be all that shocked to see a win come Saturday. Ole Miss produced one of its best defensive efforts in recent years in the 53-41 win over Nicholls – the 41 points allowed was the lowest point total allowed by a Rebel team in three seasons under Kennedy and fewest since 2002.

Huertas has some added motivation considering he'll be visiting his former team for the first time since transferring from Florida after the 2005-06 national championship season. The Humacao, Puerto Rico native scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in last season's contest.

However, the Rebels aren't facing the Colonels this weekend and David will surely gain some added attention considering he ranks third in the SEC at 20.1 points per game and no other Rebel holds a scoring average in double digits.

Billy's boys are rolling, so an inspired performance a la Louisville will be needed to topple one of the better teams in the conference.

It's time for these young guns to show their true colors.

Whether they shine or fade remains to be seen.

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