By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy says he has no doubt seniors Chris Warren and Zach Graham will be ready to play in the NIT, even if it wasn’t the postseason destination of their choice.
If Terrance Henry arrives motivated and amped up, too, the Rebels could be tough to handle.
Ole Miss takes on California tonight at 8 on ESPN2 in an NIT opening-round game.
The Bears are 17-14 after a 10-8 run in the Pac-10 regular season. Ole Miss is 20-13 following a split of two games in the SEC Tournament.
It became apparent following back-to-back road losses at Mississippi State and South Carolina that Ole Miss would have to win the SEC event in Atlanta to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
The Rebels carried the highest RPI rating in the Western Division for much of the season but were just 7-9 once the 16 SEC games were complete.
Warren and Graham picked up the first SEC tournament win of their careers this week, but they’ll leave without an NCAA bid. The reality set in following a 75-66 loss to Kentucky. They said the right things afterward, though the disappointment was apparent in other ways.
“The NIT was not our goal,” Graham said.
Warren and Graham have played in eight NIT games, winning six.
“I have no worries about those kids whatsoever,” Kennedy said. “Motivation will not be an issue with Chris or Zach.”
If Henry is motivated, too, the Rebels may have something going.
Kennedy has lamented his team’s lack of consistency this season and has often held up post play as an example. Henry, though, had a double-double each day in Atlanta, highlighted by a 17-point, 12-rebound performance against Kentucky.
“That’s another reason why I’m happy we’re still playing in the NIT,” Henry said. “I get more chances to showcase what I’ve been doing the past couple of games. And hopefully we can make it back to New York.”
The Rebels were hurt by Kentucky forward Josh Harrellson, a sporadic scorer for the Cats, but a player who was able to thrive against the Rebels’ frontcourt, particularly after forward Reggie Buckner got into early foul trouble.
Cal has a solid post presence with center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who has posted seven double-doubles this season.
The Bears are 15-4 when outrebounding their opponent, and Sanders-Frison posted 13 points and 13 boards in Cal’s regular season finale, a 74-55 win over rival Stanford.
The Bears lasted just one game in the Pac-10 tournament, losing by 14 to Southern Cal.
Kennedy likes the Rebels’ chances if Henry is hot in the post.
“Terrance has shown capable and has shown he can be a very productive player at this level,” Kennedy said. “With him, consistency is the key. We need him to finish strong.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600