By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Coaches will never tell you they have enough athleticism and ability on their basketball teams, no room for the knock-out transfer or prize recruit.
Sometimes, though, athleticism and ability at the same position can create a different set of challenges.
There was no doubt how important Chris Warren was as the Ole Miss point guard two years ago and no doubt either how important Terrico White was in that spot last year after Warren tore up a knee.
There were questions, however, as to how well both players together would perform, and the answer has been quite average, at least in half of that combination, in SEC play.
Until the last two games, that is, when Terrico White has amped up his play.
If you’re looking for some certainty around the Rebels, it’s been that Chris Warren is still the man. In a season where a number of players have brought great production to the table at different times, Warren has been there almost every night, his 41 percent 3-point success rate in SEC games ranking second in the league.
When the season began there were questions as to how White would respond at shooting guard and how Warren’s knee would hold up, but from the get-go they were going to be the top options, interchangeable as the go-to guys.
Warren has held up his end of the deal more often. White is now showing the stuff that had scouts drooling last season, but with the money White has likely lost himself in draft status he could be a one-man economic stimulus package.
Odds for an NCAA at-large bid are stacked against Ole Miss right now. If there is a run to be made it must include the White that has been at the table the last two games, not the White who appeared to be clouded in shades of gray in some conference games.
White’s not been a liability by any means, averaging 14.7 points and shooting 43.2 percent, not bad for a volume shooter. It’s just been a case of needing more from a player with such great potential.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy challenged White to attack the rim and get to the free throw line, and White responded with an 8-for-11 free throw effort against Auburn on Feb. 24, part of a 21-point performance.
He changed his game Saturday in Tuscaloosa, taking what the Crimson Tide gave and punishing them with a 4-for-6 day from the 3-point line.
They were clutch baskets too, one to beat the buzzer at the end of the first half, then another with 31.2 seconds left to give Ole Miss the lead in a 76-73 win.
There’s no greater illustration of White’s sophomore struggles than the fact that Alabama coach Anthony Grant thought he was the guy to leave open. Playing the percentages, Grant said.
Certain percentages were not kind to White, just 28.3 percent from 3-point range against the league going into Saturday’s play, but he hit the shots. It matters not how he scores as long as he scores. If he can hit from outside consistently, getting to the rim becomes a little easier as defenders are forced to step out on him.
Warren was held to 12 points, but he also took what the defense gave, hitting shots when they were open and getting seven assists with no turnovers in one of his better floor games from a leadership standpoint.
Warren and White combined for 47 points against Auburn, their second-highest combined production of the season.
Time ticks against the Rebels now. There may not be enough of it left to offset the damage they inflicted to the schedule in February when they were unable to overcome the loss of freshmen reserve Reggie Buckner, the team’s best post defender.
NCAA tournament teams overcome a loss like that by increasing production elsewhere.
Maybe that’s what White is doing now, and maybe it’s not too late.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.