By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Andy Kennedy has lamented the lack of toughness with his Ole Miss basketball team.
That shortcoming normally appears in rebounding, where the Rebels are last in the SEC with a minus-4.1 margin and have been out-boarded in six of their last seven games.
The outlier there is a plus-1 performance in their 91-88 home win against Missouri on Feb. 8.
While toughness can vary according to the individual, Kennedy also believes it can be an acquired trait.
“I think it’s a lot about who you are, but we’ve got to develop that. I do think you can develop toughness by accountability and by continuing to be consistent in your approach,” he said.
Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6 SEC) carries a three-game losing streak into its 11 a.m., home game against No. 2 Florida.
Junior Aaron Jones leads the Rebels with 6.9 rebounds per game.
Freshman Sebastian Saiz adds 5.8.
Freshman Dwight Coleby is seeing more minutes of late. He’s averaging 1.5 rebounds but had six at Georgia before getting just three against Kentucky.
Sophomore Anthony Perez, playing out of position at times as a big forward, is averaging 4.0 rebounds in SEC play.
“My hope is that some of the things we are dealing is youth and inexperience, not an understanding, and that as we continue to pile up lessons in these games that they’ll grow from that,” Kennedy said.
Wilbekin vs. Henderson
Kennedy says he expects Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin to be the Gators’ defenders assigned to Marshall Henderson.
Henderson had 21 points – 3-for-8 from 3 – and three steals when Ole Miss defeated No. 13 Florida 66-63 in the SEC tournament championship game in Nashville last March.
In prime form, Henderson ran along press row with his version of the gator chomp as the game was winding down.
“Our anticipation would be that (Wilbekin’s) going to guard Marshall. He’s very, very good at fighting through screens,” Kennedy said.
Wilbekin is fourth in the SEC in assists and sixth in steals.
No hand problems
The return of Martavious Newby may help some with rebounding, but is expected to help more with defensive energy across the board.
Newby made a quick return from a broken hand on Jan. 25 against Mississippi State with nine minutes against Kentucky.
He was not expected to play in the game but quickly gained confidence in his hand after a colliding with a UK player and hitting the floor near the scorer’s table.
“When I fell on my hand I was thinking, ‘Man, it didn’t do anything to it.’ I fell hard to the ground, and I was like, ‘Man, I got my hand back.’”
Soon after that he was quick to put his injured hand into the gut of a Kentucky player and force a tie ball.
Newby missed his only shot attempt, but scoring is not what Kennedy wants most from him. He had an offensive rebound, a steal and two fouls.