REBELS OPEN KEY HOME STAND TODAY
By Chris Burrows
OXFORD The second season begins at noon today for the Ole Miss Rebels. At least that’s the way head coach Rob Evans is approaching the Florida game.
“We’ve played what most people believe are the best four teams in the league and three were on the road,” said Evans, whose club hosts the Gators to open a three-game home stand. “We survived it and matured from it.”
Ole Miss (5-8, 0-4) was blown away at Georgia and Kentucky by 36 and 30 points, respectively. The Rebels bounced back to lose a heartbreaker at home to Arkansas 63-62 and trailed at Mississippi State by two points with four minutes remaining before falling 53-47.
“I think anybody that saw us during that stretch knows we got better,” Evans said. “Now it’s a new season. We’ve got 12 SEC games plus Houston Baptist and eight of those games at home. A win would be huge for us.”
Enter Florida. Lon Kruger’s Gators (6-8, 1-3) understand the plight of a tough schedule. In the past two weeks, Florida has faced Mississippi State, Kansas, South Carolina and Georgia each ranked or receiving votes in the Associated Press poll.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us, too,” said Kruger, whose club got an 81-69 home win over South Carolina in the process. “When you have young players in key roles, the maturing process affects your record, especially on the road.”
Senior forward Dametri Hill and junior guard Greg Williams are steadying forces for Kruger’s club. Hill, a beefy 290 pounds on a 6-foot-7 frame, leads the club at 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, while Williams is Florida’s only other player to average in double figures, hitting for 10.4 points each night.
Ole Miss is led by freshman Keith Carter, the club’s leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 15.6 and 6.2, respectively. Of the top 10 Rebels in playing time and production, seven are freshmen or sophomores.
“I don’t know if it gets any easier in this league. Florida, Auburn and Alabama are outstanding teams,” Evans said. “But we are finally back home for a few games. We’re happy about that.”