Mississippi bounced back quickly from its first loss of the season, but it faces a big challenge Wednesday when the No. 18 Rebels host two-time defending NCAA tournament champion Florida, which is eyeing a return to the rankings.
Florida (15-2, 2-0 SEC East) spent only one week in the top 25, falling out after a 65-51 loss to Florida State on Nov. 23. The Gators have since won 10 of 11, with their only loss coming at Ohio State on Dec. 22.
Florida is looking to win its seventh straight over Mississippi (14-1, 1-1 West) on Wednesday.
After an 85-83 defeat at then-No. 8 Tennessee on Jan. 9, the Rebels bounced back with a 74-71 win over LSU on Saturday. Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice each scored 15 points to lead five players in double figures.
Mississippi led by 22 points in the second half, but LSU had two chances to tie the game in the final minute, leaving coach Andy Kennedy disappointed in his team’s lack of killer instinct.
“We played well in the first half, but self destructed in the second half,” he said. “We were in control of the game and they could have died and gone away and didn’t. They stepped up and made some shots and we turned the ball over too much.”
The Rebels, who shot 50.0 percent in the first half en route to a 43-29 halftime lead, scored their fewest points in six games. Warren, Mississippi’s leading scorer with 15.8 points per game, was held to just two free throws in the second half.
The Rebels are looking for their first win over the Gators since a 68-51 victory Feb. 16, 2002.
This is Florida’s first game against a ranked opponent. The Gators, who are 14-2 against ranked opponents the last two seasons, have won four straight since losing to the Buckeyes, including a 72-56 victory over Auburn on Saturday.
Jai Lucas and Nick Calathes scored 16 points each while Marreese Speights added 14 and eight rebounds.
Lucas scored seven of his points in the final 3:30, keying a 9-0 game-closing run for the Gators after Auburn closed within 63-56.
“I just did what the team needed,” Lucas said. “I wasn’t trying to do anything spectacular. I was just trying to help us win the game.”
Florida is allowing just 61.5 points per game—second-fewest in the SEC.
The game is the first for Mississippi’s David Huertas against his former team. Huertas left the Gators following his freshman season in 2005-06 after averaging 2.5 points in minimal minutes. After sitting out last season as required, the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the Rebels, starting the last six games and 11 overall.
Florida leads the all-time series against Mississippi 56-41, and has won by an average of 16.6 points during its current six-game winning streak. The Rebels have lost three of their last four in Oxford, Miss.