By Chris Burrows
NEW ORLEANS For the third time in four years it's Ole Miss vs. Florida in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
The clubs open the 11-game tournament in the Superdome at noon today. The winner gets the dubious honor of playing top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Kentucky in the quarterfinals.
"We've each won a game (Ole Miss in 1993, Florida in 1995) in the tournament and we play every year (Florida won 59-55 in Oxford), so we're very familiar with each other," Rebel head coach Rob Evans said. "A win would be important for both of us at this stage in our programs."
Ole Miss (12-14, 6-10), a team dominated with freshmen and sophomores, could use an opening round win as an important building block for bigger things in the next two seasons.
Florida (11-15, 6-10), a program that averaged 20-plus wins in the previous four seasons, could use an opening round win to help salvage an otherwise disappointing season.
"We closed with a win over Tennessee and that really lifted our spirits," Florida coach Lon Kruger said. "But I think we're catching a team that's really high in confidence and it's big for both of us."
The Rebels will go without two starters, sophomore forwards Anthony Boone and Ansu Sesay. During the SEC season, Boone led the Rebels in rebounding (8.3) while Sesay led the Rebels in scoring (13.2).
As feared, Boone has torn the ACL in his left knee. Sesay has a stress fracture of the left foot that has caused a large knot and swelling at the top of the foot.
"We told Anthony last (Tuesday) night after practice and he handled it exactly the way I knew he would," Evans said. "He wanted to know what he had to do next and how early he needed to get up each morning to start on rehab.
"I don't think their loss will affect us from an attitude standpoint. Our guys are going to be ready to play. It does affect us from a numbers and options standpoint."
Florida's top player, Dametri Hill, the 6-foot-7, 275-pound low post, didn't practice Wednesday because of a sore back. Hill is expected to play.
"It's sore, but I'm going to play," Hill said. "I know Boone and Sesay are out, but that doesn't change anything for me. I know whoever Ole Miss has in there, they're going to play hard."