JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -The deep furrows have disappeared from David Huertas’ forehead and the weight of a season gone wrong has been removed from the Mississippi guard’s shoulders.
The Rebels enter the NIT semifinals Tuesday night against Ohio State having won six of their past seven, in large part thanks to Huertas’ emergence from a shooting slump that seemed to coincide with Ole Miss’ struggles.
“I feel great right now because I’ve put so much time in the gym during the preseason working out, working on my game, and finally it’s paying off in the season,” Huertas said.
The 6-foot-5 Florida transfer has had a roller-coaster season.
In games where he struggled with his shooting, it would often affect other areas of his game. But as the Rebels (24-10) prepare for their final two games, Huertas has scored 15 or more points in five of Ole Miss’ past seven games.
“He’s emerged into the player that we were anticipating him being,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Huertas averages 10.6 points and 25 minutes. He’s played 31 or more minutes in the Rebels’ past eight games and has averaged 16 points and nearly four 3-pointers over the past seven.
That improvement coincides with a string of six wins in seven games for Ole Miss. He scored 29 against Georgia in the SEC tournament and has made 50 percent of his 3-point shots during the Rebels’ late run.
“David Huertas has been stepping up and everybody is doing a little bit more, and that’s been the biggest difference,” forward Dwayne Curtis said.
Kennedy says it’s easy to see why the sophomore shooting guard struggled. Huertas, a native of Puerto Rico who played high school ball in Florida, missed 20 games his senior season due to injury.
At Florida, he played just a few minutes a game for the eventual national champion as a freshman during the 2005-06 season, then sat out last year after transferring.
He spent lots of time in the gym, but none with the seats filled and the game on the line.
“I probably underestimated the transition period it was going to take him because he had not played,” Kennedy said.
Now opponents must honor Huertas’ threat on the perimeter instead of leaving him to double-team Curtis or point guard Chris Warren.
If he can continue his hot streak at Madison Square Garden, it’s likely the Rebels will, too.
“In the beginning I missed so many shots and I used to get so frustrated on myself, mad at myself because I know I go to the gym every day to work on my shot – after practice, before practice,” Huertas said. “Now it’s paying off.”