Kentucky (19-12, 8-8) enters today's 1:00 EST first round SEC Tournament match-up with Ole Miss needing a win to not only preserve hope for an NCAA Tournament bid, but also to calm the gathering storm clouds of scrutiny. UK head man Billy Gillispie is enduring more second-guessing than George Custer, and desperately, urgently requires a victory to keep the media, and the collective wrath of Big Blue Nation from dismantling his troubled regime, piece by battered piece.
Four straight losses, and a 3-8 record over the last 11 games, have led many to question Gillispie's ability to lead college basketball's winningest (for now) program. But, winning three or four games in a row in March oftentimes can cure the worst of maladies. The onset of salvation awaits the troubled 'Cats and their beleaguered chief, in the form of the Mississippi Rebels.
Ironically, Ole Miss represents the beginning of the "dark times" for this UK basketball team: Coming off five straight wins to open SEC play, UK stood tall in the saddle, with talk of 13, 14, even 15 league wins (and sugar plums dancing in their heads) ... until that fateful trip to Oxford on January 27, which resulted in an 85-80 lackluster loss for the 'Cats. And thus began UK's downward death spiral of unparalleled proportions.
But, being the ever-optimistic chap that I am, the question has to be asked -- Will Ole Miss represent another, more palatable turning point? Will today's game launch UK into a new, more successful season?
UK is certainly more talented than the overachieving Rebels, but talent hasn't been the pivotal factor in Kentucky's disappointing results. Heart, determination, will, and execution have been absent without leave for this Wildcat squad, and can be pointed to as the primary culprit for this most disappointing of seasons. But, if the 'Cats can somehow summon from the grave the requisite winning formula long since lost ... well, a four win Georgia team did it last year ... it's certainly "Cat-possible."
First up, the Rebels of Ole Miss
Mississippi Personnel -- Conference Stats Only
Terrico White: 6-5, 211 lb freshman guard -- White averages 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game (2.3 turnovers per game). He's shooting 44.5% from the field, 35.7% from beyond the arc (46-129), and 63.8% from the free throw line.
He was named SEC Freshman of the Year by the coaches ... In his last six games White is averaging 22.3 points per game ... In his last four games he's taken an average of 10.8 three-pointers per game, and he's making them at a 34.9% clip ... He took 23 shots versus Auburn on February 25, he made only eight (34.8%) ... He had eight rebounds versus Auburn on February 4, and seven rebounds versus Arkansas on March 4 ... White committed eight turnovers in Ole Miss' SEC opener against Florida, in the 15 games since he's averaging only 1.9 per game ... He made over 50.0% of his shots in 18 games this year ... He dished out zero assists in Ole Miss' last game versus Mississippi State ... Versus UK earlier in the year, White scored 21 points on 7-15 shooting (38 threes), grabbed five rebounds, handed out seven assists and had two turnovers.
David Huertas: 6-5, 200 lb junior guard -- The Florida transfer is averaging 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game (2.5 turnovers). He making 37.7% of his shots, 30.4% of his three-point tries (35-115), and 78.3% of his free throws.
Huertas has a hurt foot and is listed as a game-time decision ... Baloney ... He'll play ... But, he played only 16 minutes versus Mississippi State in UM's last game ... He has only one steal in his last four games ... Over his last three games he's averaging only 12.0 points per game ... In his last two games he's made only seven of 19 shots (38.6%) ... In that same span he's made three of 12 trifecta attempts (25.0%) ... Versus UK earlier in the season, Huertas scored 21 points, making five of 15 shots (3-9 threes), corralled five rebounds and dished out four assists.
Zach Graham: 6-6, 225 lb sophomore guard -- Graham is averaging 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. He's shooting 38.8% from the field, 39.6% for behind the arc (19-48), and 73.8% from the charity stripe.
Graham is averaging 15.5 points over his last four games ... He's averaging taking nine free throws per game in that same span ... He's made six of his last 17 three-pointers in his last four games (35.3%) ... He's dished out eight dimes over the last two games ... In his first 24 games played this year he took double-digit shots only twice ... He's taken 10 or more shots in four of his last six games ... He's committed five turnovers twice in his last four games ... In their earlier meeting with UK, Graham scored 11 points on 3-9 shooting (3-6 threes), grabbed five rebounds, had two assists, one steal, and two turnovers.
Malcolm White: 6-9, 217 lb sophomore forward -- White is averaging 8.9 points, 6.6 rebounds (2.6 offensive rebounds), and 1.3 blocks per game. He's shooting 51.3% from the field, and 81.8% from the free throw line.
White scored 20 points (7-8 field goals) versus Mississippi State in UM's regular season finale ... Over his last 11 games he's 46-74 from the field (62.2%) ... He nabbed 18 rebounds versus Auburn on February 25, he also had six turnovers in that game ... He's recorded 17 offensive rebounds over his last four games (4.3 per game) ... He blocked five shots versus Georgia on February 21 ... White has 47 rebounds over his last five games (9.4 per game) ... In Ole Miss' first 18 games, White scored in double-digits only twice, in his last 12 games he's scored at least 10 points seven times ... He's made 14-16 free throws over his last five games (87.5%) ... He's dished out only three assists all year ... He's recorded two or more blocks in four of his last six games ... Versus UK, he had 20 points (8-12 field goals), grabbed six rebounds, had one steal and one block.
Murphy Holloway: 6-7, 227 lb freshman forward -- Holloway is averaging 8.9 points, and 7.4 rebounds per game (3.3 offensive rebounds). He's shooting 50.8% from the floor, and 52.3% from the free throw line.
In five of his last seven games Holloway has grabbed double-digit rebounds ... Over his last seven games he's averaging 9.4 rebounds per game ... In UM"s last game versus Mississippi State he gathered in 14 rebounds ... In three of his last seven games he's grabbed at least five offensive boards per game ... In a three game stretch versus LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia, he was 19-32 from the field (59.4%), in the four games since he's only 10-23 (43.5%) ... The freshman has played in all 30 Ole Miss games, and scored in every one of them ... He's scored in double-digits 14 times ... Against UK, he scored five points (2-6 field goals), grabbed six rebounds, had three assists, two steals, and one block.
UK vs. Ole Miss Statistical Comparison -- League Games Only (SEC Rank in Parenthesis)
Kentucky Ole Miss
Points Per Game -- 70.7 (9) 72.2 (8)
Field Goal% -- 45.5 (3) 42.9 (9)
Free Throw% -- 76.9 (1) 68.6 (7)
3-Point% -- 36.6 (3) 33.2 (8)
Rebound Margin -- +3.2 +4.9
Off. Reb. Per Game -- 11.1 (10) 13.8 (1)
Off. Rebound% -- 35.5 (4) 36.6 (2)
Def. Rebound% -- 66.0 (7) 68.5 (3)
Assists Per Game -- 13.6 (4) 11.6 (9)
Turnovers Per Game -- 17.0 (11) 13.7 (6)
Steals Per Game -- 6.6 (8) 4.8 (12)
Blocks Per Game -- 6.4 (1) 3.2 (9)
Ole Miss is 1-3 in their last four games, and 4-6 in their last 10 ... In their last three games the Rebels are giving up 87.7 points per game ... In their last three games they've given up 32 made three-point baskets, and are allowing their opponents to shoot 38.6% from beyond the arc ... Ole Miss opponents have scored over 40 points in seven consecutive halves ... Over their last two games 68 free throws have been taken by their opponents ... Over their last four games their opponents are averaging 30.8 free throws per game ... The Rebels shot over 45.0% from the field only three times in SEC play ... Ole Miss conference opponents shot over 45.0% eight times ... In half of their SEC games, Ole Miss recorded single-digit assist totals ... Ole Miss is averaging 23.7 three-point attempts per game, over their last 11 games.
Omen, omens, looking for omens
UK is 13-0 versus Ole Miss in SEC Tournament games ... UK has played Mississippi on a neutral floor a total of 25 times, winning all but one game ... The lone UK loss to UM at a neutral site was in the 1928 Southern Conference Tournament ... Today's date, March 12, is the anniversary of the following UK triumphs -- March 12, 1966; Rupp's Runts defeated Michigan to gain a spot in the Final Four ... March 12 1993; UK annihilated Tennessee 101-40 in a first round SEC Tournament game, ending Allan Houston's college career ... March 12, 1995; UK defeated Arkansas 95-93 in overtime, coming back from 19 points down, to claim the SEC Tournament Championship.
Editors Note -- I refuse to do my normally brilliant? pre-game analysis until UK wins another game.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!