Well, this was a game that the Mississippi Rebels needed very badly, and they won the game on a near-last second 3-point shot by senior point guard Chris Warren. It was an exciting game, but Kentucky comes up on the short end, I think deservedly.
I was very impressed with how aggressive and how physical the Ole Miss Rebels were in this game. They took it to Kentucky in every way you can, and they played with a heart and intensity that, if they had played like this all year, might have them in contention for an NCAA bid instead of trying to salvage a season that started with four league losses in six games. But this game, this time, the Rebels were very, very good, and they sent Kentucky home with their third SEC road loss in four tries. I can't say enough about how tough and determined the Rebels were. They won this game the old-fashioned way -- they earned it.
For Kentucky, there is a ton of things I could criticize, but honestly, I just don't feel much like it. I liked the way this team competed when they were smacked in the mouth by an SEC team that was laying it all on the line, and despite moments when I thought the Wildcats might just give up, they refused, and fought like their namesake to pull out a win despite a remarkably poor ballhandling performance. In the end, they just didn't do enough things right, despite some occasionally inspired play from the freshmen.
This Kentucky group has not had the kind of adversity that tempers a team, the kind that shows them not only how to win, but how to refuse to lose. Losing is submission to the superior competitor, and when you do not match the opponent's intensity, you place yourself in jeopardy of coming up short. For stretches tonight, Kentucky did not match the intensity of the Rebels. In the end, there was one possession, and I'll point out the penultimate possession as an excellent example, that proved the Wildcats did not deserve the victory.
More after the jump.
I will criticize John Calipari for that last Ole Miss possession. I would have rather given up a layup than a three pointer from Chris Warren. But for whatever reason, we did not double-team Warren, and he made a big three pointer over a comparatively ponderous Terrence Jones. To be honest, though, it was the lousy possession before that one that cost UK the game. You would think Coach Cal would have something better than what the Wildcats offered on their possession before last where DeAndre Liggins wound up heaving up a hopelessly weak 3-point shot as the shot clock expired, but you would be wrong. Overall, I think Andy Kennedy got the best of Cal tonight, and Calipari shares the blame for this loss equally with his charges. Tonight, Calipari lacked coaching toughness.
I won't be handing out superlatives, as is my wont on losses. This was the kind of game that Kentucky should have expected from Ole Miss, and I don't think they were prepared for it. This Kentucky team is very soft, kind of like the Florida Gators, and that really got exposed tonight when Ole Miss pushed Kentucky around. Lots of begging for fouls that you don't get on a road game in this league will force Calipari to go back to the drawing board. If UK cannot play tougher than this, they not only will not win the league, but they could wind up with a five or six seed in the NCAA's. That's a recipe for a very short stay in the tournament.
I did like the way Brandon Knight started to attack when the game was getting out of hand. That was contagious, and the rest of the team really showed that they weren't just going to roll over and look toward the next contest. I was very displeased that our older players did not show the same leadership, particularly Darius Miller. He looked more like a freshman than a junior, and that does not happen with a winning team.
I'm disappointed, but I had a bad feeling about this game. Ole Miss has had a bad run, and they were due for a strong performance and their backs were against the wall. They are much more talented than their record suggests. Kentucky is still vulnerable to teams who come out hard against them, as they have already seen first hand now three times. It seems the lesson is not really being learned, and that's not encouraging.
But, in the end, it was a close loss in a hostile arena with a team that could not have had any more motivation. That's just the price you pay for being Kentucky, and until the Wildcats learn to compete physically with their opponents, this won't be the last road loss they'll suffer.