First of all, a hearty congratulations to the Mississippi Rebels for their outstanding, impressive effort. Ole Miss just refused to go quietly into that good Southern night, and demanded that Kentucky give them the respect they earned against this same Wildcat team earlier this year in Oxford. The result was a close ballgame to the very end, and Ole Miss had a chance to tie the game with just a couple of minutes left. No team is satisfied with a loss, but the Rebels showed tremendous heart and fighting spirit. They have the respect of the Big Blue Nation, and if I can't speak for everyone, I can at least speak for myself.
Make no mistake, Ole Miss did exactly what I thought they would -- they played very physical and invited the thinner Wildcats to do the same, and Kentucky obliged. The result was a foul-fest that had the potential to foul out half the Kentucky team. Instead, Kentucky got going when the going got tough, and made the big plays down the stretch that have eluded them in close games all season.
For Kentucky, there was a lot not to like in this game. I refuse to be too hard on Terrence Jones, because he did sprain his ankle painfully early, and was never himself the rest of the game. But I thought Brandon Knight had moments where he once again lacked toughness, even though he found incredible toughness somewhere inside in the end. The game was ugly and even brutal with lots of missed open shots by both teams, some bad turnovers from both teams, and some downright brain-dead play by both teams. It was just plain hard to watch at times, like an unanesthetized dental patient getting a deep cavity drilled.
In the end, Kentucky prevailed thanks to Darius Miller and Brandon Knight's excellent play down the stretch. Ugly or not, this was a good win for Kentucky against an Ole Miss team that is unquestionably better than its record, a team that I hope gets an NIT bid because they can do some real damage there.
- A 3-way split today for the game ball -- Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight, and Darius Miller all for different things. Harrellson for scoring when others could not, great offensive rebounding, and going out and making plays.
Knight is honored for his outstanding play in the clutch, in which he basically took over the game and made winning play after winning play despite having a lid on the basket for 30 of the 40 minutes. He got the last three rebounds and scored the last six points or so himself.
Miller played good defense and rebounded extremely well, getting seven with two offensive. Miller was the Darius 2.0 that we have seen lately, aggressive and fearless. The charge he took from Henry near the end of the game with 4 fouls on him might have been the difference in the game.
- DeAndre Liggins did all a person can do to guard Chris Warren. That kid's just tough, and even though Liggins shut him down for long stretches, Warren still got 20 points. Just indomitable.
- Jon Hood did some good work in this game when Kentucky was hobbled by fouls. He just needs more experience and toughness, and I think Hood could earn more minutes.
- Eloy Vargas defended well, but he is still way too soft.
- Doron Lamb played a very good game, and really worked hard defensively. He didn't get that many stops, but he played as hard as anybody, and for much of the game, was the only person besides Harrellson who could put the ball in the basket.
- Terrence Jones just never got untracked, and then he got hurt. He managed 7 rebounds, but he was largely ineffective on both sides of the ball and got in foul trouble to boot.
I don't want to be too negative, but I had hoped for a better performance. Both teams shot abysmally, Kentucky only 25% from 3, one of the worst performances of the year. Even the free throw line was rude to Kentucky, as they just couldn't find the range from anywhere except right under the basket.
Survive and advance. That's what the post season is all about. That's the best thing you can say about this game, but it certainly beats the alternative. Next, the Wildcats get to try the revenge thing again against the Alabama Crimson Tide tomorrow.