Kentucky got a fine win on the road last night against a dangerous and mercurial Mississippi Rebels team, and true to form, Ole Miss looked both dangerous and mercurial in the same game. Kentucky dominated the game completely for long stretches, then hit a rough patch starting with about 9 minutes left in the second half.
Ole Miss gave Kentucky very little problem early, but to their great credit, they never gave up on the game. Even when Kentucky was outplaying them, the Rebels continued to try to execute their game plan. That plan finally began to work, but it was too late, and the deficit too large, for them to come back and win the game, although they did get it within two baskets.
Now, let's take a look at the numbers, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy:
Ole Miss box
You can see by the box scores what Kentucky did especially well. You might think that they shot the ball well from three, and for a fact, 37% isn't bad, but it's hardly world-beating. But look at the 2-point FG% — 62% for the game. That's really good. Also really strong is the offensive rebounding — almost 75% of missed shots. "Strong" isn't a fair descriptor for that. "Peerless" might be better.
Kentucky also made 90% of their free throws. Many people thought that free throw shooting was responsible for the loss to Florida, and it was — by the Gators. Kentucky did shoot below average in the Florida game, but they were still at 60%, which for this team, is not exactly a deadly sin. The Gators, however, made almost all of theirs, and virtually all of them down the stretch. Kentucky is very good from the line when the right guys shoot the ball, and last night against Ole Miss, that's what happened.
Where we can't be all that happy is in defensive efficiency. The Rebels managed nearly 1 point per possession against UK, and that's not good enough. I though we defended well for most of the game, but that offensive explosion by Ole Miss in the last 8 minutes of the game demonstrate that the Wildcats still have an annoying tendency to surrender baskets when they shouldn't. Last night, it was due to sheer boredom.
Kentucky dominated the whole night without much resistance from the Rebels, and absolutely got bored. Ole Miss sensed an opportunity, started making a few baskets and frustrating Kentucky with the 1-3-1 trapping zone, and the Wildcats swooned. They recovered in time to finish off the game, but the big lesson to take away from this is that you can't get bored when you're beating a team's brains out. Play mind games with yourself, perceive some slight by the fans or the opponent, anything — but don't stop playing.
Also, Kentucky tried too many high-difficulty lobs. Stop that, please. Make the easy play.
Now, let's look at the Four Factors, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
There's nothing particularly surprising here... Oh, wait, yes there is! Look at the turnovers! Over 25% of the time, that's one fourth of all game possessions, Kentucky gave the ball to Ole Miss. While I think it's very important that Kentucky players are generous to a fault, that should be with their time, not with the basketball. This was Kentucky's worst ballhandling performance all year in conference, and their second-worst all season, with only the Boise St. Broncos receiving more largess from the Wildcats.
The rest of the four factors are not particularly surprising, although 59% eFG is really good. The Free throw rate and rebounding are also up there, but we see this from Kentucky pretty consistently.
Let's have a quick look at game flow:
Other than turnovers, this is what has me the most annoyed about last night. You can literally see right in front of you were the Wildcats stopped playing. Give Ole Miss credit for taking note and jumping on them, but that's something Calipari needs to address.
Speaking of Calipari, I thought he totally over-coached this team last night, literally dictating when a shot should go up from the bench. I swear, at one point, I thought he was going to run out on the floor, take the ball away from Andrew Harrison, send him to the bench and take over at the point guard.
Jeez, Coach Cal, back off the caffeine and 5-Hour Energy, willya? As a fellow 55+ year old, let me remind you that as great as our minds are, our bodies are just not up for it. Let the kids play, and give them their head a little.
Julius Randle has to get the game ball. When you score 25 points, make 13-14 free throws and 6-7 shots from the field to go with 13 rebounds, it would be an act of criminality not to get the top honors, although he did revert to his turnover-prone self. With that said, I thing Aaron Harrison was a closer-than expected second. His defense against Marshall Henderson was outstanding all night long. That guy is a tough cover.
Aaron had an excellent game. He shot it well, rebounded, passed, and took care of the ball. Two turnovers are not bad for him.
James Young had one of those games that drives us crazy. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, but in the process, committed a blizzard of turnovers. Then, in the second half, he vanished as if by magic.
Andrew Harrison was a little off his game. He committed as many turnovers as he had assists, but he did make a couple of threes and all his free throws. I thought he ran the team pretty well, though — that is, when Calipari would let him run it.
Dakari Johnson just didn't get much done this game. He missed his first two layups, didn't even try to finish strong, and wound up with only two rebounds to show for nine minutes.
Willie Cauley-Stein played a lot of minutes, and played well. He was active defensively, helping out a lot on Henderson and White, and made 4-6 free throws to go along with six rebounds. I'd like to see more than six boards out of WCS in 31 minutes, though.
Alex Poythress had a quiet night. He had one emphatic dunk (see the picture above), but only got 3 boards.
Jarrod Polson played well, but he struggled to guard on the defensive end. He hit a big three in the first half on some beautiful ball movement, and had a couple of nice assists and a rebound.
Overall, I think we'll all take a 14-point win on the road and be happy, but the game could have been an inflection point in the season if Kentucky hadn't shown that they still don't know the importance of finishing a foe off when you have them at your mercy. They still have time to learn that, but the opportunities are getting fewer by the day.
The LSU Tigers are Kentucky's next opponent in Lexington, and offer a chance for Kentucky to avenge the beat-down they suffered in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are a more worthy opponent than the Rebels, and LSU matches up much better against Kentucky than Ole Miss. In fact, LSU matches up better than any team in the conference with UK, including the Florida Gators.