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Kentucky Wildcats 80, Ole Miss Rebels 64: Postmortem

Kentucky basketball's big win at home against Ole Miss was almost lost in the NSD shuffle. How often can we say that? Kentucky shared second place in the SEC with the Rebs, but they were in sole possession by the end of the night. Let's revisit the victory.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats were an 11.5 point favorite over the visiting Ole Miss Rebels last night but prevailed by 16. How did they accomplish this? By running the offense as efficiently as they have all season and by stepping up their defensive effort in the second half.

Give the Rebs credit where credit is due, they played the ‘Cats close in the first half despite being outmanned and outmatched at nearly every position on the floor. Andy Kennedy had his guys ready to play but he looked totally defeated as he watched the Wildcats pull away in the last ten minutes.

And Marshall Henderson? The often emotional and often suspended Rebel had a very quiet 16 points in his Rupp Arena debut.  More on that in a bit.

Team Observations

  • Kentucky again owned the boards, blowing the visiting team out of the water 41-26. Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Harrison, and Julius Randle all had five or more rebounds. That's a great team effort.
  • The Wildcats shot 51% from the field which is fantastic. Like I said in the beginning, the offense was run as efficient as I can remember this season. The ‘Cats passed well out of the zone and exploited their advantage in the middle with a series of thunderous dunks. They realized their strength and they played to it. That's an example of a team that is figuring things out.
  • Ole Miss' half-court pressure gave Andrew Harrison fits early, but he settled down and figured it out and didn't get into too much trouble.
  • Free throw shooting was again much better. The ‘Cats shot 72.2% from the charity stripe, going 26-36. Kentucky lived at the line due to their superior size and athleticism and they made Ole Miss pay dearly for sending them there.
  • Kentucky's bench played well, much of their minutes were gobbled up by WCS and Alex Poythress, who combined for 28 points and 18 rebounds. The rest of the bench failed to score but they didn't really need to.
  • Three point shooting was...not good. 15.4% is mind boggling to me for a team that has such good shooters in it. They went 2-13 but luckily they didn't need many more to blow this game wide open.
  • The defense was so-so in the first half, and very good in the second half. They held Ole Miss to 38.5% from the field and 28.6% from the three point line. Kentucky also held their two highest scorers, Jarvis Summers (17.5 ppg) and Marshall Henderson (19.8 ppg), to 11 and 16 points respectively.
  • Henderson had a tough night. He jacked up 18 shots (12 of them three pointers) and only hit eight. He didn't make a single trip to the line. Kentucky did a masterful job harassing him all game long. He had to deal with Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison guarding him for the most part, but the Wildcats did a terrific job switching the defense and making sure he didn't get many clean looks. He displayed his trademark "emotions" only twice, and one of those earned him a reprimand from an official. Odds are he's going to be jacked up when Kentucky visits the Tad in a couple of weeks.
  • The much maligned transition defense was much improved. I thought the team did a very good job in limiting the fast break chances of the Rebels. But then again, shooting over 50% kind of takes care of that problem.
  • John Calipari looked pleased with the effort of his team. Yeah he got on them and he even benched a starter in the second half, but he looked like he was coaching with enthusiasm and not anger.
  • Kentucky may not have played to their full potential in the first half but they didn't have one of their slow starts. That is now two games in the row where Kentucky started strong and sustained their effort throughout the entire game.

Individual Observations

  • I know this has been said a gross amount of times at this point, but welcome back Willie. Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress both had great games, but the game ball has to go to WCS. He played 29 minutes off of the bench, scored 18 points on 7-8 from the field and even went 4-5 from the free throw line. He also threw in 11 rebounds, six blocks, two assists, a steal and only two personal fouls. That's a stat-line that we all like to see from the big man. He played with energy on defense and with confidence on offense. Now let's just hope the funk stays away for good.
  • Alex Poythress was again huge off of the bench. Any other night and he would have the game ball. His monster dunks are becoming game time traditions and he is throwing down more than one per contest. 20 minutes with 10 points and seven rebounds in a splendid performance.
Poythress is gonna Poythress:
  • Aaron Harrison was very good for the second game in a row. Double A shot 50% from the field, 2-5 from beyond the arc and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. All that added up to a cool 16 points. He also pulled down six rebounds and played great defense on Marshall Henderson.
  • Andrew Harrison played a very good game as well. He only had nine points but he had five assists, only three turnovers, and ran the offense to almost perfection. He only took four shots but he hit three of them and did the same from the free throw line as well.
  • Julius Randle had about as bad of a half as he has had all season. He looked lethargic and a little fed up with having to battle three or four guys every time he touched the ball. Well, he's only human to get upset about that, right? That's not an excuse that John Calipari wants to hear. Randle was benched in the second half and watched Alex Poythress start in his spot and play well. That woke him up. Randle finished the game with 16 points and five rebounds. He went 8-10 from the line, something that gives me great pleasure as he will continue to be sent there with regularity. He also played better on defense but there were a few times when his opponent backed him to the basket for an easy lay-up.
  • James Young scored 10 points but had a shooting night to forget. The freshman wing went 2-8 from the floor and 0-5 from beyond the arc. Shake it off young man and keep shooting.
  • Dakari Johnson had some nice moments on offense, scoring with his back to the basket and rebounding the ball well, but he battled foul trouble for the second game in a row and played only nine minutes. He had five points and two rebounds. On defense he had five blocks and helped WCS patrol the paint and made the Rebels pay for coming into his airspace.
  • Jarrod Polson played eight minutes off of the bench but failed to put up any stats other than two personal fouls. Ole Miss wasn't a very good match up for him and Andrew played well enough that Polson wasn't really needed.
  • Dominique Hawkins played four minutes but, like Polson, wasn't needed as Kentucky's two starting guards had solid games on both sides of the floor.
  • Jon Hood, Derek Willis and Marcus Lee all saw one minute of action with no stats.

Final Thoughts

I was pleased with this game from almost start to finish. Yes, there were moments in the first half when Kentucky let Ole Miss back into the game when it looked like they were getting ready to pull away, but they stepped on the gas in the second half and that was pleasing. After letting one of the SEC's best scorers in Jabari Brown go off for almost 30 points, the Wildcats held two other elite scorers to well below their averages. The defense is getting better, but expect more growing pains here and there.

The Wildcats are sitting at 2-1 in the middle of this pivotal five game stretch. At this fact I am not surprised. They have two more road games against Mississippi State and Auburn before they welcome the Gators into Rupp. Kentucky is in sole possession of second place in the SEC and they have a chance to gain some more momentum in the coming days before facing the best team in the conference.

This was a good team effort. Thanks for reading and thanks to Glenn for letting me do this postmortem.

Go ‘Cats!