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Preview/Gamethread: #9 UK Hoops at Ole Miss

The student hosts the teacher as Matthew Mitchell and his Wildcats take on Matt Insell's Rebels in Oxford in Part Two of tonight's Kentucky basketball doubleheader.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

See if this sounds familiar: Tonight UK Hoops faces a very defensive-minded squad who is excellent at the press and forcing turnovers. If it sounds like a statement we've heard before, that's because, well, we have. Both Georgia and Auburn excelled at this style of play, and the Cats will once again have their hands full as they take on yet another SEC defensive juggernaut.

Ole Miss is the latest opponent the Cats face this season that forces opposing teams to commit +20 turnovers a game. They are the second best bunch of thieves in the SEC, averaging just over 13 steals per game. Happily I think Kentucky is learning to play more effectively against the press: in their first game against Auburn they had 26 turnovers, and in Sunday's matchup they only had 19. A 27% improvement here is nothing to sneeze at. Coach Matthew Mitchell continues to stress the opportunities to improve in this area, with his goal being 12 or less turnovers per game. If we can keep it under 15 against Ole Miss, that would be a marked improvement for this squad.

Another game element that may sound familiar is that Ole Miss's offense is definitely not their strength. They're 9th in the conference in overall scoring at 41.7% to UK's 46%. They're 8th in conference at three pointers made with 30.2% to UK's 37.7%. (Happy fact, Kentucky now leads the SEC in 3 point shooting percentage.) And last but not least, Ole Miss is dead last in free throw shooting, at a truly horrible 58.9% to UK's 72.1%.

Ole Miss players to watch include their scoring leader Shandricka Sessom, who is averaging 16.1 points per game to go with 6 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. Right behind her is Oxford native Erika Sisk, at just over 10 points and 2.7 steals per game.

Kentucky really needs this road win to start moving up in the standings, as we are currently third behind South Carolina and Mississippi State. Our goal is to be in the top 2 come tournament time, and every win  is worth its weight in gold as March draws near. Our keys to victory tonight:

  • Effective ball movement. I've already spoken to turnovers, but want to stress how much of this falls on our point guards. On Sunday, Janee Thompson accounted for 7 of the team's 19 turnovers, which is REALLY not like her as she averages only 3.3 per game. Not sure if Janee was still angry about the South Carolina game or not, but she'll need to enter tonight with a fresh approach to help her team maintain possession of the ball.
  • We have a height advantage tonight and our bigs need to play like the quality bigs they truly are. Alexis Jennings is coming off a frustrating performance against Auburn, where she had as many fouls (4) as points, and only had 2 rebounds in 22 minutes of action. We KNOW she can do better - we've seen her do it! If she and Evelyn can really control the pain and limit Ole Miss's second chance points  - they're the second best offensive rebounding team in the league - we can dramatically downsize the amount of options the Rebels will have to score.
  • Makayla Epps needs to get a little selfish. I applaud her leadership on the court and wanting to make sure everyone has the chance to eat, but she's started to repeatedly take herself out of contention for an easy basket. BGE, if you have the shot please take it!

Ole Miss is riding a four game losing streak and is only 1-4 conference play. Like the opening game at Auburn, this game could have TRAP written all over it. Hopefully the team is as laser focused on this as they were in avenging that loss against Auburn. The game is televised on the SEC Network - hooray! - so be sure to tune in for all the action at 9 PM Eastern after the guys trounce those pesky Hogs at Bud Walton Arena.

Until tipoff, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!!!!