After a disappointing performance by the Kentucky Wildcats at Tennessee, they made another road trip to face the Ole Miss Rebels.
It was another slow start for the Cats, as turnovers allowed the Rebels to take an early 12-6 lead.
For the second straight game, PJ Washington spent a long time on the bench in foul trouble as he went out with just over 12 minutes left on the clock with 2 fouls.
However, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro would get things going for the Cats, as they fueled the Cats to a 34-29 lead with 5 minutes left in the half.
Unfortunately, the Rebels were the team that closed the half strong as they outscored us 10-4 from that point to take a 39-38 lead into halftime.
After the break, Kentucky came out strong but so did the Rebels as each team exchanged buckets, but it was the Rebels with the slim 53-50 lead.
The second half was a big half for Washington, and a jumper by him gave the Cats a 62-58 lead with just under 11 minutes to play.
Ole Miss didn’t quit fighting, but Kentucky played excellent down the stretch but Herro and Immanuel Quickley iced the game at the free throw line as the Cats get a very good win on the road, 80-76.
Thoughts on the game
Johnson was outstanding
That was the Keldon Johnson we all expected to see. The freshman put on a show with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.
Keldon has been relying on the three-ball a little too much this season, as his strength is driving to the rim. But in this one, he was aggressive and drove the ball to the rack.
Tyler Herro/Keldon Johnson are the 2nd pair of Kentucky freshmen teammates in the John Calipari era to each score at least 20 points in the same game in multiple SEC road games (Bam Adebayo/Malik Monk, 2016-2017). Herro/Johnson are the only pair to do so in multiple wins.— Corey Price (@coreyp08) March 6, 2019
Johnson only took 2 threes and knocked down one of them, but the rest of his points came from inside and at the foul line.
Hopefully, Johnson is able to build off this and keep playing at a high level.
Herro bounces back
The road dog Tyler Herro was non-existent at Tennessee, but he made a big statement in this one. He finished with 20 points on 8/12 shooting and had 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. That included a pair of clutch free throws late to help hold off the Rebels.
Speaking of, Herro just finished as one of the best free-throw shooters ever in conference play for road games, and he will finish as one of the best to ever shoot in all of conference play:
Since the 1992-1993 season, Tyler Herro is the only freshman in Division I men's basketball to make at least 98% of his free-throws in conference games (min. 50 attempts) (98.2%, 54-55)— Corey Price (@coreyp08) March 6, 2019
Tyler Herro finished the season perfect from the free-throw line in true road games (27-27)— Corey Price (@coreyp08) March 6, 2019
That is the Herro we are used to seeing on the road and hopefully that play carries over into the SEC Tournament.
PJ had a big second half
The first half was one to forget for PJ Washington, as he spent most of it on the bench with two fouls and had zero points. It was a big reason why Kentucky was unable to build and hold on to a bigger lead, but thankfully, he played almost all of the second half.
Cal went to him right out of the gate after halftime, and he took over. He finished with 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. At one point, he scored or assisted on 17-straight points for the Cats, and they needed every bit of it to escape with a four-point win.
He was a monster the final 20, and Ole Miss couldn’t stop him. If they double-teamed him, he passed to the open man, and if they didn’t, he scored.
This is the PJ Kentucky needs to win out into Selection Sunday and get a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
EJ and Nick made big plays
Once again, this team was without Reid Travis, but both Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery stepped up at different times to help make up for his absence.
Nick finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and a block. However, he made some big defensive plays down the stretch when he got switched off onto the Rebels’ guards and came up with some big rebounds.
EJ finished with 2 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He didn’t score much, but he made his impact defensively and, on the glass, including back to back huge defensive plays late in the game to help close it out.
Concern for Reid’s return
Kentucky has made it through the games we have expected them to be without Travis with just the one loss. Many expected he would be ready to go Saturday for Senior Day against Florida.
However, John Calipari made several pre and postgame comments that make it sound like Travis won’t play Saturday. He hasn’t even practiced since injuring the knee, so now, there’s concern that he won’t play much, if at all in the SEC Tournament. If that happens, it’s hard to see Kentucky winning out and getting a 1 seed in the Big Dance.
Yes, EJ and Nick have made big plays, but Reid brings a consistency that this team desperately needs. Plus, it would be nice to have a game for him to knock the rust off before its win or go home time.
The Cats will be back home at Rupp on Saturday as they play the Florida Gators. That game will tip at 2:00 pm EST on CBS.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky improves to 25-5 overall and 14-3 in the Southeastern Conference.
· Ole Miss falls to 19-11 and 9-8 in league play.
· The Wildcats now have a 107-13 lead in the all-time series, including a 29-10 mark in Oxford, Mississippi.
· UK has won 10 straight games in the series and four consecutive games in Oxford.
· Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats will conclude the regular season Saturday in Rupp Arena vs. Florida. That game will be televised live at 2 p.m.
o It will mark the final home game for graduate student Reid Travis and senior Jonny David. The duo will be honored before the game a part of Senior Day.
In the First Half
· Kentucky started the combination of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and EJ Montgomery for the third time this season.
o Reid Travis missed his fourth straight game with a sprained right knee. His timetable for a return was at least two weeks from the injury, which occurred Feb. 19 at Missouri.
· An early 7-0 run by Ole Miss put the Rebels up 12-6 but Herro and Immanuel Quickley 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions – surrounding an Ole Miss basket – stopped the run.
· Washington picked up his second foul at the 12:58 mark and did not play the rest of the half.
· An 8-0 burst for the Wildcats put UK up 25-21 with 8:16 left in the first half. The Cats then had a 6-0 run minutes later. Overall it was a 16-4 run overall to take a 21-17 deficit and turn it into a 33-25 advantage with 6:05 left in the half.
· Ole Miss answered with an 11-1 burst to take a 36-34 lead. Herro ended it with a fade-away jumper from the baseline.
· Johnson and Herro combined for 27 points in the first half.
o Johnson scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including an old-fashioned 3-point play and breakaway dunk to cap the 16-4 run.
o Herro scored 13 on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance in the first half.
In the Second Half
· Kentucky opened with the same starting five: Hagans, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Montgomery.
· After sitting for most of the first half in foul trouble, Washington got going in the second half. He had 10 points by the 8:11 mark to give UK a 67-62 lead.
· Nick Richards gave UK a six-point lead, 75-69 and after that, UK did not make a field goal over the last 3:01 of the game.
o The Wildcats made five free throws over that closing span.
· Locked in a close game, the Wildcats made five of their last six foul shots in the closing minutes, including two each from Herro and Quickly in the last 17 seconds.
o Quickley’s two free throws with six seconds left made it a four-point game.
· Kentucky will be no worse than a game out of first place in the SEC heading into the final game of the season. Tennessee’s victory on Tuesday keeps the Volunteers a game ahead of the Wildcats while LSU still has to play its midweek game on Wednesday.
· UK improved to 8-2 in true road games this season.
· Kentucky seven turnovers were its second fewest in a game this year.
· UK was 14 of 20 from the free-throw line.
· Kentucky made just four 3-pointers, tying its season low, which it has equaled on seven occasions.
· The Wildcats 55.4 percent of their shots. They’re 13-0 when shooting 50 percent or better.
· UK outscored Ole Miss 34-24 in the paint and our now 22-3 when winning the battle in the lane.
· Keldon Johnson led the Wildcats with 22 points, his most since putting up 24 vs. Utah on Dec. 15.
o It’s the sixth time this season he’s scored 20 or more but the first since Jan. 19 at Auburn.
o Johnson was 9 of 18 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds.
o His nine made field goals were a career high.
· Tyler Herro returned to his strong form on the road with 20 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting.
o He finished the season with a 15.5 scoring average on 50.5-percent shooting in UK’s 10 road games this season.
o It was his fifth game with 20 or more points this season.
o It was his team-leading 24th game in double figures.
· PJ Washington scored 13 points, all in the second half, after sitting much of the first half in foul trouble.
o He’s scored in double figures in 14 of the last 15 games.
· Ashton Hagans scored 10 points, going 3 of 3 from the floor and making 4 of 5 free throws.
o He reached double-figures for the ninth time this year, and third time in the last six games.
· EJ Montgomery blocked a career-high four shots in addition to the six rebounds he grabbed.
· Nick Richards scored six points and grabbed four rebounds
o UK improved to 13-1 this season when Richards scores at least four points
· Calipari is now 300-69 at UK, becoming the fourth-fastest coach in NCAA Division I history to 300 wins at a school.
· Bill Self reached No. 300 in 358 games at Kansas, Claire Bee got there in 359 games at Long Island and Adolph Rupp hit 300 wins in his 366th game at UK
· Calipari has a 745-200 all-time on-court record.
· He is now 243-40 vs. Associated Press unranked competition at Kentucky.
· Calipari is now 15-4 vs. Ole Miss in his career.