The Cats got off to a slow start on both ends as the Rebels jumped out to an early 15-8 lead. Kentucky came back with a 10-0 run of their own, but as soon as it looked like UK might create some separation, the same problems that continue to plague them reared their ugly head. The Cats went into halftime tied at 32-32.
After the break, the talent disparity was just too much to overcome for Ole Miss. Kentucky jumped out in front and never looked back. It took time, but they were finally able to pull away from the Rebels, who were without two starters. It wasn't the prettiest performance overall, but just win and move on to the next one.
Next up, the Cats will return to Lexington to take on the Florida Gators on Saturday night. Florida is another team that can make the Big Dance with a strong finish to the regular season and needs this game in the worst way.
Now, here are four things to know from the bounceback win Kentucky desperately needed.
Injuries continue to pile up
As has been the case for the last several seasons, Kentucky continues to deal with injury after injury. In this one, Cason Wallace was out with a knee injury suffered this week. His absence was characterized as precautionary, and he is considered day-to-day, but I wouldn't expect him to miss any more game time.
That, unfortunately, left Kentucky with Sahvir Wheeler playing significant minutes in his return to the starting lineup. As many of you may remember, the Cats have gone 4-1 since Wheeler was removed from the starting five.
It should also be noted that Wheeler left the game in the first half after rolling his ankle, and although he did return to start the second half, he was clearly not at 100%.
Time to bid thee Adou
I am all aboard the Adou Thiero hype train.
I mentioned Kentucky’s success above since Wheeler was removed from the starting lineup. Wallace has filled in nicely at the point guard spot and while the offense still struggles at times, it’s still improved with Wheeler off the court, plus Wheeler has struggled on defense, so the defensive end is really where you see a massive improvement.
With that being said, why isn't Thiero playing more? Wallace should obviously receive the majority of the minutes, but when he's in foul trouble, needs a breather, or simply isn't playing like tonight, Thiero has to be getting more minutes.
The freshman point guard has shown flashes this season, and when others seem timid, he has shown he has no fear. He hasn't played in Kentucky’s last three games and didn't see the floor in this one until Wheeler went down with an injury. In his brief time on the Court, he continued to show his fearlessness coupled with a better all-around offensive and defensive game than Wheeler.
It’s time to start giving Thiero more opportunities.
Bill Self admitted after the Kansas game that the Kansas Jayhawks ran the same pick-and-roll play over and over and over again, scoring 20+ points on their way to a 77-68 win in Rupp Arena.
Opposing teams continue to pick (pun intended) on Oscar Tshiebwe in the pick-and-roll game and for some reason, no adjustments have been made. Tshiebwe looks lost as his man is either wide open at the rim or he doesn't show long enough on the opposing team’s guard leading to a wide-open jump shot. It was more of the same in this one.
The only defense Kentucky possibly has to neutralize is it is with Wallace at point guard because he’s a good defender, and he’s long, but as mentioned above, Wallace was out for this game. That left Wheeler as the other pick-and-roll defender, which is just a nightmare for the Cats at this point.
I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to say it’s time to reduce the minutes for the reigning National Player of the Year, but something’s got to give, right? He obviously provides so many positives as the go-to guy in the post and a rebounding machine, but I don't know how much longer we can keep watching teams successfully do the same thing over and over again.
Reeves continues to light it up
Now, that's what I’m talking about!
Antonio Reeves went off in this game. He continues to be a bright spot in a rather disappointing season for the Cats. He’s had his share of poor shooting games, but overall, he’s been one of Kentucky’s most consistent and reliable players this season.
Over the last month or so, Reeves has been Kentucky’s go-to guy on the offensive end. The Illinois State transfer can knock down shots from anywhere, and he certainly isn't afraid to pull the trigger. Shy is quite simply an antonym for Antonio Threeves as he’ll gladly shoot an open three, step back, or attack the basket.
He’s so fun to watch, and when he’s clicking like he was in this one, it provides the Cats with a much-needed offensive threat. He really had an awesome performance in this game and was the catalyst for Kentucky’s road victory.