"We weren't really thinking about that (the NCAA bid)," said Ravi Moss, "but it's nice to get this win under our belt and that is one less thing to worry about." "We knew that we could win this game, if we just came out and do what we do best," said Ramel Bradley, who provided a huge spark for the Wildcats offense from the bench with 11 points in his first game back from injury.
But the win certainly didn't look as if it would unfold in the first half, especially when Kentucky trailed by as many as nine points, 24-15, with 5:34 remaining in the period. But senior Patrick Sparks, Bobby Perry and Randolph Morris all canned baskets in the waning minutes to pull the Cats to within just three points, 29-26 at the break.
"That was an important run at the end of the half," said senior Ravi Moss, "there is a big difference going into the locker down by nine versus down by three." The Cats shot just 38% from the field in the first half and were out-rebounded by the Rebels.
But the second half is when the Wildcats came alive. Sparks got the Cats in the game by hitting two straight buckets, the latter off a steal, to pull the Cats o within one. Then Joe Crawford gave the Cats the lead with a layup of his own. Ole Miss would tie the game one more time at 37 each, before Ramel Bradley canned a three point shot to give the Cats a 3-point lead it would never give up, at 40-37.
"That shot really gave us a lift," coach Smith said, and the crowd really came alive. It gave us the boost we need.
"I was just really happy to be able to get back out there and give the team a lift," Said Bradley, who was 3-6 from three point range. Junior Rekalin Sims agreed, "Ramel being back is going to give our team a lift. He is a real spark plug for us."
Randolph Morris helped provide the Cats a small cushion, but the Rebels were not ready to fold. Bam Doyne scored five straight points for Ole Miss and the Rebels were down by just one point.
But Bradley nailed another three pointer to extend the lead to four, 52-48 at the 6:14 mark, and the Rebels would never recover.
The game was bittersweet for Tubby Smith. It may have been Rod Barnes' final game as head coach for the Ole Miss Rebels, unless a miracle occurs and they receive an NCAA or NIT Tournament bid.
"Rod Barnes has been a great ambassador to the league," Smith said, "he will be sorely missed."
Randolph Morris led the Wildcats with 17 points, on 7-8 shooting. He added 5 rebounds and two blocked shots. Senior Patrick Sparks added 14 points on 6-10 shooting. Bradley and Joe Crawford chipped in with 11 points each.
The Wildcats go on to meet Alabama on Friday. The Tide beat the Cats earlier this year.