As the West No. 3 seed, Ole Miss trailed the entire game Friday against East No. 2 seed Kentucky, but pulled within two points (68-66) in the second half, before ultimately falling short 75-66 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Friday.
Chris Warren, who hit the deciding shot to beat Kentucky in February -- the first win for Ole Miss over a top-10 opponent since 2002 -- scored 20 points, but he struggled to find his shot throughout the game. He was just 5 of 20 from the floor and 4 of 15 in his 3-pointers.
His final 3-point attempt, which would have pulled Ole Miss to within one, rimmed out with 1:05 left.
"They were really just pressuring him, and focusing on him a lot, as did every team this year," senior guard Zach Graham said of Warren, who fell two points shy of 2,000 for his career. "I don't think they bothered him. He was still able to get his shots off and he was still effective."
Ole Miss only earned one win, against South Carolina Thursday night, their first in this event since 2007. The Rebels have yet to beat Kentucky (23-8) in 15 tries in the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats advance to face Alabama, the No. 1 seed from the West, Saturday.
"I thought the effort was certainly good enough for us to have the opportunity to advance. Execution failed us a bit," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "To beat Kentucky you have to make plays. We had opportunities, guys continued to battle, really proud of the effort. Execution failed us."
"We were inconsistent (all season)," Warren said. "We showed glimpses of being real good, we showed glimpses of being real bad."
Terrance Henry had his second double-double in as many days, scoring 17 points and adding 12 rebounds. Dundrecous Nelson chipped in 14, but made just one of his six 3-pointers. Graham had 11 points. He scored two points in the second half.
"I hate losing. Started off the week with a win, got a win in the first game in a long time. You want to take that over into the next game and roll off some wins," Graham said. "For it to just stop, it's tough. I'm mad. I'm frustrated. It's going to take me a while to get over this, but hopefully we'll be in the postseason."
The arena was against Ole Miss Friday, Rebel fans outweighed 10-1, it seemed. Its opponent, Kentucky, had an eye-popping history of accomplishment in postseason games, including the SEC Tournament.
Every conceivable odd was stacked against them. The Rebels were nine-point underdogs, and played like it in the first half, trailing 36-29 at halftime. But there are two halves to every basketball game. History, tradition, home-court advantage means little in crunch time -- when bodies stiffen, when the stakes are at their highest, when it's win-or-go-home.
Warren tried to will his team to victory late. He was constantly searching for that game-turning shot, but the shots simply weren't falling. Same for Graham, whose 3-pointer bounced off left iron with 41.2 seconds remaining in the game and Ole Miss trailing, 72-66.
Kentucky hit its free throws down the stretch, including four from Brandon Knight who had 17 points, to ice it.
Kentucky had four players in double-digit points, led by Doron Lamb's 19. Darius Miller had 15 points and seven rebounds. Josh Harrellson followed with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"I thought Mississippi played well and shot the ball at the end to give themselves a chance," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. "We had some guys not play some of their better games and we hung in there."
The Wildcats shot 48 percent for the game, compared to just 34 percent for Ole Miss. The Rebels were outrebounded 43-36.
"Our guys continued to battle and dig, and it was really a one or two possession game to the end," Kennedy said.
Ole Miss awaits entry into the NIT, its fourth appearance in five years under Kennedy. The Rebels reached the NIT Final Four in New York last season, as they had in 2008.
"That's not our goal, but we're basketball players," Graham said. "We came here to play basketball. As long as we've got more games on the schedule, I feel like we'll be ready."
"This team deserves to have the opportunity to continue to play," Kennedy said. "One hundred out of 347 (teams) get that opportunity, and if we do, I'm sure our guys will be excited about it.
Buckner involved in postgame altercation:
Sophomore forward Reginald Buckner was involved in a postseason scuffle in the tunnel following Friday's loss.
Buckner apparently took offense to a comment made by Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins, and had to be restrained by a teammate. No punches were thrown.
Buckner, an SEC All-Defensive team selection, had no points, three rebounds and one block in 21 minutes, while limited due to foul trouble. Buckner recorded four fouls in the game. Liggins had four points and six rebounds.
"I don't really remember what happened after the game," Buckner said in the locker room.