In close games like this one, the outcome normally comes down to just a couple of plays. One team makes them; the other does not.
In 8th-ranked Kentucky's 53-50 win at Ole Miss Wednesday night, the Wildcats clearly "finished" the contest, making the plays needed to escape Tad Smith Coliseum with a victory.
Thinking back to some of the game's moments, there was a foul on Ole Miss 40 feet from the basket with four seconds to go before halftime. Kentucky converted its free throws to trail 29-16 at the break. Perhaps it didn't seem like a big moment at the time, but that began a 12-0 run for the Wildcats that didn't end until a layup by Tommie Eddie at the 14:17 mark of the second half made it 31-26.
How about Kendrick Fox's 3-pointer from the right corner over in front of the rowdy and active Ole Miss students among the announced crowd of 8,451 that would have given the Rebels a 49-40 lead with five minutes to go but missed its mark just a fraction?
Or how about the many offensive rebounds the Wildcats got, especially late in the game? UK led 6-5 in the offensive board department at intermission but 15-8 at game's end.
Or the two 3-pointers Ole Miss missed in the game's final 20 seconds, the first by Fox that would have given the Rebels a 53-51 lead, the second a Londrick Nolen miss coming after two UK free throws that would have tied the score 53 all at the final buzzer.
But it was the visitors from the Commonwealth who would celebrate following an intense, hard-fought Southeastern Conference game.
"In the second half Kentucky made some really big plays, especially on the offensive boards," Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said. "That deflated us a little bit as far as our defensive presence. I'm happy with the effort our kids gave out there on the floor. Every night in this league you have to play well."
The Rebels jumped out to an early lead that they extended throughout the first half. Ole Miss led 6-0 before UK scored and moved out to a 29-14 lead on a Todd Abernethy layup and free throw for an old-fashioned 3-point play with 15 seconds to go before halftime.
But then Rajon Rondo, the talented Kentucky freshman guard, was fouled with four seconds to go by Eddie. He sank both free throws, and the Rebs were up only 13 at halftime.
UK shot just 21 percent in the first half (5-24) and were 0-10 from 3-point range.
The early minutes of the second half were, well, ugly, to say the least - especially for Ole Miss. Turnovers and fouls ruled those important minutes for Ole Miss as the Wildcats cut into the lead to make a game of it.
After UK got to within two at 33-31 with 11:54 left on a Bobby Perry layup, the Rebels answered and moved out to a 42-35 lead on a Justin Johnson layup with 8:35 to go.
After the Cats got it to within two again at 42-40 on a tipin by Randolph Morris, the Rebs went back up 46-40 on a couple of Eddie free throws and a Nolen layup.
After a UK turnover, then came the big 3-point attempt by Fox - but it wouldn't go down.
Kentucky improved its shooting in the second half to 52 percent (14-27). From 3-point range in half number two, the Cats were 3-13.
The Rebels ended the game shooting 42 percent (20-48). From 3-point range they were 3-16 for 19 percent.
At the free throw line UK went 12-18 while Ole Miss was 7-9.
The Rebs were led by Eddie with 14 points and Nolen with 12, while Rondo paced the Wildcats in double figures with 13.
"Ole Miss was ready to play," Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith said, whose team improved to 13-2 on the season and 4-0 in SEC play. "Their intensity level was better than ours. Their energy and effort was great. In the second half we had to step it up, and we were able to do that.
"We told our players coming in that if we didn't match Ole Miss' intensity level, that it would be a long night," Smith continued. "And it was."
But not quite as long as it appeared for most of the game that it was going to be for him and his Wildcats.
"It was a very interesting game, a very exciting game," said Barnes, whose Rebels fell to 11-7 and 2-3. "There are a bunch of disappointed players in our locker room. But we'll bounce back."
Ole Miss hosts Alabama at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Rebs almost pull off upset but lose to UK 53-50
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