Kentucky beat Ole Miss 68-58 in the Southeastern Conference opener Saturday night in Oxford. Ole Miss had led 37-35 at halftime and was up 53-51 eight minutes into the second half.
Then some shots fell for Kentucky and some didn't fall for Ole Miss.
Oh sure there was more to it than that, as a season-high Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 8,754 watched. But in the big picture and in the way this one eventually played out, that was it.
"You can't beat Kentucky shooting 33 percent in the second half," said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, his team now 11-4 on the season, 0-1 in SEC action. "The difference in the game was when they made a run in the second half, and we made a run back, then (UK's) Ramel Bradley scores eight points and we don't come through and answer. That was the difference in winning and losing."
Bradley's spurt continued a UK run that the Wildcats had begun with the Rebs up by that 53-51 score and continued the rest of the way as Kentucky outscored the Rebels 17-5 in the game's final 12 minutes. Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith said his team was able to not only score some key baskets late but also pressure the Rebels defensively.
"Ole Miss has been playing very well, and we had to come with our best defensive effort of the year to have a chance in this game," he said after the Wildcats improved to 12-3 and 1-0. "That's what won the game for us down the stretch. I thought we really defended the perimeter and challenged their shots in the second half. And when you make shots it makes a world of difference. We made some huge 3s down the stretch that took the winds out of their sails."
Kennedy said it all went back to those missed shots, especially down the stretch, for his team.
"Our effort was fine. I'm playing some guys heavy minutes," he said. "I'm a guy who made a living shooting the basketball, so I know that if you miss shots it takes away your energy. It's amazing how much more energy you have when you shoot it and it goes in."
The Rebels shot 43 percent in the first half and Kennedy actually said his team was fortunate to be ahead at the break. Although at the end of the game, the Rebels had four players in double figures - Todd Abernethy with 17, Dwayne Curtis with 13, Clarence Sanders with 12, and Bam Doyne with 10 - he said the results just weren't enough, especially from the three seniors.
"If we don't get big production out of two of those three guys, then it's hard for us," Kennedy said. "That's just where we are now."
Curtis had 11 of his 13 points in the first half and only two in the second half.
"I thought our guys were better at pressuring the ball (in the second half) and not giving them good looks," Smith said. "We tried to get down there and trap and be a little more aggresive, and that may have been a key."
Joe Crawford, with some big shots in the second half, led UK with 23 points. Center Randolph Morris had 14 and Bradley 13.
Kentucky won the battle of the boards by a 32 to 29 margin. The Wildcats shot 55.6 percent for each half.
UK was 8 for 17 from 3-point range and UM was 4 for 17. From the free throw line, the Rebs were 10 of 14 and Kentucky was 10 of 19.
Kennedy said the Rebels have to continue to understand that games like this are the way things will be in this league at this level.
"I thought we took some good shots. I thought we had good looks," he said. "Against quality opponents, you're not ever going to be wide open. This is high-level Division I basketball. This is the big boys. You have to step up and make plays. That's what they did, and that's why they're leaving here with their heads up."
But it was anything but easy, according to Smith.
"Anytime you leave Oxford and are able to pull out a win, it's a positive thing," he said. "I thought our guys were very energized and focused, and it took that to win this game tonight."
Up next for the Rebels is a trip to Mississippi State Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game against the Bulldogs. MSU plays at Tennessee Sunday afternoon to begin its SEC season.
UK has strong second half to top Rebs
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