Cat Clawed

Ole Miss faced its biggest challenge of the season so far in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday against one of the national championship contenders. The Rebels weren't up to the task, but neither have 20 other teams Kentucky has played this season.

The third-ranked Wildcats beat the Rebels 85-75 to move to 21-1 on the season and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference play. Ole Miss fell to 16-6 and 4-4.

"They're a very good basketball team," Ole Miss fourth-year head coach Andy Kennedy said. "When you watch them in person, you can appreciate their talent. We had no answer, obviously. We couldn't guard them. We tried to switch it up. We zoned some, we pressed some. The one thing they do is turn it over."

Kentucky ended up with 17 turnovers and Ole Miss almost as many at 15.

The Rebels, who trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half at 27-9 as UK went on a 15-0 run, were behind by only nine at halftime at 46-37.

The Rebs, playing without one of their big men in leading shot blocker Reginald Buckner who is out with a turned ankle, kept battling the entire contest.

"We had it down to three points in the first half and three in the second half, and those are the moments of truth that we preach about every day," Kennedy said. "That's when you have to come up and make a play. That's when a defensive stop has true magnitude. You have to be able to come up with a play there to swing the momentum. Every time we got it to three, before I had time to exhale it was back up to eight or nine. And that's what good teams do."

The last time the Rebels were as close as three points was at 60-57 on back to back buckets, a three and a two, by Terrico White. The Rebels' sophomore guard led his team with 19 points.

But as soon as it was down to three, as Kennedy said, Kentucky had pushed it back out to 68-57 on a DeMarcus Cousins putback, a Darius Miller 3-pointer, and a Patrick Patterson 3-pointer as the Rebels couldn't come up with any points during the stretch.

A John Wall 3-pointer with 4:06 left gave the Wildcats their largest lead of the second half at 80-63, and the damage was done.

UK had four players in double figures – Cousins with 18, Wall with 17, Darnell Dodson with 14, and Patterson with 12.

In addition to White's 19, Chris Warren had 15 for the Rebels and Eniel Polynice 14.

Kentucky shot 57 percent in the second half (50 percent for the game), while Ole Miss shot 44 percent from the floor. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle but not by much given their size advantage – 38-33.

"It was very difficult for us," said Kennedy, especially of the inside play. "Murphy (Holloway) picked up two quick (fouls). DeAundre (Cranston) picked up two quick. Terrance (Henry) had two quick. Chris (Warren) had two quick. We were just trying to hold on in that first half. We had turnovers that led to their dunks. They had to have five or six dunks. It was just them being stronger to the ball. They're too talented a team for us to give them that many opportunities."

Ole Miss plays Alabama Saturday at 5 p.m. in Oxford. Kennedy is pleased the Rebels have a little more time than their recent turnaround from Sunday night's 70-63 home loss to Arkansas, delayed a day because of weather-conflicting travel plans for the Razorbacks.

"I'm hopeful the extra day will be beneficial to Reg. It's obvious how much we miss him," he said of Buckner. "I thought DeAngelo Riley came in and gave us some energy (2 points, 4 rebounds, 12 minutes). But you could see he's a little out of sync, which is to be expected. We need Reg back, and hopefully we can have him back by Saturday."

Kennedy said no matter the situation, the game against the Crimson Tide at Tad Smith Coliseum is an important one for his team.

"Our guys have to grasp the importance (of the Alabama game)," he said. "We've let two slip through our fingers. We're sitting here 16-4 and 4-4, and if we'd protected homecourt, we're 18-4 and 6-3 and in the driver's seat. We've dug this hole, and it's up to us to pull ourselves out of it."

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