Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Ole Miss
No. 22 Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday night, facing Ole Miss in a Southeastern Conference matchup inside Rupp Arena.
The Cats dropped an 89-85 decision to Gonzaga on Saturday afternoon in Lexington. Freshman guard Reed Sheppard led the Cats with 21 points, all in the second half, but UK was not able to pull out the victory.
Defense continues to be an area of concern for the Cats and the UK coaching staff. UK associate coach Orlando Antigua said that defense continues to be an emphasis in practice.
“We have to be a little more consistent in terms of impacting the ball and having active hands,” Antigua said. “And away from the ball, being in the position that we should be in.”
Part of playing defense is finishing the play, which means securing the defensive rebound. That is an area in which the Cats have been inconsistent this year.
“We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds (against Gonzaga). Six of them were long, team rebounds that went to no one,” Antigua said. “We have to be able to get those 50/50 balls. And that falls on everyone, not just the big guys. The defensive possession defends when you get the rebound. So everybody has to be back to help us rebound. It’s everybody’s assignment.
The ability to complete a defensive possession might slow down UK’s fast-paced offense, which is fine with the UK staff.
“We can’t run until we have the ball. We have to secure the rebound,” Antigua said. “If that means we don’t get out in transition a few more possessions, so be it.”
The Cats will be challenged again on Tuesday. Ole Miss is 18-5 this season and 5-5 in league play under first-year head coach Chris Beard. The Rebels have lost their last two games, both to nationally-ranked teams (Auburn and South Carolina).
Guard Matthew Murrell leads Ole Miss in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game, while Allen Flanigan scores 15.7 points per game and leads the Rebels in rebounding at 6.7 boards per game.
Tuesday’s game is set for a 9 p.m. ET tip and can be seen on ESPN.
Last Time Out: Gonzaga Recap
Reed Sheppard scored 21 points, all in the second half, but No. 17/15 Kentucky fell to Gonzaga 89-85 at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Antonio Reeves scored 17 points and Adou Thiero had 15 for the Cats, who rallied from a double-digit deficit to take a second half lead, only to see Gonzaga take the game away late.
Kentucky (16-7) scored first on an Edwards drive to the basket, but Gonzaga scored the next seven points to grab an early five-point lead. After a Thiero dunk cut the UK deficit to three, the Zags scored four consecutive points to lead 11-4, forcing an early Kentucky timeout.
The Zags would maintain a lead of between five and seven points over the next four minutes until a Reeves layup got the Cats within three, 18-15. However, Gonzaga’s Nolan Hickman drilled a three on the next possession and the Zags led 21-15 with 12:25 left in the half.
Kentucky would get within four, 21-17, on a Reeves basket but the Zags again answered, scoring four in a row to lead 25-17. A Zvonimir Ivisic three-pointer cut the deficit to five, 25-20. After a Gonzaga basket, Rob Dillingham hit a three from the left wing to make it 27-23 with 6:05 remaining in the half.
A pair of Jordan Burks free throws got UK within two, 27-25, then the teams traded baskets to make it 29-27. However, the Zags would then go on a 13-2 run to lead 42-29 with under a minute to play in the first half. A Dillingham three concluded the first half scoring, a half that saw Gonzaga leading 42-32.
Gonzaga scored the first two points of the second half before UK got a three from Edwards and a layup and free throw from Sheppard to cut the deficit to 44-38. The teams would trade baskets before Kentucky got baskets from Sheppard and Edwards to make it 46-42, forcing a Gonzaga timeout. UK’s 10-2 run got the Cats back in the game with more than 17 minutes to play.
The run continued after the timeout when Aaron Bradshaw made a free throw to get UK within three, 46-43. But Gonzaga got a Braden Huff basket to extend its lead to five, 48-43.
Kentucky trailed 51-45 before getting back-to-back dunks from Bradshaw and Thiero to get within two, 51-49. On the next possession, Reeves hit a three to give UK the lead, 52-51. It was the Cats’ first lead since 2-0, and it forced another Gonzaga timeout.
The run kept going with five consecutive points from Sheppard, giving UK a 57-51 lead with 12:30 to play. However, Gonzaga answered with five in a row to cut the UK lead to one, 57-56.
Thiero hit a three to make it 60-56, but the Zags would go on an 8-3 run to take a 64-63 lead with 8:48 to play. Reeves made a layup and free throw to give UK the lead back, 66-64, but Gonzaga got a three from Anton Watson on the next possession to re-take the lead, 67-66. The Zags extended the lead to 69-66 before a Sheppard layup cut the deficit to one, 69-68.
Another Huff basket extended the Gonzaga lead to 71-68 before Sheppard scored again to cut the deficit to 71-70.
Gonzaga would lead 75-72 when Sheppard blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound, raced to the other end and converted an acrobatic layup while being fouled. His subsequent free throw tied the game at 75-75 with 4:07 to play.
The Bulldogs would get a basket and layup from Watson to lead 78-75. From there, Kentucky would be able to get within one on two occasions but could never catch Gonzaga.
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In 15 years as head coach of the Wildcats, John Calipari has won a national title, claimed six Southeastern Conference regular-season crowns, six league tournament titles and won more NCAA tournament games than any other coach during this span. He’s also led teams plagued by slow starts to memorable late-season runs:
• The 2020 squad suffered a home loss to Evansville in November, lost back-to-back games in Las Vegas prior to Christmas and fell to 16-5 on Feb. 1 with a loss at Auburn. The Wildcats would then rattle off eight straight wins and nine of their last 10 to win the SEC regular-season by a comfortable margin of three games. COVID-19’s rise in the United States canceled the SEC and NCAA Tournaments
• In 2018, the Wildcats lost four in a row from Feb. 3-14, marking the first four-game losing streak during Calipari’s UK tenure. That team went on to win nine of its next 10 games and captured the SEC Tournament title
• The 2017 squad lost three of four games from Jan. 24-Feb. 4 before rattling off 14 straight victories. Within that run, the Wildcats won the SEC Tournament title and marched all the way to the Elite Eight before a buzzer-beater by eventual champion North Carolina ended their tournament run
• In 2014, the freshman class was heralded as the best ever and preseason expectations had fans dreaming of a 40-0 season. However, that team dropped nine regular-season games before putting together one of the most magical NCAA Tournament runs in program history. The Cats overcame double-digit deficits in all but one game and were led by late-game heroics from Aaron Harrison all the way to the NCAA Championship game
• In 2011, the Wildcats lost six times on the road in SEC play before charting a 10-game winning streak that included an SEC Tournament title and a run to Calipari’s first Final Four with UK. Behind late game heroics from Brandon Knight, that team knocked off the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in Ohio State and upset North Carolina to reach the Final Four