One down. Could it be the one that finally gets the Wildcats going?
After struggling defensively in the first half, the 'Cats held the Rebels to 20 points in the second half, en route to a 71-58 win. Kentucky will now move on to the second round to face the SEC regular-season champs, the LSU Tigers.
The first half was a bit of a roller coaster ride as the 'Cats and Rebels traded off six to eight-point runs. Neither team would take a lead greater than five and Ole Miss took a two-point lead to the break.
Ole Miss shot 55 percent in the first half and was led by Terrico White, the SEC freshman of the year. White knocked down shot after shot with a hand in his face, especially late in the half, to lead the Rebels with 15 points. He knocked down three three-pointers in the process.
The Wildcats stayed in the game by dominating the offensive glass and getting to the line. They went to the break with 11 offensive rebounds and shot 9-of-10 from the line.
Despite their good work on the glass, head coach Billy Gillsipie was concerned about the Wildcats’ tenacity on defense. In the second half it looked like they may have finally gotten that message.
The Wildcats played well on the defensive end in the second half, holding the Rebels to 6-of-20 shooting and White to only six points, while forcing nine turnovers. Offensively, the 'Cats clicked as well, even with Jodie Meeks struggling a bit from deep.
The main reason for the offensive efficiency. They protected the basketball. The Wildcats turned the ball over only 10 times. When Ole Miss brought full-court pressure, they beat them in transition.
The Ole Miss zone tantalized the 'Cats in their first meeting. This time, the 'Cats seemed to have a gameplan. In Darius Miller’s 24 minutes of action, he consistently got in the middle of the zone for either a 15-footer or looked to find someone down low.
Often times that person down low was Perry Stevenson, who did an excellent job of getting behind the Ole Miss defense and making himself available underneath.
With Meeks’ shot not falling he avoided forcing shots, which has been a problem of late. Instead, he used his speed and his knowledge that defenders would be chasing him all over the court. He came off curls, with his defender behind him, and slashed his way to the hole.
Ole Miss did not have an answer. Meeks finished with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Patrick Patterson was his normal, beastly self as “P Double” finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The 'Cats had four players finish in double figures with Stevenson and Miller joining Meeks and Patterson, with 13 and 12 respectively.
The 'Cats put together a strong second half to claim their first win since they beat Tennessee at home on Feb. 21. They now move on to face LSU in a rematch of a game they lost less than two weeks ago.
Kentucky’s second-half performance was a good sign and it was evident that they enjoyed being out there. Maybe the SEC Tournament is the fresh start they needed.
They are going to have to play more than 20 good minutes to get by the SEC regular season champs.