KENTUCKY 87, OLE MISS 74
Jan. 29, 2013
Tad Smith Coliseum; Oxford, Miss.
Nerlens Noel blocked a school-record 12 shots in Kentucky's win (File Photo)
Kentucky has the quality victory it had yet to claim, but it didn't come easy.
The Cats raced their way to a 17-point lead with 10:16 remaining, yielded a 16-0 run that threatened to potentially drive a stake through their season and then dug deep for the fortitude it had lacked to this point. The result was an 87-74 victory over No. 16 Ole Miss that saw UK (14-6, 5-2) close the game with a 14-2 knockout punch.
Nerlens Noel dominated the game despite taking just a single field goal attempt, blocking a Kentucky single-game record 11 shots to break Andre Riddick and Sam Bowie's previous mark of nine. Four of those blocks came in the final four minutes to turn back the Rebels' rally.
The first half was marred by foul trouble with 26 total fouls being called and nine players being whistled for at least two, leading to 32 free throw attempts. The stoppages in play seemed to keep either squad from finding much offensive rhythm in the disjointed affair.
Kyle Wiltjer added a career-high 26 points and Archie Goodwin 24. Ole Miss scoring sensation Marshall Henderson scored 21 points but made just 5-of-19 shots.
There were so many difference-making performances for Kentucky it's probably unfair to pick just one, but what Nerlens Noel did in the last five minutes of a game the Cats absolutely had to win could change the entire course of the season. Think about it, Noel took just one shot, missed six of his eight free throws attempts, had the fewest rebounds he's had in six games and yet was still the player who may have altered the game the most. The freshman had 12 blocked shots, besting the previous UK single-game record by three, and five of those came when he was saddled with four fouls and after Ole Miss had sliced a 17-point deficit to just one with four minutes on the clock. Simply put, Noel put the Cats on his back when they needed someone to do so.
This looked for all the world like the defining game of the season for Kentucky when the Cats watched a 17-point lead with 10 minutes remaining suddenly erode to just one in the span of six minutes. For a team that had not answered jabs from quality opponents very well this season there was certainly reason to think Ole Miss' stunning rally would ultimately end up being the dagger in the Cats' season. But then Noel rose up and emphatically turned back Ole Miss star forward Murphy Holloway's dunk attempt despite having four fouls, setting a tone for the closing minutes as the Cats pulled away and finally notched a quality victory, on the road no less. UK coach John Calipari has to be smiling on the inside now that his squad finally answered the call to get back on its feet after getting decked.
Pick your favorite: Was it Kyle Wiltjer delivering a career-high 26 points, all in the first 24 minutes of the game, and making the hype about Ole Miss bomber Marshall Henderson look silly with the way the Cats' sophomore shot the basketball? Or how about Archie Goodwin, who Calipari had to publicly defend just days earlier, quietly pouring in 24 points while snatching six rebounds, dishing out four assists and calmly sinking 12-of-14 free throws? What about Alex Poythress beasting his way to 15 points and seven rebounds, most of which came during the Cats' run early in the second half, despite being saddled with foul trouble? You couldn't go wrong choosing any of those candidates.
21 – Marshall Henderson came into the game as the SEC's leading scorer at 19.2 points per game but it was his growing reputation as perhaps too demonstrative of a player that had ESPN touting him as the must-see piece of this 'Super Tuesday' affair. The guard got his points but made just 5-of-19 shots from the field, including 2-of-11 from three-point range, and was mostly a non-factor in the second half as UK kept him from getting good looks at the basket. The Cats also seemed to get into Henderson's head at times, most notably when he appeared lose his cool in the Ole Miss team huddle during a timeout late in the first half.
This was the effort Kentucky needed. It simply had to find a way to beat a quality team to give itself some confidence and turn the volume down on some of its critics. But what happens from here is probably much more important than what happened in Oxford, as the Cats must now show their can handle some success and go take care of business against a Texas A&M team that had a player embarrass them with 40 points in Rupp Arena. The upcoming schedule is set up in a way that UK could gain some definitive momentum before heading to Florida on Feb. 12.
Kentucky (14-6, 5-2) gets a chance to even the score with Texas A&M when it travels to College Station for the first time ever on Saturday, Feb. 2. Tip is set for 6 p.m. at Reed Arena.