Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mississippi 70 - 84 Kentucky (No. 2,131)

I was extremely nervous about this game.  I don't like games after losses, I don't like games on the road, and I don't like games in Mississippi.  Ken Pomeroy had UK winning by only 76-72.  Plus ESPN was there, and UK has already lost two Tuesday Night games on ESPN.  But for the first 30 minutes, the Cats played their best basketball of the year.  The new zone defense was working, the Cats were getting almost every rebound (they out-rebounded Ole Miss 39-23 for the game), and UK was getting dunks and layups all over the place.  For the first time all year, I could see why people thought this team could win the national championship.

With 9:10 left in the game, UK was cruising along with a 62-40 lead.  Then Ole Miss -- which had been ice cold for most of the game -- finally started making shots.  The Rebels also started throwing themselves all over the place, playing with manic intensity, and getting the crowd back into the game.  As a result, after scoring only 40 points in the first 31 minutes of the game, the Rebs scored 30 points in the last nine.  This is not the first time UK has given up a bunch of points down the stretch.  Florida scored 28 points in the last 10 minutes of their game with UK, Missouri scored 25 points in the last 10 minutes of their game with Kentucky, and Arkansas scored 13 points in only five minutes of overtime when they played Kentucky.  Needless to say, this is not good -- the Cats have to find a way to make stops, even against desperate teams.

And so, UK's lead was down to 76-70 with about a minute and a half left.  UK had not actually scored a field goal in something like 9 minutes, and the Ole Miss crowd was going nuts.  The Cats came down and lobbed the ball into Julius Randle.  Now I spend a lot of time thinking about the statistics of basketball, and how actual games have a lot in common with the old dice-playing games we used to play.  But the reality is, of course, that when Julius Randle gets the ball on the road in a manic environment with multiple Ole Miss players banging him around, the rules of probability are of little comfort.  If Randle can score right then, the Cats will be safe.  If not, then the game will go down to the wire.

As it turned out, Randle did score.  He bulled his way into the lane, fought off what appeared to be 20 defenders, and made a difficult shot to push UK's lead back up to eight.  Ole Miss didn't score again, and UK made a some more free throws (they went 27-30 for the game) and won by 14.

On the whole, it was a great win.  And Calipari was very complimentary of the team after it was over.  Kentucky has now played 30 great minutes against Florida, followed by 30 great minutes against Ole Miss.  If they can do something about those last 10 minutes, they might really get somewhere.

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