What a vast disparity in the two halves of tonight’s Kentucky-Mississippi contest. The Wildcats led by seventeen at the break, but fell apart defensively in the final twenty minutes, allowing Ole Miss to score 1.21 points per possession as Andy Kennedy’s squad cut UK’s lead to single digits.
Overall, Kentucky scored 1.12 PPP, but questions still linger about the team’s offense. After a stagnant showing versus Florida, Kentucky looked lost when they weren’t throwing lobs against Ole Miss’ zone. Just four of their two-point field goals weren’t at the rim, and the UK guards continued their underwhelming perimeter shooting in SEC play (just one of UK’s seven three-pointers came in the second half). Against a stingier conference team — or one that doesn’t allow opponents to score 47 percent of their twos — this could easily have been another loss for UK. For a stretch of more than eight minutes, the only points Kentucky could muster were free throws.
As for Ole Miss, this week was crucial to the Rebels’ tournament hopes, so a loss — especially considering their next opponent is Florida — is crippling. Though Marshall Henderson scored 18 points, John Calipari’s defensive machinations continue to serve as the guard’s bugbear: through eighty minutes (both UK-Ole Miss match-ups this season), Henderson is shooting 22 percent from two and and 34 percent from beyond the arc. The surprise Rebel was Anthony Perez, a 6-foot-9 wing whose minutes have substantially grown in SEC play. Perez has proven to be a difficult matchup for other conference forwards; he is too quick on the perimeter and creates offensive spacing with his shooting (40 percent from deep in SEC action). He was essentially Ole Miss’ offense when Kentucky’s lead began to diminish.
Following this past weekend’s loss to Florida, UK associate head coach John Robic stressed the team was “…the most positive I’ve seen Cal and our staff after a defeat in a long time.” He also maintained that after watching the eleven minute stretch when Florida offensively dominated, “…we now know the adjustments that we have to make, and the players really, really understand that now.” However, that rosy sentiment will likely dim in tomorrow’s film study — Calipari was at one point arguing with a member of his ‘Cat backcourt, urging him to reverse the ball along the perimeter. For each UK step forward (ten layups or dunks in the first half), there are at least two steps backward (nineteen turnovers), so it’s clear Kentucky is still an unbalanced team.