Kentucky will leave Rupp Arena on Tuesday night with their undefeated record intact, but it wasn’t easy in their SEC opener as Ole Miss took the Wildcats to overtime, losing 89-86.
Aaron Harrison led the way for Kentucky, busting out of his season-long shooting slump with a 26-point performance, going 5-for-9 from beyond the arc. Devin Booker added 13 points off the bench while Andrew Harrison chipped in with 12 points and five assists.
The hero for Kentucky was actually Willie Cauley-Stein, who made a number of critical hustle plays down the stretch — a pair of offensive rebounds, a putback layup, a couple of blocked shots late. Those little plays were the difference makers, as they kept possessions alive and prevented Ole Miss from pulling off the biggest upset of the season.
But Ole Miss isn’t going to head back to Oxford feeling good about themselves. This wasn’t a moral victory; the game was there for the taking for the Rebels, and they blew it. That sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. Ole Miss had the ball, up 77-76, with 37 seconds left in regulation, but Jarvis Summers turned the ball over in the back court and allowed Kentucky to tie the game up from the line. They had the final shot in regulation, and Summers settled for a deep, contested three-pointer. They missed free throws in overtime. They settled for jumpers and committed turnovers. Martavious Newby fired up a double-pump three with eight seconds left down by three.
The cramps that Stefan Moody, who finished with 25 points but was ineffective in the final five minutes and overtime, didn’t help either. He was their most dangerous offensive weapon throughout the game and he essentially wasn’t available during the most important minutes.
Kentucky got lucky on Tuesday night.
It was their worst defensive performance of the season, the first time they allowed a team to score more than 70 points against them, as Ole Miss shot 49.2 percent from the floor and hit nine threes. It was the game that we tried to warn you about; after jumping out to an 18-5 lead and hitting their first five threes, Kentucky seemingly put it cruise control, thinking they’d coast to a win.
And Ole Miss couldn’t take advantage.