Kentucky never lost sight of Marshall Henderson.
The 18th-ranked Wildcats kept the Mississippi guard in check, especially during a dominant second half of 80-64 victory over the Rebels on Tuesday night.
Henderson finished with 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting from the field, including just 4 of 12 from 3-point range, against a Kentucky defense that blocked a season-high 12 shots. The Wildcats took turns rotating against Henderson, disrupting his offensive flow and allowing Kentucky to pull away in the second half.
Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said Kentucky's size prevented the Rebels (15-7, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) from getting into an offensive rhythm in this matchup of second-place teams. He and guard Jarvis Summers combined to go 10 of 31 from the field for 27 points.
"Marshall Henderson needs no explanation for what he does and when they go 10 for 31, I think it's a direct correlation with the length that Kentucky has," Kennedy said. "We just couldn't get clean looks over the top. We've never been very proficient at the rim, but I thought in the first half our big guys were cleaning some balls up and finishing around the basket. That's what kept us in the game."
Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison had most of the responsibility defending Henderson, alternating with his teammates on screens.
"I was really focused," Harrison said. "Everyone knows he's a great scorer. It was a big matchup for me, personally. It was a challenge. He is a great scorer. It was a lot of communication. I was supposed to chase him and if I got caught up, just talk to my teammates. That's really why we (were able to) contain him."
The Rebels, on the other hand, had no answer for rejuvenated Kentucky 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who broke a slump with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The sophomore went 7 of 8 from the field to score more points than his previous six games combined (14) while reaching double digits in rebounds for the first time in nine games. Cauley-Stein had six blocks and altered other attempts to help limit the Rebels to 36 percent shooting in the second half and 39 percent (25 of 65) overall.
Kentucky (17-5, 7-2) made 15 of 25 from the field (60 percent) in the second half to turn a 35-34 halftime lead into a rout and earn their second consecutive victory.
Aaron Harrison added 16 points while Julius Randle scored 11 of his 12 points after halftime as the Wildcats finished shooting 51 percent (26 of 51) from the field.
James Young and Alex Poythress had 10 points each for Kentucky, which outscored Mississippi 44-24 in the paint and 19-15 in second-chance points while its reserves topped the Rebels' 28-19. The Wildcats outrebounded the Rebels 41-26.
The Rebels get another shot at the Wildcats in two weeks in Oxford, Miss., where they hope to play better than in the final 20 minutes on Tuesday night.
A Rupp Arena crowd of 22,168 that braved freezing rain did their part trying to rattle Henderson, who as usual wasn't fazed by the derision or an 0-for-2 start from the field by the 11:29 mark of the first half. When it's Henderson, the question was when he would warm up rather than if.
Four and a half minutes later, Henderson had eight points thanks to consecutive 3-pointers while the Rebels had a 28-23 lead that forced a Kentucky 30-second timeout with 6:55 left. While the Wildcats rallied for a 35-34 halftime lead, this game was even in many areas with the Rebels holding slight edges in the paint (18-16) and transition (8-5) while its bench matched Kentucky with 12 points.
Randle's 1-point, 1-rebound first half explained some of those deficiencies, but the freshman began changing that in the second half by scoring 11 points including an impressive rebound and court-length drive for a dunk and a 50-41 lead that forced a Mississippi timeout with 15:06 remaining. Poythress' basket 2:10 later provided Kentucky's first double-digit lead of the game that eventually reached 19 with 3 minutes left.