18th-ranked Wildcats set sights on Rebels
Oxford, MS (SportsNetwork.com) - Both the 18th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and the Ole Miss Rebels will try to bounce back from losses over the weekend when the SEC foes square off at Tad Smith Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Kentucky had been winners of four straight prior to its crucial marquee showdown with then-third-ranked Florida in Lexington on Saturday night, which it lost by a 69-59 margin to fall to 9-3 in the SEC, three games behind the Gators for first place. The Wildcats are still 19-6 overall this season and have won three straight road games.
Ole Miss has seen its NCAA Tournament resume take a nosedive in recent weeks with losses in three of its last four, most recently dropping a heartbreaking 61-60 decision at Georgia on Saturday. The Rebels are now 16-9 overall and 7-5 in the SEC, but the silver lining for this matchup is that they won five in a row at home to improve to 10-3 at Tad Smith Coliseum this season.
Kentucky beat Ole Miss in Lexington on Feb. 4, 80-64, for its fourth straight win in the series, and it now leads the all-time series by a commanding 101-13 margin.
The Wildcats appeared in control of their latest tilt leading by seven with under 11 minutes to play, but they fell victim to a 9-1 Florida run and were eventually dispatched by 10 points after getting outscored over the final 5:41, 16-6. They shot an impressive 47.6 percent from the field on the night but were only 14-of-23 at the free-throw line and committed a game-high 13 turnovers. Andrew Harrison bucked one of the negative trends with an 8-of-8 showing from the line on his way to 20 points. James Young poured in 19 points and Julius Randle tallied 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Kentucky's performance against one of the nation's best over the weekend was not indicative of its season as a whole, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 46.8 percent to 39.6 percent, for a +11.7 scoring margin. It also has one of the country's best rebounding margins (+10.0), although it is not without its weakness, owning a -1.2 turnover margin a a .673 free-throw percentage. Julius Randle leads the freshmen-driven squad with 15.7 ppg (on 52.9 percent field goal shooting) and 10.0 rpg, while fellow first-year players Young (14.3 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.4 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) have joined Randle in starting every game together. Willie Cauley-Stein brings an added presence to the paint with 7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 3.0 bpg.
The Rebels were locked up in a tight battle with Georgia their last time out, fighting through nine ties and seven lead changes before UGA drained the game- winning free throw with under two seconds to play as they fell in heartbreaking fashion. They held the Bulldogs to a mere 32.7 percent field goal shooting, but couldn't capitalize on their tries from the floor (.322). Marshall Henderson was impressive off the bench, shooting 5-of-11 from 3-point range for 24 points, while Jarvis Summers added 11 points but on just 4-of-12 from the field.
Although Ole Miss shoots just 42.4 percent from the field this season, its up- tempo style and its success from beyond the arc (8.1 3-pointers per game at a 36.7 percent clip) have resulted in an impressive scoring offense (76.2 ppg), which more often than not is good enough to support a lackluster scoring defense (71.6 ppg). Henderson puts up a team-best 19.5 ppg, and while his overall field-goal percentage has been lacking (.373), his 98 3-pointers are tops in the SEC. Summers (16.8 ppg) is usually much more efficient than his backcourt mate with a .487 field goal percentage and .487 3-point percentage. Aaron Jones isn't much for scoring (6.8 ppg), but he's a sturdy presence in the paint with 6.9 rpg and 2.2 bpg.