The No. 16 ranked Mississippi Rebels had a great opportunity in front of their home crowed to send the unranked Kentucky Wildcats reeling without a signature win this season. Unfortunately, for Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy, that did not occur.
Instead Nerlens Noel had a Kentucky school record, 12 blocks, to help lead his squad to an impressive, 87-74 win. The Wildcats who lost their previous two games against ranked opponents (Duke Blue Devils and Louisville Cardinals), notched their best win of the season against the Rebels, who were unbeaten in SEC play prior to this loss. The Rebels brash superstar, Marshall Henderson, shot an abysmal 5-19 (26%) from the field and the Rebels as a team did not fare much better, shooting just 32.9% (28-85) for the contest.
It seemed as though the Rebels were too hype for the game with the chance to knock off the defending national champions. Shot selection and pace of play seemed to plague the Rebels throughout, although they did hold a slim, 38-37, halftime lead. The Rebels and their upperclassmen should have been able to build on that lead after halftime and keep the Wildcats on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament goes.
Instead, the Rebels continued to miss open looks, rush shots and failed to get to the foul line because of it. Mississippi’s defense allowed their highest point total of the season and allowed sophomore Kyle Wiltjer to have a career high 26 points in the process. Worse than the loss to Kentucky is that the Rebels now have to travel to Gainesville to meet the No. 4 ranked Florida Gators.
The match-up was supposed to be a battle of SEC unbeatens and for first place, but Mississippi did not hold up their end of the bargain heading into Saturday’s game.
Now the Wildcats have their signature win on the season and with two more games against Florida and one against the No. 17 ranked Missouri Tigers, if they can win two of the three games, they will most likely secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. It is clear that this win gives the young Kentucky team momentum as they continue to improve and grow under John Calipari’s leadership. And they can thank the Rebels for this opportunity.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo