Three Thoughts on Last Night’s Near-Shocker in Rupp Arena

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 7th, 2015

All that undefeated talk surrounding Kentucky was so 2014, right? Or maybe not. The Wildcats stole the college basketball spotlight last night by needing an overtime to defeat pesky Ole Miss, but if Jarvis Summers hadn’t settled for a deep and contested three as time expired, or if Snoop White had been a half-inch behind the three-point line on a second half jumper, Kentucky might well have opened 2015 with a home loss that nobody saw coming. For now, the Wildcats’ survival cools the notion that the team needs only roll out the ball in league play to reach the NCAA Tournament unscathed, but some warning signs became apparent. Here are several thoughts from last night’s wild game in Rupp Arena.

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Wildcats are the team we thought they were. Nothing that happened last night should change that. Sure, a team well-removed from the national consciousness had the Wildcats on the ropes on their home floor, but John Calipari’s team is still a defensive juggernaut with ultra-talented depth. Kentucky was never immune to slow starts or lazy play, and there were a number of factors at play in that regard — the Wildcats hadn’t played at home since December 13; they hadn’t played at all since the big December 27 win over Louisville; and their 12-0 spurt at the start seemed to take all of the air out of their defensive intensity. This sort of thing happens, and when an opponent has enough size to be a factor on the glass as well as a player like Stefan Moody making shots, Kentucky is going to find itself in a ballgame. Add the fact that Ole Miss went 9-of-17 from three — including three huge ones from Snoop White — and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an upset.
  2. Andrew Harrison shouldn’t be automatically relegated to the bench for Tyler Ulis in crunch time. There will certainly be some nights when the match-ups favor Ulis over Harrison, or Ulis is simply the player who is having a better game. But that night wasn’t last night, and Harrison rescued the Wildcats with his scoring down the stretch. Even though he wasn’t in foul trouble, Calipari had Ulis on the bench during the late stages because, as he said after the game, Ole Miss was having its way with him offensively. After a rough and highly-scrutinized outing against Louisville, Harrison was able to use his size as a factor against the smaller Rebels, getting to the line and going 6-of-8 there from the eight-minute mark on. He also set up his brother for a crucial three late in the second half, and hit arguably the biggest shot of the game when he drained an overtime three after Ole Miss had taken a two-point lead. Harrison stepping up was big because it’ll be difficult to rely on Karl-Anthony Towns (youth) and Willie Cauley-Stein (struggles to get his own shot) late in close games.
  3. Ole Miss missed a gigantic opportunity. When I listed SEC teams that were on the fringes of tournament chatter last weekend, I left off Ole Miss. The Rebels hadn’t done anything wrong with losses to TCU, Western Kentucky and Dayton, but they also hadn’t done anything that jumped off the page either. That obviously would have changed in a big way last night with a win in Rupp Arena. As it stands now, however, it’s tough to envision the Rebels having another chance to get in the NCAA Tournament discussion. That said, they should embrace the moral victory that comes with this excruciatingly close loss. Moody lit up the best defense in the country, and Jarvis Summers (77 points in his last four games) has clearly rebounded from a rough offensive stretch to begin December. Also, while Dwight Coleby didn’t dominate the stat sheet (eight points, four rebounds), Andy Kennedy relied on him down the stretch and he held his own against an NBA-caliber front line. That bodes well for the sophomore’s future. Ole Miss (9-4; #67 KenPom; the best free throw shooting team in the country) has a great shot to win a bunch of SEC games, but short of a ridiculous run, the Tournament might be out of reach.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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