Nerlens Noel's 12 blocks pave way for signature win

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 29, 2013 

OXFORD, Miss. — In a game that featured some sizzling shooting, albeit from unlikely sources, Nerlens Noel loomed large without making a single basket.

Noel blocked a school-record 12 shots to lead Kentucky to an 87-74 victory over Mississippi on Tuesday night.

Noel took only one shot. But others took care of the shooting. Kyle Wiltjer led four UK players in double figures with a career-high 26. Archie Goodwin added 24.

With the forecast of tornadoes outside, Kentucky built a 17-point lead then had to weather an Ole Miss comeback.

UK, which got the signature victory it sought to bolster ever-present post-season speculation, improved to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

Ole Miss, which lost at home for the first time in 12 games, fell to 17-3 overall and 6-1 in the SEC.

Marshall Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer, scored 21 points. But he made only five of 19 shots (two of 11 from three-point range). Ladarius "Snoop" White led Ole Miss with 22 points.

Kentucky contained Henderson in the foul-filled first half and might have led at intermission had the Cats made more than 10 of 20 free throws. Noel, in particular, struggled, making only two of eight foul shots.

Henderson made only four of 14 shots (one of seven from three-point range). His only trey came with 2:14 left in the half.

Meanwhile, Wiltjer more than matched the SEC's leading scorer point for point. The UK sophomore, who came into the game when Alex Poythress picked up his second foul at the 17:59 mark, led all first-half scorers with 17 points, which matched his career high against a SEC team. He made seven of nine shots (three of five from beyond the arc). The final two helped UK rally from a 35-30 deficit in the final two minutes.

The two teams combined for 26 fouls in the first half. UK, which came to Ole Miss averaging 15.9 fouls, committed 12 in the first half.

The Cats showed an aggressiveness right from the start. Inside the first 10 seconds, Ryan Harrow pushed off a tightly guarding Jarvis Summers near mid-court.

Kentucky picked up its seventh foul with 13:20 left in the first half. Ole Miss was eligible for the double-bonus at the 11:47 mark.

Yet, Ole Miss's 14 first-half fouls nullified the possible advantage.

The Rebels missed 20 of their first 25 shots en route to 29.5-percent accuracy in the first half. White kept Ole Miss in the game with 15 first-half points. He came into the game averaging 6.8 points against SEC teams.

With Wiltjer scoring nine of the team's first 16 second-half points, Kentucky built a 53-46 lead with 16:22 left.

Wiltjer hit two three-pointers in the run, making him five of eight from beyond the arc to that point.

But it was the play that put the Cats ahead by seven that seemed most memorable. After staggering Henderson with a screen, Wiltjer rolled to the basket and took a pass for a dunk. That marked Wiltjer's fourth career dunk.

Wiltjer seemed to ignite Kentucky. The Cats scored 34 points in the half's first eight and one-half minutes. In that span, the Cats made 13 of 18 shots (four of six from three-point range).

Several hustle and muscle plays showed UK's fight. Most memorably, Poythress rebounded while being knocked off kilter. He gathered himself and dunked emphatically.

Kentucky extended its lead to as much as 17 points. Then, Ole Miss staged an improbable comeback. The Rebels scored 16 straight points, capped by a White three-pointer that narrowed UK's lead to 73-72.

Harrow hit a clutch three-pointer to ease the pressure. Then Noel blocked Ole Miss's next two shots to preserve the lead. On the second, he blocked a dunk attempt.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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