Mother Nature continued to follow Kentucky like a cold-hearted stalker Tuesday night. UK could find solace in the warm glow radiating from a revived Willie Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein posted season highs in points (18) and rebounds (11) and also had six blocks as Kentucky whipped Mississippi 80-64.
Cauley-Stein's recent numbers looked like Celsius readings; 14 points in the six most recent games, 13 rebounds in the five most recent games and, maybe most alarming, 10 blocks in the last seven games.
Against Ole Miss, Cauley-Stein spearheaded a second-half takeover by Kentucky. He capped the evening, and gave the announced crowd of 22,168, a thrill by blocking a driving attempt by Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson.
Henderson made only six of 18 shots (four of 12 from three-point range) in leading Ole Miss with 16 points.
Aaron Harrison led the defensive effort on Henderson. He also scored 16 points as Kentucky took sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats improved to 17-5 overall and 7-2 in the SEC. League-leading Florida took an 8-0 record into a home game against Missouri later Tuesday night.
Julius Randle enjoyed a revival within the Cauley-Stein revival.
After scoring one point and grabbing one rebound in the first half, he came off the bench and excelled in the second half. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Maybe more importantly, he got to the foul line, making eight of 10 free throws. Randle came into the game averaging only 5.3 free throws in league play.
In yet another revival, Kentucky got back to living at the foul line. The Cats made 26 of 36 free throws. Ole Miss was eight of 10.
Kentucky had enjoyed a wide disparity in free-throw attempts in the pre-conference portion of the schedule. But the advantage had narrowed to 25.4-24.5 in SEC play going into the game against Ole Miss.
UK contained Henderson in the first half. He made only three of 10 shots, including two of six on threes.
The Cats also enjoyed an 18-2 advantage in free-throw attempts.
UK also gave the fans several highlight-worthy plays.
Yet Ole Miss prevented or avoided a knockout punch. UK led 35-34 at halftime.
Aaron Harrison led the effort to keep Henderson from a flurry of points. Henderson missed his first three shots, and didn't score until he hit a jumper with 9:41 left in the half.
But with James Young taking a turn on defense, Henderson hit a pair of three-pointers in a 52-second span. The second put Kentucky behind 28-23 (the largest deficit of the half) and prompted a timeout with 6:55 left.
After a brief span when Jarrod Polson hounded Henderson, Aaron Harrison returned to the task. Henderson did not score the rest of the half.
The defensive work did not hinder Aaron Harrison's offense. He led Kentucky with 12 first-half points.
Ole Miss foul trouble helped Kentucky take its one-point halftime lead. Starting forward Anthony Perez picked up two fouls in the first 2:07.
Worse for the Rebels, point guard Jarvis Summers went to the bench with his third at the 4:01 mark when he tried to blunt Aaron Harrison's drive by bodying the UK player.
Past performances made it difficult to say which team had the advantage going into the second half. Kentucky had a 13-1 record this season when leading at the break.
But Ole Miss rallied from 15 down in the final 10:53 to win against South Carolina on Saturday.
Randle led a second-half breakout that put the Cats ahead 50-41, the largest lead to that point.
His first basket of the game capped a 7-0 run that put UK on the verge of a double-digit cushion. He grabbed a loose ball created by Dakari Johnson's third block in a three-minute span.
Remember the pre-season talk of Randle playing like a runaway freight train? That's what Randle looked like.
Kentucky's defense contained not only Henderson but all the Rebels. Ole Miss made only six of its first 17 shots in the second half.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.