OXFORD, Miss. — After the happy talk of Monday, Kentucky walked a happy walk on Tuesday.
Kentucky being Kentucky, and freshmen being freshmen, the walk got complicated.
But ultimately, UK outclassed Ole Miss in an 84-70 victory that surely eased the sting of Saturday's loss to No. 2 Florida.
"Making strides," UK Coach John Calipari said. " ... I wanted to know how we'd do (post-Florida), and they responded."
Good shooting, particularly from three-point range in the first half, and good defense enabled UK to improve to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in the Southeastern Conference.
"When you see the ball go into the basket early, it'll do amazing things to you," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "Kentucky was the beneficiary of that. They played with a lot of 'pop,' a lot more than they have in a lot of road games.
"A lot of it was they made shots. And when you make shots, it gives you energy."
With less than nine minutes left in the game, Kentucky led by 22. But this was no cruise to victory.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Ole Miss charged. The Rebels got within 76-70 when Anthony Perez banked in a three-pointer with 1:48 left.
When asked why Ole Miss got in position to snatch an improbable victory from UK's grasp, Kennedy quipped, "Kentucky boredom, maybe. Youth."
After a timeout, Julius Randle drove to a shot in the lane that eased the tension and pointed the way to victory. Calipari noted how Randle got the ball near the elbow with the shot clock inside 10 seconds and an assistant coach suggesting time be called.
"He caught the ball and my mind quickly said, 'He's either getting fouled or he's making it,'" Calipari said. "That's how much confidence I had."
Randle powered to his final basket in a 25-point, 13-rebound performance. He also made 10 straight free throws down the stretch that saw UK clinch the game by making 19 in a row from the line.
Aaron Harrison added 17 and James Young 16.
Ole Miss, which lost at home for the first time in league play, fell to 16-10 and 7-6. Jarvis Summers led the Rebels with 22 points.
Gunner Marshall Henderson made only five of 17 shots and finished with 18 points.
Kentucky had almost as many three-pointers (six) as Ole Miss had baskets (eight) in a joyride of a first half. The Cats led 42-25 at halftime.
Calipari has oft-repeated the contention that Kentucky is not a three-point shooting team. The Cats had not made six threes in any of the four most recent games, and in 15 of the 25 games played this season.
"We made some threes, but we know that's not our game," Randle said. "We want to attack the basket, make two-point shots, get fouled, stuff like that. The three was just a plus for us."
Alex Poythress, who had made only one three-pointer in seven attempts against SEC teams, made one. It was only his second three since Dec. 21.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's defense made life miserable for Henderson and Ole Miss. Henderson repeatedly rushed ill-advised shots. The Rebels made only five of their final 18 shots of the first half.
The final play typified a nothing-goes-wrong half for Kentucky. Young threw a lob. Ole Miss deflected the ball away, but it went right to Young in front of the rim. His layup set the halftime score.
Not a lot changed early in the second half. For a change, Kentucky was the team fast-breaking for a score after the opponent made a shot.
The Cats led 56-36 at the second television timeout with 11:13 left. That held mild interest because Ole Miss rallied from 15 down with 11:12 left to beat South Carolina here on Feb. 1. That marked a would-be turning point in the Rebels' season.
As if on cue, Ole Miss rallied. For the first time all night, Kentucky looked like freshmen. A lob went awry. Ole Miss ripped the ball from Young's grasp near mid-court.
The longer the half lasted, the more Kentucky wobbled. Andrew Harrison passed to a spot Alex Poythress vacated. Perez drove to a three-point play to reduce the lead to 72-62.
After Willie Cauley-Stein missed a layup, Summers drove to another three-point play that got Ole Miss within 72-65. The clock showed 2:26 left.
Calipari objected to Kennedy's suggestion that UK's boredom enabled the Rebels to rally.
"The thing our guys do, again, we'll lose focus," he said. "A good team will seize on it. And they did."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.