John Clay: Cats hit refresh button in road rout

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014 

OXFORD, Miss. — Sometimes it's just good to get away.

The weather was wonderful here in the great state of Mississippi, warm temperatures and clear skies. There were kids in flip-flops and shorts all over the Ole Miss campus. The only ice was in drinking glasses.

Not a bad setting for a traveling team trying to shake off the cold, hard facts of a double-digit, home-court loss to a highly ranked team in a long-anticipated game.

"We had two days where all we talked about was chemistry," said UK forward Julius Randle.

Tuesday night, it wasn't just talk as the Cats hit the refresh button.

For at least 30 minutes, especially the first 20, Kentucky looked like a different basketball team, drilling three-pointers, piling up assists, claiming almost every rebound, running the Rebels right out of the Tad Pad on the way to a 17-point lead in what ended up an 84-70 Kentucky win.

"I was really proud of them in the first half," UK Coach John Calipari said.

Oh, things got a little hairy in the second half — "I told our guys at halftime, Ole Miss is going to make a run, you know that don't you?" said Calipari, who looked like he was headed toward cardiac arrest when the home team sliced a 22-point lead all the way to six points with 1:48 left — but all's well that ends well.

Or all's well when the ball goes in the basket.

"Everything looks better when the ball goes in the hole," said Andy Kennedy, the Ole Miss coach. "I think Kentucky was the beneficiary of that tonight."

The Cats answered some questions in the process. After that 69-59 home loss to now No. 2-ranked Florida on Saturday, you wondered whether all the Monday morning quarterbacking about the team staying "positive" and having a "terrific" day-after practice just manufactured happy talk to keep everyone's spirits up.

The proof would be in the Tuesday pudding. After falling three games back of the Gators, would the young Cats hang their heads? Or would they take out their frustrations on the next foe unlucky enough to be in their path?

It probably helped that instead of returning to the scene of the Saturday night crime, the Cats got to get on a plane and close ranks. It also helped that Kentucky is just a bad matchup for Kennedy's Rebels, who lack the size and length to compete with UK's strengths.

That showed two weeks ago at Rupp when the Rebels played the Cats tough for a half before collapsing in a 16-point loss. History repeated at the Tad Pad, though this time Kentucky asserted its dominance from the beginning.

UK shot 58.6 percent the first half. It had 12 assists on 17 field goals. It outrebounded the Rebels 21-9. It got a first-half double-double from Randle with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss shot 30.8 percent the first half.

"We had some bad shots by you-know-who," said Kennedy and you-know-who is Marshall Henderson, the gunner who ended up missing 12 of his 17 shots.

So what fueled the Ole Miss comeback?

"Kentucky boredom maybe," Kennedy deadpanned.

The night's craziest stat: After making just 14 of 23 free throws in Saturday's loss, the Cats made 27 of 30 for 90 percent, including their last 19 in a row.

"I guess we were just focused on it," said Aaron Harrison when asked for a reason. "We knew we had to make free throws."

Just like they knew they had to bounce back from Saturday.

"We know we can do this every game," Randle said, "it's just our focus."

"I wanted to know how they would do today," said Calipari as he sat at the post-game podium, Aaron Harrison and Randle at his side. "They responded."

Now it's back to Lexington, where the weather is expected to turn warmer as well, for a home game Saturday against LSU. They return refreshed and happy.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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