Date story published: Sunday, February 15, 1998
Once-in-a-lifetime kind of history was made yesterday at Rupp Arena.
No, not Ole Miss winning at Kentucky for the first time since 1927. Historic? Certainly the Rebels' 73-64 victory was that.
"Beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena is huge," Ole Miss point guard Michael White said. "It's humongous. It's something we can talk about the rest of our lives."
But if you're looking for history with a shelf life longer than the 76-year orbit of Halley's comet, try this: UK's leading scorer, center Nazr Mohammed, only touched the ball twice in the second half. Once he grabbed a defensive rebound. Once, just once, did he touch the ball on the offensive side of halfcourt. Ole Miss' collapsing defense immediately stripped it away.
Not many more times in the second half - maybe once, perhaps twice - did his teammates even look to pass to Mohammed, who entered the game on a pace to break Rick Robey's school record for shooting accuracy in a season.
"That's stupid," forward Scott Padgett said. "That's what I think of it. If there is a 'go-to' guy on this team, it would have to be him."
Stranger still, except for Mohammed, UK apparently played unaware that its most reliable shooter - he made his first six shots in the first half - was being ignored as victory slipped away. Only the day before, Coach Tubby Smith had emphasized the importance of using Mohammed inside to neutralize the Ole Miss quickness advantage.
"I wasn't really aware of it," Padgett said of Mohammed not touching the ball on offense in the second half until 11:44 showed on the clock and only once thereafter. "If I'd thought of it, I'd have personally thrown it to him. Even if I had to force it."
Ole Miss did not forget its main man. In fact, Coach Rob Evans got in Ansu Sesay's face at halftime to remind the All-Southeastern Conference forward of his importance.
"Coach challenged me in front of everybody to take control of the game," Sesay said. "So I stepped up."
Sesay, who missed all five of his shots in the first half, scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. His 5-for-6 shooting and steadying influence helped the Rebels erase an 11-point halftime deficit.
"You can't keep him down the whole game," teammate Keith Carter said of Sesay. "He just does things I've never seen anybody do before.... He just put us on his back. That's what he's been doing all year."
No. 7 Kentucky, which slipped to 22-4 overall and 10-2 in the SEC, controlled the first half. Pounding away inside with Mohammed and fast-break baskets in transition, the Cats reeled off an 18-1 run that established a 24-11 lead with 7:39 left in the first half. During that time, Ole Miss missed 12 straight shots and went more than nine minutes without a basket.
"I really wasn't concerned about the game slipping away if we could execute," said Evans, whose team shot 29.6 percent in the first half. "Kentucky doesn't have the dominant player who can score every time at will. If we could chip back on it, then the pressure turns on them.
"We were shooting way too quick, and they were getting out (on the break). I had only one timeout left at the end of the game because I used them trying to settle the team down. Finally at halftime I got it over to them what we wanted."
With Sesay leading the way, Ole Miss got back into the game early in the second half. The Rebels outscored Kentucky 16-4 inside the first six minutes of the half. Sesay had six of those points (his first basket at 16:59 and a floater in the lane at 14:53 that put Ole Miss ahead 39-38).
"They set the tone at the start of the second half," Smith said. "We didn't respond when they raised their intensity."
Well, UK responded, just not correctly. With Ole Miss pressuring the ball, the Cats forgot about Mohammed and began a series of one-on-one moves to the basket.
"They got up in our faces and pressured us really hard," Padgett said. "We got back on our heels. Usually in the first five minutes (of the second half), we dictate. If we play the first five minutes like we did the first half, it'd be a blowout. We'd win by 20. But we didn't.
"That's essentially why we got our butts kicked," he added with a sad shrug.
No. 18 Ole Miss, which improved to 17-5 overall and 8-4 in the SEC, led the final 11 minutes.
Even without Mohammed, Kentucky closed a six-point deficit to 62-59 on a three-pointer by leading scorer Jeff Sheppard (15 points).
But Ole Miss blunted a UK rally and 71 years of history with one shot. Carter, who led all scorers with 21 points, hit a three-pointer while being fouled by Allen Edwards. The four-point play with 1:35 left made a Kentucky defeat inevitable.
Afterward, Ole Miss saluted center Anthony Boone as the league's best low-post defender. But he had a lot of help in shutting down Mohammed. Boone's teammates helped. So did Mohammed's.
Asked about the difficulty of getting the ball against the Rebels' collapsing defense, Mohammed saslug"Oh, it wasn't hard. I could have gotten the ball."
But he didn't.