Date story published: Sunday, January 21, 2001
OXFORD, Miss. -- A pattern deeply ingrained in Kentucky basketball lore seemingly guarantees a sequence as reliable as winter following fall. When an opponent gets sky-high to beat the mighty Cats, that opponent returns to earth with a thud (and a loss) in the next game.
In a reversal of roles, that's how UK saw yesterday's 65-55 loss to Mississippi. Fresh from making a statement by beating No. 4 and annoying neighbor Tennessee in Rupp Arena, the fuzzy-faced Cats wilted in the face of Ole Miss's withering defensive pressure.
"We went into this game like it wasn't a real big game," said freshman Gerald Fitch, one of few UK players who suffered no emotional retreat.
The end of an intoxicating seven-game winning streak saw Kentucky:
* Shoot a season-low 38.5 percent.
* Get outrebounded for the fifth time in the last six games. The exception? UK outrebounded Tennessee in the circle-the-wagons atmosphere that existed in Rupp Arena Tuesday.
* Commit 21 turnovers, its most in almost a month (22 against Indiana on Dec. 20).
"I didn't think we were really sharp mentally," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "For a lot of guys, it was their first time here."
By that, he meant the first time many UK players had been on the road in the Southeastern Conference. "We're going to have to learn to suck it up and we're going to play with a lot more energy," Smith said. "We have to play a lot tougher."
"Going on the road in the SEC is a lot different than playing another team out of another conference," one of UK's veterans, Keith Bogans, said. "Nobody's going to be on you like crowds around here. Some of our younger guys were affected by it."
UK, which hoped the victory over Tennessee would be a springboard back to a national ranking, fell to 10-6 overall and 3-1 in the SEC.
Ole Miss, which improved to 15-3 overall and 3-2 in the league, came to the game from the other end of the emotional spectrum. The Rebels had lost their last two games. After "a week of soul-searching," Coach Rod Barnes said, "today, our kids were ready."
And Kentucky? "They didn't play as well as I saw on tape," Barnes said. "We may have had something to do with that."
Although whistled for 57 fouls in its last two games, Ole Miss took the defensive fight to Kentucky. "We like to get into people," Barnes said of the Rebels' aggressive man-to-man defense. "We like to create action."
The Ole Miss defenders contained the players most likely to lead the way in difficult situations. UK's most experienced players -- Tayshaun Prince, Saul Smith and Bogans -- shot a combined 10-for-32. And UK's best low-post threat, freshman Jason Parker, got off only three shots and scored four points, his second-lowest total of the season.
To contain Bogans (4-for-14) and Prince (5-for-10), the Rebels denied the ball as much as possible. "If you can slow those two guys down, then you have a chance," Barnes said. "If you want to stop scorers, don't let them catch the ball. If you can go three or four plays and you don't score, psychologically, you never get that real smooth feel."
Bogans acknowledged that the Rebels, with the help of two early walking calls, kept him off balance. "It just didn't come today," he said. "They play great defense. They had a lot of help defense on me. Every time I went to drive, I had two or three guys around me."
Only twice in the last two months had Prince shot fewer than the 10 attempts he got off against Ole Miss.
With the Rebels hounding UK's perimeter players, Parker got few clean entry passes. His only basket came with two minutes remaining. "We focus on not letting people do what they want to do," Barnes said. "That was a big deal."
Kentucky hung tough thanks to Marquis Estill, who came up big in the absence of Marvin Stone (who stayed home for academic reasons). Estill's three-point play put the Cats ahead 41-40 with 12 minutes left.
"We had our chance," Tubby Smith said. "They were able to seize the momentum at that time and we never really recovered from that."
Freshman Justin Reed, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, put the Rebels ahead for good with a baseline jumper. That started an 8-0 run that ended with a killer four-point trip downcourt for Ole Miss.
With the Rebels ahead 44-41, Jason Holmes stole freshman Cliff Hawkins' pass and sped for a layup. Hawkins came over Holmes' back to prevent the layup and was called for an intentional foul. Holmes made one of two free throws.
Then Jason Harrison, a 5-foot-5 junior, maximized the bonus possession by hitting a three-point bomb over Erik Daniels' outstretched hand.
Asked why he shot quickly instead of milking time off the shot clock, Harrison said, "Because I was feeling gooood and I knew I wasn't going to miss it."
After Estill stemmed the tide, momentarily, by making a turnaround 15-footer, Harrison answered with his career-high fourth three-pointer.
"Making those three-pointers were daggers to our heart," Tubby Smith said.
Kentucky made no serious charge at Ole Miss down the stretch. After Estill's three-point play with 12 minutes left, the Cats made only two more baskets in the next nine minutes and 50 seconds.
For that, both coaches credited the Ole Miss defensive intensity.
"Maybe our aggression and pressure got to them a little bit," Barnes said.
Smith offered no argument. Instead, the UK coach asked his team to match that intensity in the future.
Ole Miss was "taking things away from us, especially on the perimeter," Smith said. "Making us work a lot harder to get our offense started. That's an area we have to be stronger."