Date story published: Wednesday, January 16, 2002
United States senator (and former Mississippi cheerleader) Trent Lott, R-Miss., watched last night's game in Rupp Arena from a seat eight rows behind the Rebels' bench.
Kentucky's defense made it about as much fun for Lott as Jim Jeffords' defection last year, which threw control of the Senate to the Democrats.
In beating Ole Miss 87-64, UK apparently took seriously Coach Tubby Smith's call to take more pride in its defense. Six days after Georgia made 54.1 percent of its shots here, the Cats held the Rebels without a basket -- heck, without a ball getting to the rim -- until star forward Justin Reed hit a baseline pull-up with 15:17 left in the first half.
Ole Miss, which came into the game with the Southeastern Conference's best three-point shooting accuracy (40.1 percent), didn't make another shot until Jason Harrison hit a three-pointer with 7:28 left.
For most of the first half, UK's defense made Ole Miss's offense look like a filibuster against scoring. The Rebels made only two of their first 21 shots, and three of the first 23.
"Oh, man," freshman Chuck Hayes said. "I hope coach sees that statistic."
Hayes figured the stat would please Smith -- not that the UK coach would be giddy.
"He'll probably think we had good defense," Hayes said. "But he'll also think (Ole Miss) had an off night."
Out of the mouths of babes. Smith pretty much said just that about the Cats holding Ole Miss to season lows in shooting accuracy (33.3 percent), three-point marksmanship (16.7 percent) and points. The Rebels' 18 turnovers were their third-highest total this season. UK's 10 blocks set a new high for Ole Miss opponents this season.
"You can tell after coming off a big win, there's always a little bit of a letdown," said Smith, who added a moment later, "That's the type of defense we have to play to be successful in this league."
Kentucky improved to 11-4 overall and evened its SEC record at 2-2.
Several UK players noted the team's stumbling start in league play as a motivator against Ole Miss.
"We watched the tape of South Carolina (and) Mississippi State," point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "We had so many breakdowns defensively."
UK squandered a big lead in losing at Mississippi State and barely escaped South Carolina with a victory.
"The defensive aggressiveness just hadn't been there," swingman Tayshaun Prince said. "It showed up tonight."
Ole Miss, 13-4 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, saw its frustration boil over when Harrison, its usually lovable 5-foot-5 point guard, shoved an angry forearm at Hawkins' head barely four minutes into the game.
That resulted in an intentional foul, which put Harrison on the bench with two fouls. It also made him the target of boos the rest of the night.
More pertinent to the game, it sent the Rebels' senior floor leader spiraling toward an inconsequential three-point night.
"Whenever he goes well, they go well," said Smith, not needing to add, "and vice versa."
Kentucky did not burn the nets, shooting 44.4 percent in the first half. Still, the Cats rolled to a 35-11 lead.
Ole Miss rallied in the closing minutes of the first half against UK's reserves. The Rebels made four of their last six shots to make the halftime score a fairly respectable 37-22.
After Cavadas Nunnery ripped the ball from freshman Adam Chiles and hit a layup, Smith began putting starters back in the game.
Ole Miss got within 11 points five times in the opening minutes of the second half. Then, a 17-2 run zipped Kentucky ahead 64-38. The rest was cruise control.
Prince's post-up basket around Reed began the run, and he capped it by stealing a pass and rolling to a breakaway dunk.
Prince's game-high 19 points moved him ahead of something like a holy trinity on UK's career scoring list: All-Americans Johnny Cox, Pat Riley and Cliff Hagan. He increased his career total to 1,480 points.
Smith lauded the Cats' more-aggressive offense, which featured more drives to the basket and accounted for a 44-26 edge in points in the paint.
But the story was defense. Ole Miss's leading scorer, Reed, had 11 points, his second-lowest total of the season. He and power forward Derrick Allen made only four of 16 shots.
The Rebels' three leading scorers -- Aaron Harper, Reed and Harrison -- made a collective seven of 20 shots and scored 19 points, about half of their season average of 37.4.
"We say individuals play the game," Smith said, "but defense wins championships.
"We got away from that because we were putting points on the board. I think that got in our psyche, that we could outscore people."