Kentucky had not scored so many points in a Southeastern Conference road game since a 103-95 victory at Tennessee on Valentine’s Day, 2001.
Yet the second half of UK’s 99-76 victory at Ole Miss on Thursday left a sour taste.
“The first half, that’s as good as we’ve played in a long while,” UK Coach John Calipari said.
The second half revived Calipari’s concerns about discipline.
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“I was a little upset with my guys because we got sloppy,” Calipari said of the second half. “What I’m trying to do with my team is discipline. We have to have discipline. And you saw in the second half we didn’t.”
Kentucky rolled to a 60-39 halftime lead. The Cats made 61.5 percent of their shots in the first half, but only 37.1 percent in the second. Conversely, Ole Miss shot better in the second half.
Calipari seemed to suggest the big lead led to sloppy play.
“I went crazy because it’s not the score” (that should dictate performance), he said. “ ... It’s the discipline we don’t have right now.”
Calipari cited shot selection and decision-making as signs of undisciplined play.
“We went back to a little AAU,” he said. “We threw look-away (passes). Cross-court (passes). I’m, like, what just happened? ...
“They revert back to what they know, and what they’ve done their whole lives.”
Even Malik Monk, who rebounded from a poor shooting game at Louisville to score a game-high 34 points, was not spared.
“I had to get on him,” Calipari said. “He started with a step-back (shot). I’m, like, ‘You’re not doing that. No!’”
Although Bam Adebayo was a tower of strength around the basket, Calipari set a priority of finding a productive backup.
Toward that end, he substituted Tai Wynyard for Adebayo with 14:50 left in the first half. Wynyard has not played in a month (three minutes against Arizona State game Nov. 28).
“I tried Tai because the backup (center role) I have not been satisfied,” Calipari said. “Whether it’s Isaac (Humphries) or Sacha (Killeya-Jones). And Tai didn’t get a chance (earlier). So I gave him a chance.”
A backup for Adebayo is important, Calipari said.
“We’ve got to get somebody else who can play like Bam is playing,” he said. “Maybe not doing the dunks and all the stuff he’s doing. But somebody who can hold his own defensively. That can rebound balls. And he can make a shot next to the basket.”
While Calipari found plenty of areas in need of improvement, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy was impressed with Kentucky.
“Credit Cal and his staff,” he said. “I think the pieces fit. I like their pieces. All the pieces fit and complement each other.
“They’ve got a chance to have another special year.”
Calipari was impressed with The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The $96.5 million arena took 18 months to build.
The Pavilion somehow has the aura of a large arena even though the listed capacity is only 9,051.
“One thing you now about Ole Miss,” Calipari said. “When they do something, they’re going to do it right.”
Ole Miss and UK are the only two programs in the SEC to finish .500 or better in the conference in each of the last five seasons.
The similarities end there. The game marked only the fifth time in the last 19 years that Ole Miss opened SEC play at home.
In that time, Kentucky has begun league play with a home game 13 times, including the last two seasons against the Rebels.
Before the game, Calipari tweeted about a letter left for him in the UK locker room. It was accompanied by a squirrel on a piece of wood.
When UK last played at Ole Miss, the game was at the Tad Smith Coliseum, also known as the Tad Pad. After the game, Calipari pointed out that squirrels had been spotted in the locker room.
The letter on Ole Miss athletic stationary, was a note of thanks to the UK coach.
“Thanks to you, the Tad Pad will be no more, and Andy Kennedy has this state of the art facility to work with ... ,” the letter read. “Also thanks to you, we are now relegated to this log for the rest of our being inside the brand new Pavilion.”
Signed: The Tad Pad Squirrels.
Two Ole Miss fans thought of the gesture. They killed a squirrel, had it stuffed and mounted on a piece of wood.
“I’m taking the squirrel with me,” Calipari said. “This one was a dead squirrel. The other one was alive, and he peed on my shoes before I left.”
Calipari said he might put the mounted squirrel in his office as a conversation starter.