OXFORD, Miss. — All-America candidate Patrick Patterson did not rationalize away Kentucky's loss at Mississippi on Tuesday night.
Yes, all teams become acquainted with defeat, especially on the road in the Southeastern Conference. But as Patterson saw it, the loss dashed one of Kentucky's unspoken goals.
That was no trifling matter.
"We wanted to go undefeated (in the SEC)," Patterson said after Ole Miss beat UK 85-80 in a game the Rebels led by 13 inside the final minute. "We felt, if you played hard, you could go undefeated."
The chance for an unbeaten record vanished. And, reading between the lines, Patterson seemed to be saying the reason was that UK did not give the necessary effort.
"It's a huge deal," he said. "Not everybody has to lose. It all depends how hard you play and how hard you want to win.
"It's an eye-opener to work even harder. We didn't pay much attention to the scouting (report). We usually pay a lot of attention to it."
UK had reason to overlook Ole Miss, if that's what happened. The Rebels had lost three regular contributors, including All-SEC-caliber point guard Chris Warren, to season-ending knee injuries. Plus, the interim point guard, freshman Terrico White, was a converted wing who became the starter at that position the previous Wednesday. Plus, Ole Miss had lost four of five SEC games.
On the question of effort, UK Coach Billy Gillispie compromised. He saw the Cats giving their customary good effort. But ...
"I love our team," he said in his post-game news conference. "We always play hard. We played hard tonight. We just got whipped. They competed harder than us. Ole Miss made more shots. Ole Miss made harder cuts.
"But I love our team."
Jodie Meeks, who was held to 21 points (10 below his cartoon-like average against SEC competition), saw the defeat as a way to measure the Cats.
"It's going to test how mature we are," he said. "Because we play right away."
UK plays South Carolina in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon.
"It's time to get back to work," Meeks said.
The loss to Ole Miss suggested several areas in need of attention. Starting close to the basket, the Rebels got the better of it in the paint. Ole Miss's 30 defensive rebounds were a season high for a Kentucky opponent. The 15 offensive rebounds equaled the second most since Dec. 20.
"They were much better than us tonight in the lane," Gillispie said. "(Ole Miss) got a lot of confidence because they made a lot of shots in the lane early. They were just bigger than us tonight in the lane."
Added Patterson, "They killed us on the glass."
No Rebel loomed larger than sophomore Malcolm White, who scored a career-high 20 points (he'd totaled 20 points in the previous three games).
"Where has that guy been?" Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "He was tremendous tonight. He was flying all over the place."
Ole Miss also got the better of it on the perimeter. "Our hope was (UK) would go 7-for-28 from the three-point line," Kennedy said, perhaps facetiously. "And they did."
The Rebels harassed Meeks and let other UK players bomb away from the perimeter. The other Cats made four of 18 three-point shots.
By contrast, Patterson lamented the second-half shooting of David Huertas, who made five of 12 shots (three of seven from three-point range) in a 19-point spurt. Huertas also had three of his four assists after halftime.
"No. 33 (Huertas) was hitting shots left and right," Patterson said. "He was pulling the trigger."
Maybe more damaging, Kentucky did not apply pressure to the Ole Miss guards. So Huertas got the ball in position to do something with it.
"We weren't able to stop their penetration," Patterson said. "They were able to run their offense and be comfortable out there."
In hopes of applying more pressure, Gillispie played freshman DeAndre Liggins rather than Michael Porter at point guard. The price for more defensive pressure was a looser approach offensively. Trailing 66-61 with seven minutes left, the Cats scored one basket in the next six minutes.
"Too many guys shooting too quickly," Gillispie said, "before the ball was reversed with good ball and body movement."
Down the stretch, UK saw three-pointers launched and missed by Darius Miller (19.2 percent accuracy from beyond the arc going into the game), Stevenson (three treys in his career) and Ramon Harris (now 3-for-17 from three-point range this season).
While Kentucky returned home Wednesday to reflect on improvement going forward, Ole Miss took satisfaction in a hard-earned (and much needed) victory.
"Our effort was outstanding," Kennedy said. "We just refused to lose."