ATLANTA — After reminding reporters how Mississippi had the physical advantage in the regular-season game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari painted Friday's rematch in the Southeastern Conference Tournament as a gauge of UK's progress.
"This is more about us," Calipari said. "Mississippi is going to play well. Did we get better defensively? Have we gotten tougher? That's why we play these games."
Calipari lamented how often Ole Miss players beat UK off the dribble in the February game in Oxford. Earlier this week, UK's defensive stopper, DeAndre Liggins, took responsibility for Ole Miss senior star Chris Warren torching the Cats for 22 points, including the game-winning jumper.
"Chris Warren got the best of me," Liggins said.
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But Calipari said Liggins was not alone. "We could not guard on the dribble at four positions."
Reviewing the tape of Ole Miss's 71-69 victory on Feb. 1 showed what Calipari called "a lot of ugly stuff." Getting outhustled. Defending the pick-and-roll poorly. Getting pushed around.
"They were physical on our drives," Calipari said. "When we ran from them and they physically hit, we couldn't play."
Again spinning that history into the rematch, the UK coach said, "We'll see if we're a team that can play through the bump and grind of a game against a team long and athletic."
After Ole Miss beat South Carolina 66-55 in Thursday's first round, Coach Andy Kennedy suggested the rematch would not be a finesse game.
"We just have to come out with aggression," he said, "and see what happens."
The victory over South Carolina was the Rebels' first in the SEC Tournament since 2007.
"Big momentum for us," said Warren, who led Ole Miss with 20 points. "This was the first time we've won an SEC Tournament game since I've been here. I'm looking forward to winning some more."
When asked about facing Kentucky, Warrren said, "I think we match up well against them." It was an opinion Calipari seemed to share.
"They're more athletic at some positions," the UK coach said. Calipari noted how Ole Miss showed better athleticism at the power forward and center positions in Oxford.
"So, he (Warren) has a point," Calipari said.
Containing Warren would seem to be Job One for Kentucky. He needs 22 points to reach 2,000 in his career.
Teammate Terrance Henry acknowledged Warren's importance to the Rebels.
"If he starts off well, we can feed off him," Henry said. "If he doesn't get off to a good start, we have a slow start."
Calipari noted how Warren, who is listed at 5-foot-10, can put defenders in poor position.
"He can score and he has deep range," the UK coach said. "Better than that, he's good with the ball and he gets you on his hip."
Kennedy welcomed a largely partisan Kentucky crowd in the Georgia Dome on Friday.
"A fantastic atmosphere," the Ole Miss coach said before adding, facetiously, "They'll probably out-draw us by two or three thousand. ... There's nothing like Kentucky basketball fans. You get a true sense of that in the conference tournament.
"Believe it or not, I think it'll be a great experience. It'll be a Final Four feel. At the end of the day, this is about creating memories. It'll be a great memory, and I hope it's a pleasant one."
And, Kennedy added, "I hope it ends like the first one did."
Warren won that game by rattling in a 26-footer.
"They'll probably look at it as a revenge game," Warren said of the Cats. "Our motive remains the same. It's Kentucky, first of all. Everybody wants to beat Kentucky."
Warren added a second motivation: an NCAA Tournament bid that can only come if the Rebels win the SEC Tournament.
"We're trying to make it to the (NCAA) tournament and we know what we have to do," he said.
Calipari did not concede the motivational high ground to Ole Miss.
"We're playing for stuff, too," he said, presumably meaning the best seed possible for the NCAA Tournament. "It's not as though one team doesn't care and the other does."