NASHVILLE — Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy had an immediate and emphatic answer Wednesday to a pointed question: How many times has Stefan Moody suffered from cramps before or since muscle spasms removed him from the potentially historic takedown of Kentucky.
"None," Kennedy said with a can-you-believe-it expression his face. "Not one day in practice since."
Moody, the best free-throw shooter in the Southeastern Conference this season (91.2 percent), had been fouled on a three-point miss with the score tied early in an overtime period. An already dramatic SEC opener gained a memorable plot twist when cramps sent Moody to the bench. Instead of a player who's missed 14 free throws all season going to the line, UK Coach John Calipari got to pick the Ole Miss shooter.
Kentucky prevailed 89-86 and continued on its way to a 31-0 regular-season record.
Hearing it suggested that good fortune has smiled on Kentucky this season, Kennedy smiled. "They're pretty good," he said, dryly.
The other would-be giant killer will not play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament here this week. Danuel House, who like Moody scored 25 points against Kentucky in the first week of league play, watched Texas A&M's workout Wednesday from a courtside seat. A black boot protected the left foot he sprained at Florida a week earlier. His idleness was in stark contrast to the slashing and scoring that extended Kentucky into two overtimes four days after Moody's shooting nearly defeated the Cats.The cramps of early January (Moody) and the foot injury of last week (House) loom large for Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Both teams sit on the metaphorical "bubble," bids to the NCAA Tournament so close yet seemingly still a victory or two away from being secured.
Oh what a difference beating Kentucky two months earlier would have made.
"We look back on that because at this time of year how much value that could have brought with Kentucky's special season," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. "You say it as coach-talk all the time: Every game is big; every game is important. That game would have garnered a lot of attention had we been the only team to beat them. But we didn't take care of it."
Andy Kennedy (no relation) had much the same reaction to his team's loss to Kentucky.
"That would have changed a few things, wouldn't it?" he said of the NCAA Tournament bid that may elude Ole Miss. ". . . We played well, but we didn't finish well, and they took advantage of it. And they've done that all year."
Despite Kentucky being the first team from a major conference in 39 years to go undefeated in a regular season, players from Ole Miss and Texas A&M remained defiant.
"Even though I wasn't able to play that game, my team was able to go out there and play an incredible game," said A&M forward Jalen Jones, who did not play against Kentucky. "And that should have been our victory."
Ole Miss guard Martavious Newby took it one step further.
"If we play as a team, we're going to beat Kentucky again," he said.
Moody did not echo the sentiment.
"That was a good measuring stick to go toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country," he said.
Moody attributed his performance in Rupp Arena (eight of 13 shooting, five of seven from three-point range) to confidence.
"I was just in a zone," he said. "Once I get in a zone, it's hard to get me out of it."
As for the ill-timed cramps, Moody said, "Maybe it was God. Maybe it wasn't the right time."
Andy Kennedy recruited Moody to replace another shooter capable of taking over a game, Marshall Henderson.
"Moody's so much more athletic and explosive," the Ole Miss coach said. "His game is so much more diversified."
Moody might be the Rebels' best perimeter defender, something no one ever said about Henderson. Nor could Henderson say he had a 48-inch vertical leap.
"I can get in the paint and make plays better than most point guards my size," said Moody, listed at 5-foot-10.
Moody made a lot of plays against UK. But as every other player to oppose Kentucky could say this season, not enough to win the game.
And coming close might not be good enough to get an NCAA Tournament bid. Texas A&M glue guy Alex Caruso noted how much of a difference beating Kentucky could make. "If anybody beats Kentucky, they should get an automatic bid," he said.