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CATS GRIND OUT VICTORY OVER OLE MISS 89-77

Date story was published: Sunday, February 17, 1991

Reluctantly, Richie Farmer became a walking -- make that limping -- metaphor for Kentucky's 89-77 victory yesterday over Mississippi.

"My knee's a little sore and I can't see out of my right eye," Farmer said of the knocks he took. "Other than that, I feel good."

Pretty this Kentucky victory was not. Neither was it especially pleasing to fans of highlight-film offense. UK made only 37 percent of its shots, just 21.4 percent from three-point range (six of 28).

The Cats got down -- and borderline dirty, Ole Miss coach Ed Murphy said by way of a grudging compliment -- to beat the Rebels.

Still, as Farmer suggested, the end result felt good: a Big Blue-collar 19th victory in 24 games and a catch-us-if-you-can league-best 11-3 record in the Southeastern Conference.

Despite playing the SEC's worst team, at least by record, UK did not win the game until the final eight minutes. Ole Miss, 7-16 overall and 1-13 in SEC play, trailed 74-73 with 8:07 left after James Bailey dribbled through the Kentucky press for a driving layup and three-point play.

The Rebels did not get another basket until point guard Dondi Flemister made a meaningless put-back one second before the buzzer. In the interim, UK forced seven turnovers and held Ole Miss to six shots and one point.

"Their press got to us," said Bailey, the Rebels' inbounds man. "I got too hysterical. Everything was fast-paced and the crowd was into it. I kind of choked."

Yet, Bailey, who committed nine turnovers, noted the contrast with the first half when "we were going through their press."

Early success yielding to a succession of turnovers was to be expected, Murphy said. No, he added, this was not another replay of the Rebels' knack for crumbling down the stretch of games this season.

"No, no, no," Murphy said. "It was an example of Kentucky being good. They keep coming with the press. Keep banging on you, pounding on you and two things happen. Your fatigue becomes a factor and you don't meet passes as well and fumble the ball away. And a lot of contact as the game progresses on and on and on, less and less gets called. And the ball comes loose. That's just the nature of that type of basketball."

True enough, said UK coach Rick Pitino. If anything, he said, fans should expect that pattern: opponents beating the press early, but crumbling under the pressure late.

"The press should get beat in the first half," Pitino said. "Then when mental and physical fatigue takes over, that's when the press works. What happened tonight happened every night at Providence. I guess we're not quick enough. We don't gamble that much."

Except for a Farmer jumper to start the game, UK trailed throughout the first half. The performance, which included getting beat on long passes over the press and uncontested turnovers, suggested the dreaded F-word -- flat. No, Pitino said, the Cats were emotionally ready. They just had an off day.

Ole Miss's leading scorer, sophomore forward Joe Harvell, lit up the Cats for 15 of his game-high 26 points in the first half. His unusual dunk -- the slam popped off the iron but fell through as Harvell hung on the rim -- gave the Rebels their largest lead: 31-22 at the 8:41 mark.

The scoring spree led Pitino to bench Harvell's defender, John Pelphrey, to start the second half. Pelphrey, who missed his six first-half shots, had no complaint. "I made some bad plays defensively and I didn't score on offense," Pelphrey said. "He had to get somebody in there who would help the basketball team. I was not a factor."

Henry Thomas started the second half.

Ahead 52-48, Mississippi missed an opportunity to take control early in the second half. After a Harvell free throw to start the half, the Rebels went scoreless in their next seven possessions. UK shot 0-for-7 to start the half, making Ole Miss's failures all the more painful.

"We had the right numbers called and missed two (contested) layups and a four-footer," Murphy said. "It all worked and we didn't get anything out of it. Rick plugged that up, which he was going to do. He was going nuts."

Sean Woods, playing almost 24 minutes in his first game back from a viral infection, gave Kentucky its first lead since 2-0 with a fast-break layup. The shot put the Cats ahead 57-55 with 14:55 left.

The lead grew to 72-64 when Murphy took a calculated risk. He said he left in his starters even though they were tiring. He gambled they could hold on down the stretch. They did not.

Harvell hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut the UK lead to 73-70. But Harvell did not score again.

"You've got to gamble," Murphy said. "What else are you going to do? If they got out another six or seven points, it's not really relevant whether or not he's tired. You've got to leave him in."

Flemister and Bailey also stayed in too long, Murphy said.

Pelphrey, the freshest man on the court, sealed the victory. UK's leading scorer finally came off the bench with 7:31 left.

After a shaky start in which he telegraphed a feed inside and missed two shots, Pelphrey got untracked. He scored all eight of his points in the final 5:47, including a pair of three-pointers. His first basket was worth the wait. The three-pointer, which came with 4:36 left, ended Pelphrey's 0-for-9 string of misfires and gave UK an 82-74 lead.

Pelphrey's second three-pointer gave UK an 87-74 lead with 2:32 left and finally ended the suspense.

"We're capable of losing to anybody," Pitino said of the surprisingly competitive game between the SEC's best and worst teams. "We're just one of the guys. Just a hot dog and beer group trying to get a break in life."

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