Date story was published: Thursday, January 17, 1991
OXFORD, Miss. -- The University of Kentucky basketball team lost its focus but beat Mississippi 95-85 last night.
Big-headedness rather then the war in the Persian Gulf distracted the Wildcats, UK coach Rick Pitino said. The Cats did not learn of the U.S. bombing raids until Pitino stepped into the locker room after the game and announced "a major, major war."
Fueled by John Pelphrey's career-high 29 points, the Wildcats roared to a 21- point lead in the first half. Pelphrey had 16 of his points and four three- pointers in the half. He finished with a career-high six treys.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
However, Kentucky let a potential blowout slip away in the second half. Ole Miss closed to within eight points. Almost five minutes remained.
Several clutch plays saved the victory, UK's 13th in 15 games and fifth without a loss in Southeastern Conference play.
"We've been winning with incredible work ethic," Pitino said. "Tonight, we tried to say to ourselves, 'Well, we're the ninth-ranked team in the country. Let's go play. We're the ninth-ranked team in the country.' Rather than using all that work ethic and intensity to do it."
Pitino's complaints focused on the second half, when UK had a reduction in deflections, his gauge for defensive effort. UK had 19 deflections in the first half, only nine in the second half. UK also gave up five three-pointers in the second half.
"We've made guarding the three a point of emphasis all year," Pitino said. "Tonight, we paid no attention to it. We were a different team in the second half. That's one thing I don't understand. We tried to win with offense rather than defense."
Ole Miss, losing for the fifth straight time, fell to 6-8 overall and 0-5 in the SEC.
Kentucky took charge early, scoring the game's first seven points, and cruised to a 49-35 halftime lead.
The UK style of play -- three-point shooting and full-court pressing -- ruled the opening 20 minutes.
The Cats hit seven three-pointers in the half. Pelphrey led the way, hitting four of four three-pointers.
"I haven't always shot the ball well this year," Pelphrey said. "I've missed enough already. It's the law of averages. Some had to go in."
UK's pressure defense proved Ole Miss's reputation for shakiness was justified. The Rebels had 10 turnovers in the first half. UK's press caused seven of the errors, three in the first two minutes when the Cats raced to a 7-0 lead. Ole Miss also made just nine of 34 shots (26.5 percent) in the half.
"We played tentatively," Ole Miss coach Ed Murphy said, "and, thus, we had trouble against the press."
With the game slipping away, Murphy called two timeouts in less than two minutes in an attempt to limit the damage. The pauses did not work. Kentucky went on a 30-10 run to establish its largest lead (43-22) with 4:53 left.
Jeff Brassow got the game started with a three-pointer. Brassow's basket also allowed UK to set up its press. Curiously, Ole Miss guard Tim Jumper tried to dribbled through two defenders. He did not succeed. He bounced the ball off Reggie Hanson's leg. Hanson retrieved the loose ball and sped to a layup. Hanson finished with 11 points, giving him 1,004 for his career. He became the 37th UK player to score 1,000 or more points.
Ole Miss's leading scorer, forward Joe Harvell, led a brief comeback. Harvell scored eight of the Rebels' first 12 points. Back-to-back Harvell baskets cut UK's early lead to 13-12 with 14:02 left. Harvell had only one other basket the rest of the half.
However, the Rebels did not score another basket for almost eight minutes. Center Patrick Eddie posted up over Feldhaus for a basket at the 6:19 mark.
Feldhaus got his revenge, hitting a three-pointer as a trailer on the ensuing UK fastbreak.
Feldhaus' trey was one of five for the Cats during the 30-10 breakout. From 13-12, UK established a 43-22 lead.
Kentucky built the lead to as much as 21 points and the halftime score was 49-35.
"Give Mississippi credit," Pitino said. "Most teams would have quit in that situation."
What looked like a laugher in the making turned serious late in the second half. Ole Miss chipped away at the lead, reducing the margin to single-digits with almost nine minutes left.
"We had the game under control," Pelphrey said. "We got lackadaisical. We made it tight."
As in Saturday's clutch victory at Tennessee, UK responded with big plays.
Usually, it was Pelphrey.
When Ole Miss closed to within 65-56 with 8:46 left, Pelphrey hit a three- pointer from the top of the key.
"I just wanted to hit a shot," Pelphrey said. "It seemed we were getting stagnant."
When Ole Miss closed to within 72-62, Pelphrey hit another three-pointer, his sixth of the game.
When Kentucky's lead shrunk to 79-71, the closest the Rebels got, the Cats missed two shots. But Jamal Mashburn rebounded the second miss for a put-back basket.
Mashburn's basket began a 6-0 run that sealed the victory.
"If this team focuses on one thing -- working hard -- good things will happen," Pitino said. "The second half was a valuable lesson. Our common denominator has to be hard work, because we don't jump well and we're not that quick laterally."