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CATS NEVER LOOK BACK IN ROUT OF REBS

Date story published: Sunday, January 7, 1996

Ten seconds. The time allowed to get the ball past half-court. That's how much time it took Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino to shift last night's post-game news conference toward a more challenging opponent, i.e. No. 17 Mississippi State Tuesday night in Starkville.

If that didn't speak volumes about UK's predictably easy 90-60 victory over Mississippi, Pitino then put it in words a minute or two later.

"I'm not even interested in looking at this game and evaluating," he said. "I'm concentrating on Mississippi State."

Yes, predictability existed inside Rupp Arena as well as outside last night. As the steadily falling snow was sure to pile up this Kentucky night, UK dominated Ole Miss.

A crowd estimated at 21,275 -- the second-smallest in Rupp Arena for a UK game in the Pitino era -- braved predictions of about a foot of snow and expectations of uncompetitive basketball. Though small by UK standards, the crowd would have ranked as the largest at any Southeastern Conference school this season. Arkansas' largest crowd so far: the 20,270 that saw the Hogs lose to Cincinnati on Dec. 9.

If nothing else, the victory proved Kentucky could take care of business despite ideal conditions for a letdown. For instance:

The distraction of the weather, which led to backup guard Jeff Sheppard missing the game because he sprained an ankle attempting to sled Thursday night.

A lackluster opponent (Ole Miss fell to 5-6 overall and 0-2 in the SEC).

A what-goes-up-must-come-down effect after Wednesday's smashing victory at South Carolina.

"We played very hard," Pitino said. "There might have been a tendency to let down. This team did not."

The UK coach saluted his team's defense, in particular. "Real good defense in the first half," he said. "Then we maintained the lead in the second half."

UK (11-1, 2-0) held Ole Miss without an assist in the first half. "Which I haven't seen in a long, long time," Pitino said.

Tony Delk, the SEC Player of the Week for Dec. 18-31, proved he was human. After making his first four shots, the senior guard did not score again. He finished 4-for-10 from the field. His team-high 14 points moved him past Cliff Hagan (1,475) and into 13th place on UK's all-time scoring list. He increased his career total to 1,483.

Freshman Ron Mercer continued to be more assertive. He matched his career high of 11 points with 4:52 left in the first half. Mercer reached a career high when he threw down a slashing dunk off an Allen Edwards lob pass with 2:58 left. He finished with 13.

Mississippi's leading scorer, freshman Keith Carter, struggled for a second game against SEC competition. He made only three of 11 shots, bringing his two-game league total to 4-for-21.

The Cats never trailed and steadily built a first-half lead that reached its zenith when freshman Oliver Simmons banked in a free throw with 40.8 seconds left. That oddity gave the Cats a 52-26 lead.

As expected, Ole Miss struggled to achieve respectability.

At Georgia Wednesday, Ole Miss committed turnovers on 12 of its first 18 possessions. The Rebels scored only six baskets in a dreadful 15-point half and trailed 40-15.

By that standard, Ole Miss had a successful first half against Kentucky. But only by that standard.

The Rebels turned the ball over on their first three possessions, four of the first five and five of the first seven. That helped UK establish a double- digit lead inside the first four minutes.

Ole Miss made 22.2 percent of its first-half shots (six of 27). That included six shots that did not hit the rim. Registering highest on the embarrassment meter was a flip in the lane by John Johnson that went over the glass and got stuck in the bracing holding up the backboard.

UK contributed to Mississippi's continuing shooting woes by blocking nine first-half shots. The Rebels made only 26.6 percent of their shots, and had a dreadful assist-to-turnover ratio of 5-to-24.

"I'm proud of the effort my players gave," Ole Miss Coach Rob Evans said. "They didn't execute well, but the effort was there. And that's what we were looking for."

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