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Cats Have to Hold on for 10th Conference Win

Date story published: Thursday, February 28, 2008

Perhaps inspired by the Academy Awards show last weekend, Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie turned thespian Wednesday night. UK's 58-54 victory over Mississippi served as his muse.

"I'm really happy," UK basketball's leading man intoned. "I'm really excited."

Later in his post-game performance, Gillispie reminded the skeptical audience, "Guys, we won. ... We'll take them any way we can get them. ... I'd have taken a four-point win before the game. I'm glad to have it now."

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Off stage, Gillispie showed he could play multiple roles. Before press conference Pleasantville came Inherit the Whirlwind.

"He ripped on us," freshman big man Patrick Patterson said. "He wasn't happy at all. Furious. Enraged. Mad."

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune nearly dealt Kentucky a mortal blow. After roaring to a 31-8 first-half lead, the Comeback Cats turned into the come unglued Cats.

Ole Miss rallied twice. After closing within 33-29 early in the second half, the Rebels fell behind by 15 before charging toward a drama-filled finish. Who says there are no second acts in America?

Ramel Bradley, Mr. Sureshot himself, set the stage by missing two free throws with 21.6 seconds left. He had made 61 of 67 free throws in the final five minutes or overtime coming into the game.

Ole Miss got two chances. Freshman guard Chris Warren, who had a game-high 25 points (one shy of a career high), had his driving shot blocked. But the Rebels' Dwayne Curtis secured the loose ball, part of his 15-rebound night that fueled a 42-26 domination of the boards. He passed to a wide-open Trevor Gaskins.

"We could have saved a trip and let him take that for the game," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said of Gaskins, a 42.6-percent three-point shooter this season.

The shot inside the final three seconds looked good to Patterson, who rushed out to Gaskins and then turned to watch UK's fate. "Perry (Stevenson) was saying our luck's going to run out," Patterson said of Kentucky's knack for slipping the noose. "We thought our luck was going to run out."

Gaskins missed. "Par for the course," said Kennedy, whose team followed a 26.8-percent shooting night at LSU last weekend by shooting 31.3 percent against UK.

UK (16-10, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) was led by the big three: Joe Crawford, Bradley and Patterson. The trio scored all but two of UK's second-half points. Crawford and Patterson led UK with 15 points each. Bradley, who made two clinching free throws with 7.2 seconds left, added 14.

Ole Miss fell to 18-9 overall and 4-9 in the league.

Kentucky scored the game's first eight points and steadily pulled away to a 31-14 halftime lead.

Stingy defense discombobulated Ole Miss from tipoff to halftime. The Cats led by as much as 31-8. "Fantastic," Gillispie said of the opening 20 minutes. "As good as we can play for a long period."

Ole Miss had only four points until Warren hit a pull-up in the lane with 5:43 left. That marked the Rebels' first points in exactly seven minutes.

Kentucky did not begin the second half nearly as well. The Cats had only two Bradley free throws to show for the first four minutes of play.

The Cats slipped into "comfort mode," Patterson said.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss closed within 33-24 on a precise inbounds play. Warren inbounded to Eniel Polynice, who took a dribble before returning the pass to Warren in the right corner. His three-pointer brought the Rebels inside 10 points of UK for the first time since 11-2.

After needing more than 16 minutes to score seven points in the first half, Ole Miss hit that mark barely three minutes into the second.

Warren completed a 15-2 Ole Miss run to open the second half with a fast-break layup while being fouled. The three-point play reduced UK's lead to 33-29, the narrowest margin since Patterson opened the game with a post-up basket.

UK made only 26.3 percent of its second-half shots after burning the nets in the first half (54.5 percent).

Gillispie noted how the Cats did not pass the ball well enough or get it inside to Patterson when the freshman big man was open. These were familiar laments.

Ole Miss did what it likes to do. The Rebels put up shots and went after the rebounds.

"They offensive rebounded us to death," Gillispie said of the 20-2 margin.

Stevenson called for stand-ins to help in rehearsals before another wide-body opponent like Ole Miss.

"We'll have to get the football team in our practices," he said. "That will help."