UK Men's Basketball

‘Desperate modes.’ Both Kentucky, Ole Miss must climb psychological hills.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson: ‘We need each other’

Kentucky basketball freshman Keldon Johnson talks to the media about the Wildcats’ 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. UK dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the current AP Top 25. The Cats are at Ole Miss on Tuesday.
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Kentucky basketball freshman Keldon Johnson talks to the media about the Wildcats’ 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. UK dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the current AP Top 25. The Cats are at Ole Miss on Tuesday.

Kentucky’s game at Ole Miss on Tuesday night begs a question. In terms of bouncing back from defeat, what’s a steeper hill to climb: UK’s 19-point beat-down at Tennessee on Saturday? Or Ole Miss losing its last two games in the final seconds against Tennessee (73-71 on a Grant Williams shot) and Arkansas (74-73 on a Jalen Harris floater)?

“I wouldn’t want to lose either way,” UK freshman Immanuel Quickley said Monday. “But if I had to pick one, I definitely wouldn’t want to lose at the buzzer. Because I know what that feels like.”

How does it feel?

“It’s crushing, just knowing you had a chance to win,” he said, “and someone takes it from you in one split second.”

Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis Jr., suggested he changed his team’s routine Sunday in light of getting crushed in back-to-back games.

“Our team has been a very good practice team,” he said on the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference Monday. “Yesterday, all we did was we just watched tape of (the defeat to) Arkansas. And we didn’t practice.

“I thought maybe mentally an extra day (off) might be good for our team.”

If in Ole Miss’s situation, UK Coach John Calipari said he might try power of suggestion.

Kentucky basketball freshman guard Immanuel Quickley talks about the Wildcats' 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Now 13-3 in SEC play, UK travels to Oxford to face Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

“How would you feel if we won both?” he said he’d ask his players.

Calipari reminded listeners that he tried that tactic after Kentucky lost to Seton Hall in early December on a jump shot in the final seconds.

“Then people around here went crazy,” Calipari said. “‘Cal doesn’t care about winning anymore. He’s only about moral victories. . . . ‘

“But I was worried about my team and their mentality. I imagine Kermit is doing the same.”

Davis all but predicted that Kentucky will bounce back with a strong performance. After four losses earlier this season, UK won the next four games by an average margin of 16.8 points.

“We all know how good they’ve been after losses,” the Ole Miss coach said. “So I think both teams will kind of be in desperate modes.”

Travis return?

After UK lost at Tennessee on Saturday, Calipari said Reid Travis would return to some on-court activity on Monday. A decision about playing Tuesday would follow, Calipari added.

When asked what the coaches would be looking for to determine when Travis can play again, assistant coach Tony Barbee said, “That’s a tough question for me. It’s all about the medical staff, and their determination with Reid.”

Not ‘too, too bad’

Travis has been sidelined with a sprained right knee since Keldon Johnson accidentally fell into his leg at Missouri two weeks ago.

“I didn’t know I fell into him until after the game, and they told me,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad he’s all right. And he’ll be able to come back. That it wasn’t anything too, too bad. I’m happy for that.”

Kentucky assistant basketball coach Tony Barbee says UK needs to get back to being disruptive on defense. The Wildcats lost 71-52 at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. They travel to Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

Eye-opening

After the loss at Tennessee, Calipari said the UK team splintered in the face of adversity. “It was kind of like every man for himself,” he said.

Johnson said the video review of the game supported Calipari’s contention.

“You could just see it throughout the game,” he said. “We weren’t really making the extra pass. You could tell we really need each other out there for us to be successful. It really opened up a lot of eyes.”

‘Big game’

Davis called the UK-Ole Miss competition “just a big game for both teams.”

Being one game behind co-leaders Tennessee and LSU with two to play, Kentucky is playing for the SEC championship, the Ole Miss coach said. His Rebels want one of the double-byes in next week’s SEC Tournament that go to the teams that finish first through fourth. The Rebels are one of five teams with the fourth-best league record of 9-7. The others are South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida.

“And everybody’s fighting like heck for (NCAA Tournament) seeding all over the place,” Davis said. “I’m sure our team will be ready.”

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Anthem

As the national anthem was played before a game against visiting Georgia last weekend, eight Ole Miss players knelt as a protest against a pro-Confederacy gathering elsewhere on campus. The players said it was a one-time only demonstration.

When asked about the demonstration, Barbee said, “We did not talk to the team about it.”

Etc.

Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge will call the game for ESPN.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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