UK Men's Basketball

Quickness Mississippi's blueprint, but will it help others hang with Kentucky?

Mississippi guard Stefan Moody scored 25 points Tuesday, the most points scored against Kentucky this season.
Mississippi guard Stefan Moody scored 25 points Tuesday, the most points scored against Kentucky this season. Herald-Leader

Amid the clichés about wake-up calls, lessons learned and Kentucky opponents playing with Super Bowl intensity, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy made an arresting comment after Tuesday night's game. He knew — knew — that Stefan Moody would create scoring opportunities against a UK defense heretofore all but impenetrable.

"His quickness," Kennedy said. "I knew he was going to be able to manufacture shots because he's so quick."

Kennedy, whose Rebels lost 89-86 in overtime, was not the first opposing coach to suggest quickness might be a way to mitigate the advantage Kentucky gains with imposing height and a top-rated defense. Maybe the only way. Because few, if any, opponents are equipped to try to overpower Kentucky with size and strength.

"You can't really go in the paint on us, consistently," Aaron Harrison said.

Ole Miss became the latest opponent to spread the floor and try to beat Kentucky off the dribble.

Moody, whose 25 points were the most scored against Kentucky this season (eclipsing the 24 scored by Boston's Cedric Hankerson), was well suited to such a strategy. He went around defenders on scoring drives. He also made five three-pointers (more than eight previous opponents made in games against UK). He hit pull-ups and floaters in the lane.

"We couldn't do anything with him," UK Coach John Calipari said. "We tried some different stuff."

Calipari acknowledged that quickness can be an ongoing problem for Kentucky. But Moody added an important complement to pure speed and quickness.

"He made every shot, like every shot," the UK coach said in only slightly exaggerating Moody's 8-for-13 shooting (5-for-7 from three-point range).

Kennedy credited Moody with changing the tenor of the game. After Kentucky scored the first 12 points en route to a 15-2 lead less than three minutes into the game, he hit a pair of three-pointers.

"I think that settled us down a little bit," Kennedy said.

Moody also eased the effects of Kentucky's pressure. "He got into the open floor and was able to get some things at the basket," Kennedy said.

Midway through the half, Moody made a haven't-seen-much-of-that play by bursting through UK's pressure and getting to the rim before a shot-blocker could react.

Usually, freshman Tyler Ulis distracts such opponents to the point they are concerned with keeping control of the ball. Any possible quickness advantage goes unused.

But Moody, who has inspired talk of a 45-inch vertical leap, got into the lane and rose above Ulis for baskets.

"Jumps really high on his jumpers," Harrison said of Moody.

Calipari paid Moody the ultimate compliment by ordering a special defense to combat a special threat.

"We played him a little bit in the second half like Marshall Henderson," he said in a reference to Ole Miss's gunner extraordinaire the last two seasons. "How we used to play him."

Moody's path to Ole Miss mirrors Henderson's. He began his college career at a Division I school. He transferred to a junior college. Then he transferred to Ole Miss.

Moody originally signed with Florida Atlantic, becoming the school's first Parade All-American. "He is a highlight film," then-Florida Atlantic Coach Mike Jarvis said of Moody.

A native of Kissimmee, Fla., Moody averaged 15.7 points and was named the Sun Belt Conference's Freshman of the Year for 2012-13.

A coaching change at Florida Atlantic led Moody to transfer to Kilgore (Texas) Junior College.

Kennedy, who needed a replacement for Henderson this season, added Moody. The Ole Miss coach has said Moody's height is "probably generously listed" as 5-foot-10. But the production made possible by a combination of 190 pounds of muscle and 4 percent body fat cannot be denied. Moody came into Rupp Arena as the Rebels' leading scorer (13.9 ppg).

Fortune smiled on Kentucky when Moody sat out the final 4:09 of overtime because of cramping. When asked how Moody's absence affected Ole Miss, Kennedy said, "Wow. Everything."

Whether Moody's quickness was a one-time aberration or symptomatic of a problem Kentucky must address remains to be seen. It can be a factor in rebounding, especially in chasing down misses from the perimeter that bounce far off the rim.

When asked about Ole Miss holding its own on the boards at Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein had a direct answer. "Long rebounds," he said. "They shot all jumpers. At that point, it's kind of 50/50. All our guys are under the basket and they're shooting jumpers."

Calipari again called for UK guards to grab more rebounds.

It seems wildly off base to suggest Moody exposed Kentucky. The Cats still lead the nation in scoring defense (50.6 ppg) and field-goal defense (31.1 percent).

"I think we're just as quick" as opponents, Cauley-Stein said. "Everybody on the team has got to have the will to do an extra effort. ... The little stuff all the time."

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