With the “Tad Pad” rockin’, the ‘Cats come into Oxford looking for their first signature win of the season. A victory against the SEC co-leader, the SEC’s leading scorer’ and the #16 team in the nation will qualify. The Rebels came into the contest with a perfect conference record and only 2 losses on the year. Oh yeah, and it was a “white-out”. Another special event when Kentucky comes to town.
Both teams started off 2 of 8 from the field, and the score was 7-6 Ole Miss. Between the referee’s constantly blowing their whistle, and the poor shooting from both sides, this game looked like it was going to end at midnight. Kentucky had 4 ‘Cats (3 starters) with at least 2 fouls midway through the 1st half. Jarrod Polson had to replace Ryan Harrow at the point, and he picked up 2 fouls. Kyle Wiltjer kept the ‘Cats in the game early by finding his shooting stroke and driving to the basket. Nerlens Noel was busy on the defensive end of the floor, shutting down the Rebels to a tune of 17% shooting.
The ‘Cats were not the only ones picking up fouls, slowly but surely the Rebels started catching up. While the fouls were getting worse, the ‘Cats were getting closer on the scoreboard as Ole Miss had no answer for Kyle Wiltjer. An isolation play for Wiltjer was easy points for the ‘Cats, early and often. Ole Miss’ bulk down low with Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway both were saddled with 2 and 3 fouls respectively. The ‘Cats were getting where they wanted to go on drives, and setting up Kyle Wiltjer from deep. The fouls just kept on coming, a total of 19 in the first 10 minutes. From an offensive standpoint, the game was really ugly because of all the stoppages in play which kept the crowd from going nuts on every made Rebel basket.
A danger moment for the ‘Cats happened with just under 5 minutes to play. The Rebels went on a 9-2 run before Kyle Wiltjer nailed another 3 to stop the bleeding. A bigger problem for the ‘Cats was free-throw shooting. At one point, the ‘Cats missed 12 straight attempts from the charity stripe and shot below 50% overall. Want another bad stat? The Rebels were feasting on 2nd chance opportunities and cashing in. Want to know the kicker? The ‘Cats only trailed at halftime by 1 point.
Kyle Wiltjer was a Strait-beast from the perimeter (3 of 6 from three), and driving to the basket. Wiltjer lead all Kentucky scorers with 15 at halftime, and was the reason the ‘Cats pulled almost even with Ole Miss after their run to close the half. A total of 26 fouls were called, compared to 25 total made baskets in the half, and the ‘Cats shot 10 of 20 (50% from the free-throw line.
For the first time in recent memory, the ‘Cats came out of the locker-room with fire and intensity. The flat, out of focus group we are accustomed to seeing was nowhere to be found. After trailing at half by 1, the ‘Cats jumped all over the Rebels led by Alex Poythress. After being saddled with foul trouble most of the 1st half, Poythress lead the UK charge at the beginning of the 2nd stanza. Ole Miss came roaring back behind Marshall Henderson nailing a three-pointer to keep the game close. Kyle Wiltjer always had the answer for the ‘Cats, as he matched Henderson’s 3-ball with one of his own. With 17:10 left in the 2nd, Kyle Wiltjer had a career-high tying 24 points, and the ‘Cats lead 49-45.
While Wiltjer was the star of the 1st half, Nerlens Noel quickly took over in the 2nd half on the defensive end. Before the 15:00 mark, Noel already had 6 blocks, but picked up his 2nd foul. Noel picks up his 3rd at the 15:26 mark, but the ‘Cats kept scoring. Kentucky scored on 10 of their first 11 possessions, and made 6 straight to open the half. The ‘Cats outscored the Rebels 22-12, leading 59-50 with 14:31 to go. Alex Poythress quickly adds a 3-pointer, an offensive rebound, and a quick bucket. The lead grows to 15, 71-56. The game was starting to feel like the 2nd half at Auburn, but things got way more interesting.
With 9:52 to play, Nerlens Noel picks up his 4th foul and the Ole Miss Rebels have new life. The big enforcer for the ‘Cats was riding the pine, and the lane seemed wide open for easy baskets and 2nd chance opportunities. The Rebels reel off 6 straight points before Kentucky calls a timeout and puts Noel back in the game. 7:32 to go, and the score is 73-62. The ‘Cats miss the front-end of two free-throw trips, and the Rebels reel off 1o straight points. 73-72 ‘Cats with under 5 minutes to play. Ryan Harrow pulls up and nails his 18th 3-pointer of the season to make it 76-72. With 4 fouls, Nerlens Noel smacks a dunk attempt by Murphy Holloway back in his grill, and Kentucky runs down the floor with the ball and Archie Goodwin gets fouled. Goodwin makes both free-throws, and Noel has racked up his 8th and 9th block of the night.
Kentucky answers Ole Miss’ 16-0 run, with a 7-0 run of their own. Marshall Henderson gets Kyle Wiltjer to foul him on a 3-pointer, but he makes 2 of 3. 80-74 ‘Cats. Henderson comes back down the floor and flings a shot from 30 feet, bounces off the side of the backboard, and back to the ‘Cats, the “Tad Pad” starts making their way to the exit rows. Nerlens Noel adds 3 more blocks to give him a Kentucky single-game record with 11 blocks on the night. Kyle Wiltjer poured in a career high 26 points. Kentucky gets their first signature win of the season and knock off the Rebels 87-74. Ballgame.