By Penny Deatrick
Good teams find a way to win.
A good Kentucky team found a way to stop a determined Ole Miss squad with an exciting 67-62 victory Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena, improving its record to 20-5. Kentucky’s will to win was severely tested by the Rebels who were ready to battle. Riding a three-game winning streak, Ole Miss had outscored its opponents by an average of 18.7 points during the streak. UK also had a three-game winning streak of its own entering Saturday's game.
In front of 20,147 fans, the second highest of the season at home, the Wildcats overcame the Rebels as guard Immanuel Quickley led UK with 17 points, his 14th consecutive game in double figures. Quickley, who was 1 for 9 at halftime, scored 14 points in the second half. The Wildcat sophomore made 8 of 10 free throws, the first game this season he has missed more than one free throw in a game.
UK junior Nick Richards continued to be solid with 16 points and seven rebounds. The Wildcats are 19-1 when he scores in double figures.
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said, “It was a great college game. Proud of our guys. Zero, zero, zero morale victories for Ole Miss here. We talked about being the toughest team in the gym today, that was two really tough teams playing at the end.”
Davis added that, due to Richards and his remarkable development, the Rebels tried a zone defense in an effort to double him and UK shot an abysmal 2 for 22 (nine percent) from behind the three-point arc. “They shoot the least three’s in our league, but they have the highest percentage, so they shoot good three’s. That’s why we went zone,” explained Davis.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was quick to praise the Ole Miss team and coaching staff. Said Calipari, “I’ve watched the tape of Ole Miss, and I’m telling you that the job they have done -- what they did to us and every team, I told Kermit after the game, he was Coach of the Year last year, he may be Coach of the Year again this year in our league.”
After winning a close game which saw 14 lead changes and 9 ties, UK freshman Tyrese Maxey commented, “Coach Kenny Payne always says fight, do whatever it takes to win. I feel like this team did that today. I mean we had to get a couple crucial stops in a row, and that’s what we ended up doing.”
Maxey finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
The Wildcats entered Saturday's game as the fifth-best free throw shooting team in the nation, hitting 78.9 percent at the line. Today’s percentage was 79.2 percent. And it was pressure free throw shooting by Quickley, Richards, and Keion Brooks Jr. that sealed the victory with under a minute to go.
UK, which improved to 10-2 in SEC, now sits alone atop the conference as both frontrunners LSU and Auburn lost Saturday. Next up for UK is LSU in Baton Rouge on ESPN at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday night.