The scare might be over, but Kentucky may feel a lot better by
avenging last month’s stunning defeat to upstart Mississippi. Doing
it in the SEC tournament could make it even more rewarding.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats begin defending their tournament crown
when they face the Rebels in the quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome
Kentucky (22-8) concluded the regular season by winning a
season-high three in a row during SEC play to finish as the second
seed in the East Division. That run includes impressive victories
against then-No. 13 Florida and then-No. 21 Vanderbilt before
winning 64-58 at Tennessee on Sunday.
It also followed a 3-4 stretch that nearly saw the Wildcats fall
out of the poll after ranking as high as eighth earlier this
season. That poor run started with a 71-69 loss at Mississippi
(20-12) on Feb. 1, as Chris Warren hit a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds
left to seal the upset.
Kentucky’s losses in that span all came on the road by an
average of 2.3 points, and coach John Calipari felt it was just a
matter of time before his squad turned things around.
“I didn’t give up on this team, I believed in this team,”
The win over the Volunteers was spurred by a dominating second
half that included a 42-29 scoring advantage while grabbing the
last 11 rebounds.
“A lot of guys have been walking around different, holding their
head higher and not sulking like if we had lost or something,”
senior center Josh Harrellson said. “We’ve come out with victories
and some of our guys are totally different people.”
Kentucky will look to carry that momentum into the tournament
after winning it last season. However, Calipari might be more
concerned with improving the Wildcats’ seeding for the NCAA
“I just want my team playing well,” he said. “If we’re playing
aggressive, if we are coming out and having a ball then we’re
executing. We’d like to win it but it’s for seed more than anything
else and this tournament is to prepare us to play well that
Kentucky will be leaning on freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence
Jones. Knight leads the Wildcats with 17.7 points per game, while
Jones is second at 17.1 while averaging a team-high 9.2
Jones, named the SEC Freshman of the Year by the league’s
coaches Tuesday, had 22 points and 12 boards in the last meeting
A win for the Rebels could improve their chances of reaching the
NCAAs and would put them in the semifinals of this tournament for
the first time since 2007.
Mississippi, which beat South Carolina 66-55 on Thursday, exited
in the quarterfinals last season and hasn’t won consecutive SEC
tournament games since 2001.
Coach Andy Kennedy is welcoming another meeting with the
“It really is the sadistic nature of coaches. I’m really looking
forward to it. It’s going to be a great experience,” he said. “At
the end of the day, it’s about creating an experience for these
Warren scored 20 points Thursday, and the senior guard is second
in the SEC with 18.9 per game. He scored 22 while shooting 9 of 15
– 4 of 7 from 3-point range – against Kentucky last month.
The winner will face Alabama or Georgia in the semifinals