Mississippi-Kentucky Preview

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

on Friday.

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,”

Calipari said.

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

tournament.

“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

following week.”

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

rebounds.

Jones, named the SEC Freshman of the Year by the league’s

coaches Tuesday, had 22 points and 12 boards in the last meeting

with Mississippi.

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

Wildcats.

“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

kids.”

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

Saturday.