No. 8 Wildcats not taking Ole Miss lightly (Dec 29, 2016)
Eighth-ranked Kentucky (10-2) opens Southeastern Conference play on Thursday when the Wildcats travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss (9-3).
The Wildcats will be starting the quest for their 48th SEC regular season title and its third in a row. Ole Miss has never won the league title. In fact, Kentucky's 47 titles swamp the next closest school, LSU, with 11.
"The thing that jumps off the page when you see Kentucky is their team speed," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "This is my 11th year so I've seen a lot of great Kentucky teams and a lot of great Kentucky players, but I don't know if I've ever seen one as fast as this team. And if you're fast on tape that means you're going to be doubly fast in person."
Kentucky will be looking to rebound from a 74-71 loss at Louisville on Dec. 23.
"We're playing on the road at Mississippi. Hard game," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "Where are we on the 29th of December on the road within our league? We'll find out. Not only find out, then it's where do we have to go? Where do we have to take this?
"I think it was more discipline," Calipari said. "I've been a little bit tougher in practice as far as holding them accountable. Making it clearer what we're looking for and then holding them accountable."
In Ole Miss, Kentucky will face a team that leads the SEC with a plus-6.6 rebounding margin, ranking second best in the league at 42 rebounds per game. The Rebels have out rebounded 11 of 12 opponents this year. They also rank ninth nationally at 6.5 blocked shots per game. For its part, Kentucky has a plus-5.6 rebounding edge.
"For us to have a chance, we've got to control the things that we can," Kennedy said. "The battle of the boards is going to be huge."
The Rebels are led by senior forward Sebastian Saiz, the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double at 15.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. His rebounding number is fourth best in the nation.
The top scorer for Ole Miss is junior guard Deandre Burnett at 19.2 points per game, third best in the league. Sophomore guard Terence Davis checks in at 12.8, junior guard Cullen Neal at 12.3 as the Rebels average 81.1 points per game.
Kentucky leads the SEC and ranks No. 4 nationally at 93.1 points per game. The Wildcats are led by freshman guard Malik Monk at 21.4 points per game. Next comes freshman guard De'Aaron Fox at 16.3, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe at 15.1 and freshman forward Bam Adebayo at 12.5 to go with a team best 8.0 rebounds.
"I forgot how hard some of the stuff is with what we're doing, playing all these young guys, knowing they need to be more disciplined, knowing shot selection, where to put the ball, what they're thinking about," Calipari said.
One stat where the two teams are vastly different -- turnovers. Kentucky leads the SEC with a plus-5.8 turnover margin, good for eighth best in the nation. Ole Miss, by contrast, is at minus-1.7, ranking 268th in America.
"I know that our guys came back excited because Kentucky brings that," Kennedy said. "SEC opener, national TV against one of the best teams in the country. They are the program by which you judge all others. They're the gold standard. It's an exciting way to open, but obviously very, very difficult because they're so good, again."