LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted two things from his basketball team in Thursday night's game at Ole Miss. First, he wanted his team to handle the environment, to match the emotion of a team playing for its NCAA Tournament life.
Second, he wanted his defense to get its backbone back. He wanted the Kentucky defense to dictate to Ole Miss what it would do offensively, not the other way around.
Calipari got both of those things Tuesday night in Oxford, Miss., though perhaps not in the amount he'd have preferred. Despite falling behind early, Kentucky wasn't bothered by the environment, or by Ole Miss, a 19-11 team that had plenty of offensive talent but not enough defensive discipline to handle a team like the Wildcats when they're on.
UK got splendid offensive performances from Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro in the first half and P.J. Washington in the second to bounce back from its blowout loss at Tennessee on Saturday.
My first impressions:
1). DEFENSE WAS IMPROVED. Calipari didn't like his team's defensive performance, but I thought, in the final 10 minutes, he started to get the kind of defense he wanted.
I know Ole Miss made a bunch of threes and had some success when it drove the ball, but as the game wore on, the Rebels lost their appetite for venturing into the lane. Part of that was E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards patrolling the pant (seven blocked shots), but part of it was weariness of dealing with Kentucky's pressure.
As Ole Miss started to settle for more threes, the stops started to mount for Kentucky, and it took control late, though it never really got much separation from Ole Miss, and indeed saw the score much closer than it needed to be in the late going.
Ole Miss wound up 8-25 from three-point range (32 percent), and as it grew less efficient on offense, Kentucky got more efficient.
2). KELDON JOHNSON, TYPE-A GAME. Johnson likes to talk on the court. On Tuesday night, he backed it up. He played tough-guy basketball in the first half, driving to contact, going around, over, and through the defense for 14 first-half points.
Ole Miss couldn't contain him. He not only finished with 22 points but also had three assists and a pair of offensive rebounds.
3). SEED SIFTING. Is Kentucky a No. 1? It's going to come down to the SEC Tournament and whether the Wildcats get and beat Tennessee in Nashville.
The important thing is that they not drop a game until that happened. So from the standpoint of staying in the running for a No. 1 seed, Kentucky certainly did that in Oxford.
Is Ole Miss a tournament team? Yes, but the projections that show them as a No. 10 seed are probably pretty close to accurate. The Rebels would do well to get a little more work done down the stretch.
4). SMALL LINEUP PRODUCTIVE. When P.J. Washington got into foul trouble, Calipari put a smaller lineup on the court, going with Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Johnson, Herro and Nick Richards. The group got some things done, and Calipari said after the game that he might go with it more if he's forced to play without Reid Travis much longer.
5). P.J. WASHINGTON DOMINANT IN THE SECOND HALF. When he's on, look out. Ole Miss couldn't handle him in the second half, and it was a demoralizing experience for the Rebels.
Washington got the ball deep, converted, and finished with 13 points.
"That's who you should be every game we play," Calipari told him after the game. "There's no reason you shouldn't be."
Still, Washington wound up with only one rebound, and the Wildcats were outrebounded as a team 37-29.
In addition to scoring from Johnson and Washington, UK got 20 points from Herro and 10 from Hagans. The Wildcats shot 55.6 percent from the field.
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