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February 17, 2014

Despite loss, UK heads to Ole Miss in good spirits

Following another missed opportunity, another loss in a season that wasn't supposed to see many of them, coach John Calipari's mood was evident.

"Really positive," assistant coach John Robic said. "The most positive I've seen Cal and our staff after a defeat in a long time."

That's because, for all the failed execution down the stretch in Saturday's 69-59 loss to Florida, the first 30 minutes held the promise of something bigger.

"That's as good as we've played all year," Calipari said. "It showed me that we can beat anybody in the country."

The Cats haven't quite proven that yet. Ranked No. 18 in the new Associated Press poll, they're 2-4 against teams in the top 50 of the official RPI rankings.

"We feel like we are one of the best teams in the country," senior guard Jarrod Polson said. "Maybe we haven't had a good record against ranked teams, but at the end of the day, we've been in those games and been close with them. We continue to get better and we feel our ceiling might be higher than those teams."

Calipari thinks the Cats can reach that lofty potential. He said UK has "to shore up how we finish games." It has to improve its shot selection down the stretch and maintain mental discipline on defense.

He showed his players the last 11 minutes and 12 seconds of Saturday's loss, when the Gators -- facing a seven-point deficit -- scored on every possession the rest of the way.

"We saw what we did, and we now know the adjustments that we have to make," Robic said. "And the players really, really understand that now."

"We were playing well for the most part," freshman guard Aaron Harrison said. "It's just (mistakes) down the stretch, when it's really most important. Nothing else really matters. Just down the stretch, when it's winning time."

They have the opportunity to show the lessons truly sank in on Tuesday at Ole Miss.

The Wildcats beat the Rebels 80-64 at home on Feb. 2. It was a comfortable win, and although Calipari noted UK was up only one at halftime, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he was being "diplomatic" with that answer.

Still, another conference road game gives Kentucky the chance to show it's improving.

"We talked about it yesterday," Harrison said. "If we had won that game (against Florida), we probably wouldn't have learned as much as we should have from that game."

The learning must happen quickly.

Time is running out, with less than a month before Selection Sunday.

"(The window) can't be too small," Polson said. "That's what we're working with. We can play with anybody. Keep continuing to grow, and hopefully by the end of the year we'll be right where we need to be."

Kentucky players know where that is.

"These guys understand that we only have six regular-season games left," Robic said. "Our goals are the same, regardless of Saturday's outcome."

Even with another loss that struck a blow to Kentucky's resume, coaches and players emerged from Saturday's disappointment confident a title run is within reach.

"At this point and time of the year, you have to remain upbeat," Robic said. "If you don't, then we shouldn't be doing this and those kids shouldn't be playing this game."

KENTUCKY AT OLE MISS| TUESDAY| 7 P.M. | ESPN
No. 14 KENTUCKY (19-6, 9-3 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (142-32 in fifth season at Kentucky; 545-170 in 22nd season overall)
Last game: Lost to Florida 69-59
Roster | Stats
OLE MISS (16-9, 7-5 SEC)
Coach: Andy Kennedy (168-96 in eighth season at Ole Miss; 189-109 in ninth season overall)
Last game: Lost to Georgia 61-60
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Andrew Harrison Fr. 6-6/215 11.3 3.0
G Aaron Harrison Fr. 6-6/218 13.4 3.1
C Dakari Johnson Fr. 7-0/265 4.7 3.5
F James Young Fr. 6-6/215 14.3 4.3
F Julius Randle Fr. 6-9/250 15.7 10.0
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Jarvis Summers Jr. 6-3/186 16.8 2.4
G Marshall Henderson Sr. 6-2/177 19.5 1.8
G LaDarius White Jr. 6-6/211 8.2 3.5
F Aaron Jones Jr. 6-9/220 6.4 6.9
F Sebastian Saiz Fr. 6-9/233 5.0 6.0
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum (9,061), Oxford, Miss.
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by-play, Jimmy Dykes analyst; Shannon Spake sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst, Matt Jones sideline); Sirius 85/XM 85
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: TBA

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 101-13
At Oxford: Kentucky leads 26-10
Coaches' records: Calipari 9-4 vs. Ole Miss; Kennedy 2-8 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 80, Ole Miss 64 (Feb. 4, Lexington, Ky.)
Leading by a point at halftime, the Wildcats outscored the Rebels 45-30 in the second half behind a dominant performance from Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots, and Aaron Harrison added 16 points as Kentucky controlled the second half. Marshall Henderson scored 16 points for Ole Miss, but shot 6 for 18 from the floor and 4 for 12 from three-point range. Ladarius White and Jarvis Summers scored 11 each.

Game Storylines
1. Home Cookin': Ole Miss is 6-6 in road games and at neutral sites this season, but is 10-3 on its home floor, where it boasts wins against LSU and Missouri. The Rebels shoot better from the floor and the three-point line at home and rebound better at the "Tad Pad," where they're even in rebounding margin. Ole Miss is -6 rebounds per game on the road. In conference home games, forwards Aaron Jones and Sebastian Saiz averaged a combined 17.8 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. On the road in SEC play, they're combining for 7.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

2. Turnover Tales: The Rebels are 14-7 this season when they commit 15 or fewer turnovers and 2-2 when they turn the ball over more than 15 times. The Rebels rank second in the SEC in turnover margin at +3.1, and they average just 11.2 turnovers per game. But limiting turnovers isn't always the difference in game. Last Saturday, Ole Miss committed just three of them and forced 12 at Georgia, but lost the game 61-60.

3. Marshall Law: Kentucky ran a host of long defenders at Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson in the teams' first meeting this season with some success. Though Henderson scored 16 points, he needed 18 shots to get there, and he missed eight of his 12 three-point attempts. But the senior guard always is a threat and "at any time can make five straight shots," UK coach John Calipari said. Henderson has made a three-pointer in all 58 games he's played at Ole Miss, the third-longest consecutive games streak in SEC history.



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