By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
Kentucky remains undefeated in bounce-back games this season.
The Wildcats improved to 5-0 in games coming off a loss with an 80-76 win over Mississippi Tuesday night in Oxford. Coming off a 71-52 setback to Tennessee, No. 6 Kentucky (25-5, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) limited the Rebels to just two field goals in the final two minutes to record its 10th consecutive victory over the Rebels.
“Everybody that comes in here – you either lose or you’re lucky to get out alive,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They played with unbelievable energy to start the game and my hope was, ‘please don’t tell me they can do it for 40 minutes’ because they were cutting, running, flying and they had 20 points in transition. They weren’t breakouts.”
Kentucky, which will play the remainder of its away games at neutral sites, finished the season 8-2 in “true” road games this season.
“To to go on the road in this league and win, to have your best player out in the first half just like last game and to be able to win, believe me, I’m happy,” Calipari said. “(Ole Miss) is an NCAA Tournament team and they could do damage in the (postseason), because they can beat you on the bounce and they can beat you shooting threes and they proved they could throw it inside against us. They’re good.”
Calipari notched his 300th victory as coach of the Wildcats, who made four free throws — two each by Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley — in the final 20 seconds to seal the win. Kentucky closes out the regular-season against Florida Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Keldon Johnson placed four players in double figures with 22 points, followed by Tyler Herro with 20. PJ Washington scored 13 points — all in the second half — and Ashton Hagans chipped in with 10 points for Kentucky.
Johnson and Herro combined for 27 points in the first half. Herro made all six of his field-goal attempts, while Johnson tallied 14 in the absence of Washington, who played just seven minutes in the first half because of foul issues.
“We came out focused,” Johnson said. “We put the last game behind us. We came into this game attacking and expecting to be aggressive. I just played my game. I was aggressive and my teammates expected me to do that.
While Johnson and Herro carried the load for Kentucky in the first half, Washington took over in the final half and was a difference-maker for the Wildcats, who scored 34 points in the paint. Kentucky forced nine turnovers and scored 12 points off those Ole Miss miscues.
“We know he’s one of the best players in the country and so we went to him different ways and started getting it to him on the block,” Herro said.
“PJ came out in the second half and (played well),” Calipari added. “I told him at halftime, we’re throwing it to you every time and you be who you’re supposed to be and he was.”
For the third straight game, the Wildcats were without senior Reid Travis, who is recovering from a sprained knee. No timetable has been given for Travis’ return to the lineup.
Kentucky collected seven blocks, led by EJ Montgomery with four. Washington added two, while Richards added six points and four rebounds off the bench before fouling out late in the second half.
“Our length bothered them a little bit,” Calipari said.
Ole Miss hit six of its last eight shots of the first half and led 39-38 at the break. Terence Davis paced Mississippi with 25 points, followed by Breein Tyree with 21.
Gametracker: Florida at Kentucky, 2 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.