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Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) swats away a layup attempt by Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway (31) in the second half of their NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 in Oxford, Miss.  Kentucky won 87-74. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) swats away a layup attempt by Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway (31) in the second half of their NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 in Oxford, Miss. Kentucky won 87-74. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By LARRY VAUGHT

For weeks John Calipari has been almost begging for his team to do two things: show more fight and have fun doing it.

At Mississippi Tuesday night, Kentucky did both and helped convince those who questioned whether the Cats could make the NCAA Tournament, including me, that this team might have time to regroup and blossom by March.

No, the 87-74 victory over No. 16 Mississippi won’t vault UK into the national rankings or into the Southeastern Conference lead. What it did do, though, was give UK its first win over a top 50 team this year and give the Cats a huge does of confidence.

Kentucky had to overcome huge foul problems — four players had two fouls in the game’s first seven minutes — the first half and stayed in the game with gritty defense and big offensive production from Kyle Wiltjer. The second half UK roared out to a 17-point lead at 73-56 midway of the second half and then nearly collapsed when Nerlens Noel — who now has 93 blocked shots after 20 games just like record-setting Anthony Davis did last year — picked up his fourth foul.

Ole Miss went on a 16-0 run and it was easy to envision UK blowing the big lead like it did when it wasted a 14-point lead and lost last week at Alabama. But apparently the Cats learned their lessons in that game because this time they did not wilt.

First, point guard Ryan Harrow hit a huge 3-pointer to end the 16-0 run. Noel got his eighth block — he had five of his record-setting 12 blocks in the final four minutes — and that led to two free throws by Archie Goodwin. Noel blocked two more shots before Goodwin took a lob pass on a fast break from Julius Mays and scored for an 80-72 lead. That’s the same Goodwin who Calipari defended on his website after he was criticized by fans for being too selfish.

Harrow hit two free throws to make it 82-74, Noel got another block and Goodwin made two free throws at 1:23 for an 84-74 lead. Harrow came back with two more free throws after another Noel block to make it 86-74 and complete a 13-2 run that could have turned Calipari’s young players into men.

Consider that UK won even though Ole Miss took 85 shots — 29 more than UK. Consider that UK won despite going 10-for-20 at the foul line in the first half and missing 14 free throws in the game. Consider that UK won despite giving up 26 offensive rebounds.

Noel was sensational. He took only one shot, and missed. He was 2-for-8 at the foul line in the first half and he got a below normal seven rebounds. But he blocked 12 shots, including five in the last four minutes with four fouls.

However, he was not the star of stars. In this game, UK won because of contributions for everyone.

— Kyle Wiltjer had a career-high 26 points and seven rebounds. He was 10-for-19 from the field and is clearly UK’s go-to guy on offense now. He also had three assists and three steals — and not one turnover in 35 minutes.

— Goodwin took only 11 shots, and had 24 because he made six and went 12-for-14 at the foul line. He also helped play harassing defense on Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson, who missed 14 of 19 shots. He also had four assists, his high in a SEC game.

— Alex Poythress went from a non-factor after getting two fouls in three minutes to the player being projected by some as a potential NBA lottery pick. He finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and gave UK a huge boost to start the second half.

— Harrow had 13 points, two assists and even blocked a shot. He was shaky at times, but down the stretch he was money. He had two turnovers and went 6-for-9 at the foul line to help close out the win.

— Julius Mays grabbed a career-high seven rebounds and had four assists to offset a 2-for-6 shooting game.

— Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood gave UK a needed 23 minutes of relief work and combined for five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. Don’t underestimate their impact in a game where UK was in such deep foul trouble.

Calipari tried to downplay the win after the game. He told ESPN’s Shannon Spake it was a “nice win” but his team had more to do. He’s right about more to do, but this was more than a nice win. It was a potential season-saving win. Now if UK could go to Texas A&M and win Saturday and then come back home to win two games before having to go to Florida and Tennessee, the Cats could get some needed momentum.

However, Kentucky has already shown by what it did after absorbing the 16-0 potential knockout punch from Ole Miss late in the game that it is learning, getting better and does have a chance to position itself back in the NCAA tourney again.

43 Responses to Cats finally show fight Calipari wanted and weather 16-0 run to start building NCAA resume

  • donv says:

    I can’t ever remember a big man that can play the minutes Noel can. He goes full throttle the whole game. He took one shot last night and controled the game. Just amazing.

    • TrueBlueJohn says:

      That was shades of Anthony Davis in the championship game, MVP of the game while only making one basket. When all the experts said before the season that Noel was a better shot blocker than Davis, I thought, “Oh, really?” They may prove to be right.

    • larryvaught says:

      DonV, well said. Few can do what Noel did last night

  • King Ghidora says:

    Wiltjer finally took my advice and became an inside threat on the blocks. That adds so much to his game it’s amazing. It opens up so much more for him because now they can’t play him to shoot 3′s all day. Now they have to worry about him driving around bigger guys and shooting over top of smaller guys. It has made him a matchup nightmare. Unless the other team has a forward that’s 6’10″ and can move his feet and guard against a post up then they are in trouble trying to guard Kyle. Some teams have had that player unfortunately. But they also need someone who can stop him from passing and that’s not easy. Wiltjer is becoming a real threat on offense. Having an inside and an outside game can do that for you. I’ve been saying it for a long time even bringing up stale old stories about my “coaching” days (jr. high assistant coaching days that is ;) ). A guy who can go inside and outside to score is a guy that’s very hard to guard.

  • TrueBlueJohn says:

    That was the best 35 minutes they have played all year. We had a real gut check when Ole Miss pulled within one, and the Cats passed with flying colors. Harrow’s 3 was the key play of the game. That seemed to calm everyone down. And as bad as we were from the ft line, we had some real clutch free throws at the end. Did anyone realize while the game was going on that Goodwin had 24 points. This was the first game all year that he played within himself. Great effort all around.

  • eddie says:

    fisrt i want to say thank you thank you thank you to kyle wiltjer…also to marshall henderson you a JOKE a huge one people thought back in the day chris porter from auburn was going to run all over us ummm no he did not and that was tubby smith team that beat him but what marshall henderson is a sideshow yes he is talneted i will not deny him that but right now he is an after thought. GO CATS!!!!!..BY The way on a side note ahsley judd is single.

  • Jim Boyers says:

    I don’t think I will ever be able to feel confident enough in this team to say it has “turned the corner”, but they definitely seem to have started to swerve a little bit to avoid some potholes.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      We tend to go overboard when the Cats lose a game that we expected them to win and also when they win a game that some of us expected them to lose.

      I expected UK to win this game and I am glad that they did. But I won’t be confident that they can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament until they beat a legitimate top 20 team, and that would be Florida.

      Beat Florida, even in Rupp, and I think that we can really breath easy.

      Even so, Ole Miss, at least for now, was a ranked team. Next week when the rankings come out I would expect to see UK mentioned, not ranked, but mentioned. Which is the first step to being ranked, which is vital to seeding.

  • Rod says:

    Great effort from whole team. I agree on previous comments about noels effort, amazing. Glad to see polson n hood play steady n give the others a little rest. Helped the whole team I think. Kyle had eye of the tiger last night, goooo catttssss

  • Juan4UK says:

    Does anyone else wonder why Marshall Henderson wasn’t ejected for winging a potentially dangerous object at the crowd last night? Call me crazy, but….

    • UKFAN197TONE says:

      You know Juan, because he was highlighted on ESPN, has a lot of “funny” tweets, is GREAT with opposing fans and has a great haircut. Plus, he went and retrieved the ball for the Refs.

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    I wondered that myself, Juan. The only thing I can figure is that it happened during a deadball and the referees were getting a latte or something. :-)

    • Juan4UK says:

      Dykes I think pointed it out, I mean, its a safety/ potential legal issue. I just can’t believe he wasn’t ejected. SMH

    • Gene says:

      Considering the crew that officiated the game last night I would wonder how they found Oxford, Mississippi let alone the university and the gym.
      Just how old is Jim Burr ? (I think that was his name)

      • TrueBlueJohn says:

        I think Jim Burr reffed the first game Adolph Rupp ever coached.

        • Jim Boyers says:

          That is very funny TrueBlue, but not accurate.

          Mr. Burr was actually the person who gave Mr. Naismith the peach basket he used for the first basket. He then helped him officiate over the first few classes at the YMCA. I think he sometimes just reverts back to the original 13 rules of the game and forgets about the recent updates. You know, the ones added over the last 120 or so years.

          SEC refs are the WORST officials in ANY conference of ANY sport, either college or professional.

          • TrueBlueJohn says:

            You undoubtably have seen the picture of the Ole Miss player laying on his back with the ball in one arm and the other arm laying out of bounds, and Jim Burr looking down at the play and nothing called. That was one of the worst non-calls that I have ever seen. At a crucial part of the game.

      • Larry Pup says:

        UK won inspite of these refs. This is the thing I hate most about basketball, the fouls not called and the ones that are. It has gotten so bad in college basketball that they might as well let just let em kill one another. Then they turn around and call the most stupid touch fouls. I don’t know what a foul even is anymore. For example the chicken wing could have been called all night on Ole Miss and UK. I don’t think it was evenly applied to Ole Miss ball handlers.. It is really hard to win a game on the road. That is what made this victory so sweet. UK beat Ole Miss, their fans, and the refs in Oxford all in one nights work.

        • King Ghidora says:

          I got hammered for saying SEC refs don’t give UK a break even in Rupp at times. They took the last game away from UK with bad calls. And they tried it again in the Ole Miss game. I can post videos of repeated elbows to the throat of Noel, Ole Miss grabbing a UK player from behind to stop a layup with no flagrant call, so many flops I thought I was in an IHOP, Holloway taking a 15 feet run and knocking Harrow into the twilight zone (deliberately), and a few hundred more horrid calls. Ole Miss players knew they could do whatever they wanted while UK would be whistled for offensive, foul breath. When a team has 4 players get 2 fouls each in the first 7 minutes while the other team is called under the “no blood, no foul” set of rules then you can bet it isn’t an accident.

          The Cats proved they could overcome the SEC officials and the Ole Miss team last night. It’s nothing new for UK to have to battle for wins against an 8 man team. I suppose the league figures they need to establish some other school as a legit basketball school but none of them have ever been able to sustain it. The league has brought in ringers several times in my life hoping to give UK a repeat threat but they all end up regretting they tried that route. For example Arkansas was a great team before they came to the SEC and got a taste of Big Blue goodness twice a year. You lose often enough and people don’t take you seriously anymore. We get to see UK take their shot at getting even with A&M next game. Here’s hoping the Cats play like they did at times last night.

          • Kokamo Joe says:

            Actually the refs called more fouls on Ole Miss than they did at UK. In the first 6 or 7 minuits I thought that Calipari might have to suit up. We lost no players to fouls, and they did.

            I am not one of those fans who think that the refs have it in for my team. I think that they give us breaks especially in Rupp. If you really look at Calipari’s run at UK I think that you would have to say that the refs have treated him well. Seldom do we ever lose a player because of fouls. A ref who had it in for us could easily foul out Noel.

  • grant says:

    First off , good team effort all the way around . I don’t have enough adjectives to describe Noel and his defensive prowess. I really loved the fact that Ole Miss had some big bodies down low but Noel and Poythress stood up to them and more than held their own. Gotta like the cojones UK showed down the stretch during a big Ole Miss run with a revved up home crowd , but it was one win, I am tempering my exuberance until they can show how to string some wins together, but obviously a step in the right direction.

  • slimflannery says:

    A great game from Nerlens and Wiltjer…Poythress played well in the 2nd half with a couple huge rebounds. Glad to see them weather the storm and finish strong after the coliseum was going nuts. This will be needed in other tough road games (Florida and Tennessee for sure). Great to see them take the punch and then punch back.

  • coldspringmike says:

    Way to go Jon Hood. Two games in a row now he has given us 6-8 minutes of solid ball.

    • larryvaught says:

      Hood accepts role and has filled it well. Hope he continues to get that PT

      • King Ghidora says:

        His effort certainly can’t be questioned. I really expected him to be more of a factor this year. He did well last night. I’m hoping he won himself some of that PT.

    • TrueBlueJohn says:

      For the first time since he has been at UK, Hood looks comfortable on the floor. I hope that he can be a contributor for the rest of the year.

  • donv says:

    I would like to see a little more of Hood. I think he has earned some second half minutes.

  • bryan mceuen says:

    Just need Hood to shoot the ball to the get to feeling of things.

  • LindaS says:

    Show Kyle some love, some really big love!
    Noel was a beast but Kyle was the glue and the heart of that team last night. I think we have another legend in the making like Josh a couple years ago. Cal just needs to push all the right buttons to get these guys to play to their potential, all of the guys, not just a few. Kyle plays with so much confidence now and each game he is getting more sure of himself. It had to be hard playing behind AD last year, how could you compete against that? More hard work in practice, less video making, more time on the court and Kyle is coming into his own. I don’t know what it is about him, but I like him more then anyone on this team this year, even with his slow start.
    And Polson deserves some love too. He might not play much but I love him on the court. Best director on the court I have seen in a long time. He talks, he points, he sets up the plays, he knows where his men are and he runs to the basket when it is his time. He knows when and where to pass. He has confidence. Dang, I’m feeling it again.
    I started to go to bed at halftime, was sorry I didn’t when the lead when down the sewer but glad I stay up knowing I would not get much sleep with the storms last night.
    BTW, I have Cali the dog and now my neighbor has Rupp the pup. We are true blue through and through!
    Livin’ Blue & Lovn’ It!

    • King Ghidora says:

      Noel was sensational. There’s no doubt about that. And Polson more than filled his role last night. He even got 2 rebounds in 8 minutes to go along with an assist and zero turnovers. That’s solid IMO.

    • Larry Pup says:

      Kyle is turning it on, no doubt, but if UK didn’t have Nerlens Noel we would be in deep doo doo. Look at what happened when he went out of the game last night with his 4th foul. Look what happened when he came back in during the closing mins.

      So Linda you are a pup lover are you. My dogs are my joy. Otto. Molly, Lady, Robin, Trudie, Trooper, and Ebby. They are all for the Georgia Bulldogs though. They also hate Cardinals.

      • LindaS says:

        Larry Pup, I have always had dogs until my youngest went to college. I have been dogless for about 15 years. I decided I needed a 4 legged pet instead of a 2 legged one because I don’t have 30 years left to train a 2 legged one. I sometimes wonder what I was thinking when I got her. She was a stray found by someone in the outer city limits. I fell in love with her face. She is a beagle, never had a beagle before and she is one energetic little dog. I’m sure we will settle in together but right now she drives me nuts! LOL Pets are the best, I should have gotten a stuff bird or something….no wait I should have gotten a Wildcat! I would have more then one if I had a bigger yard. She does not get along with my granddogs, that is upsetting.

    • UKFAN197TONE says:

      Kyle was a Boss that game that’s for sure. If he can keep it up, I see big things for UK and him.

  • LindaS says:

    Did anyone pay attention to the number of fouls called last night, over 40. Were the refs getting paid bonus bucks for each foul?

  • Rodney says:

    Lets hope that the game last night is the one that we look back and point to as the game in which this team finally turned the corner and began the long climb toward reaching their “peak” potiential. How could anyone not like what they saw from Wiltjer?? That was the most agressive I’ve ever seen him. That screen and roll for a dunk was nasty all the way around! And his shooting was spectacular. Kyle is finally embracing his roll as a team leader and in doing so has become much more assertive offensively and yes, even defensively. Archie was under control, for the most part, passed the ball, got fouled and made free throws. Thats what we need from Archie. And Alex was a beast in the 2nd half. That rebound and dunk, where he bounced off an Ole Miss player, gathered, and threw it down brought me out of my seat! I love it when Alex is agressive. He is so good! He could be unguardable. And he did it last night while battling foul trouble in a game that he could’ve hung his head in and disappeared. Alex took another big step forward. I even saw him asked to be subbed for after going all out for a stretch and that is a sign of maturity and leadership as well. For the most part harrow was pretty stable and that 3 he hit was HUGE because we were dying. He also made his free throws down the stretch. Thats what we need from him; steady leadership. We also have to give a shout out to Polson and Hood. They gave us stable minutes when we desperately needed them.

    But Nerlens Noel………..WOW!!! That was the single best, individual defensive effort I can ever remember seeing. I don’t know how the guy does it. He goes at 200% effort at all times. I’ve often wished that the other guys would show his motor and effort. Last night they did, and we see the results when they do. But Nerlens absolutely shut down that Ole miss run with his defense and he did it with 4 fouls……amazing!!! Nerlens is a better pure shot blocker than Anthony Davis, and I never expected to say that….ever. Davis may be better at blocking shots on the perimeter, but Nerlens is absolutely better at shutting down the lane. He will break Davis’ record, if he can play in enough games. I don’t know that he’ll need as many as Davis played in to do it, but I hope Kentucky wins enough to allow him to play in enough to do it. The kid is unbelievable and I would hate to think of where this team would without him. He’s gonna get help this weekend, hopefully, as maybe WCS will be back. We really need him for interior depth. Things may be finally looking up for this team……maybe!

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    Speaking of an NCAA resume: Think about this…Texas A & M..lost 4 our of last 5.——–
    South Carolina..lost 5 out of the last 7—–Auburn…lost last 5 games. And these loses are to SEC teams! Comming out of these wins plus the Ole Miss win puts us on a bee line to Florida. Play them well, or beat them and our resume will shine.

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