By RICHARD CHEEKS
The Cats went to Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday for their rematch with the Mississippi team the Cats handled with relative ease at Rupp by 16 points earlier this month. The Cats played perhaps their best half of basketball of this season as they dominated Ole Miss 42-25 in the first half. The Cats continued that dominance into the second half as they built a lead on the road of 22 points, 62-40 with 9:10 remaining in the game. That is all very good news for this team, and the Big Blue Nation welcomed the sight of it all.
Then they traded baskets with the Rebels over the next 4 minutes, allowing Mississippi to trim the 22 point lead to 15 points, 70-55 with 5:20 remaining, and over the next 4 minutes, Ole Miss outscored the Cats 15-6 to cut the one-time 22 point lead to a mere 6 points, 76-70 with 1:17 remaining in the game. That is all not such good news for this team, because again, they could not sustain the great effort for a full 40 minute game, and they allowed Ole Miss to sniff upset with a about 1 ½ minutes to play in a game that the Cats all but owned.
Yes, the Ole Miss comeback stalled at that point, and the Cats finished with a 8-0 finish to win by 14 points. Yes, a 14 point win on the road over a team that Vegas said would play the Cats within low single digits is a nice outcome. Yes, this team has now four straight SEC road games for the first time since the Championship season, and only the second time a Calipari led UK team has won four straight road games. These are all reasons for hope, for encouragement that this team is making strides toward the competitiveness that the Coaches and the Fans have been seeking. But, the 4 minutes Mississippi run at the end is eerily reminiscent of the end of the Baylor game and the end of the Florida game, which could have transformed an overall good game performance into another distasteful loss.
And then there were five (5), and of the five final opponents, the Cats will have an opportunity to avenge earlier losses three times. The first such opportunity arrives for this team on Saturday afternoon when LSU visits Rupp Arena. On January 28, the Cats ventured into the Maravich center with high hopes and higher expectations, and the Bengal Tigers punched them on the opening tip, and the Cats never held a lead the entire night. The Tigers were on top 22-6 after about 6 ½ minutes before the Cats came out of the fog of the initial punch. The Cats did show some resilence in trimming that lead to only 2 points with about 5 minutes remaining in the half, but the Cats could get no closer, falling behind by 9 again, and trailing by 6 at the half. In the second half, the Tigers extended their lead to 15 again at the midway point before the Cats chipped away at that lead to a final margin of 5 points over the last 7 minutes.
LSU will bring their 16-9, 7-6 SEC record into Rupp on Saturday. Since they beat the Cats, the Tigers have split their last 6 games, winning 3 times in Baton Rouge and losing 3 times on the road. LSU’s schedule strength has been 0.5845 (93rd). LSU has averaged 73 to 74 possessions per game, scoring 77.8 ppg (1.057 ppp) and allowing 72.6 ppg (0.991 ppp). LSU has turned the ball over on 19.5% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 18.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, LSU has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 36.8% about 8% above the 29% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 68.1%, about 2% below the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 68 to 69 possessions per game, producing 78.3 ppg (1.138 ppp) and allowing 66.5 ppg (0.969 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.9% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 16.0% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 43.0% and 69.2% on the offensive and defensive ends against a schedule strength of 0.6575 (#31).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 16 points, 82-66 in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions for the Cats and 71 possessions for LSU. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 14 points, 84-70 at a pace of 71 possessions.
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You can enter your prediction at any time prior to tip off by visiting the 247 Sports prediction thread for this game at: http://kentucky.247sports.com/Board/296/LSU-Prediction-Thread-26021561/1