LEXINGTON, Ky. — No. 18 Kentucky had one of its best defensive performances of the season after two notably subpar performances last week, and the Wildcats pulled away from the Ole Miss Rebels in the second half Tuesday for an 80-64 win at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky (17-5, 7-2) separated itself from Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3) in the Southeastern Conference’s standings with the win. Halfway into the league’s 18-game schedule, Kentucky is now alone in second place behind No. 3 Florida.
The first half was tightly contested as each team held leads as large as five points but never larger. That trend held true three minutes into the second half, but the Wildcats finally broke away with a run from which Ole Miss would not recover.
Rebels coach Andy Kennedy was forced to call timeout when Kentucky forward Julius Randle scored his first field goal, recovering a steal and running up the right side three-quarters of the court before a two-handed slam over an Ole Miss defender in a full sprint sent Rupp Arena into a frenzy.
At that point, Kentucky had scored seven straight, and the run would extend to 10-2 before the Rebels would level out.
Once the Wildcats built their lead to double digits, the Rebels would only once get as close as seven points.
The Rebels finished 25 of 65 from the floor.
The Wildcats mixed their defense up regularly on Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, the Rebels’ freewheeling gunner. Kentucky coach John Calipari threw four different players at Henderson, including 6-foot-8 forward Alex Poythress and the 6-9 Randle.
Henderson took a few shots early but didn’t make his first until a slick lay-up with 9:42 left in the first, at which point Kentucky was up 21-20.
But two minutes later, Henderson hit back-to-back 3-pointers — both with hands in his face — to give the Rebels a 28-23 lead with 6:56 to go. Calipari called a timeout.
Henderson finished with a team-high 16 points on 6 of 18 shooting. He was 4 of 12 from 3-point range and has taken double-figures attempts from deep in six of his seven games played in the SEC after serving a two-game suspension.
A 7-2 Kentucky run, on which guard Aaron Harrison scored six points, gave the Wildcats back a one-possession lead, a lead they held up until the halftime buzzer.
Harrison had 12 points as Kentucky led Ole Miss 35-34 at halftime.
The first half was tightly contested. The largest lead by either team was five points.
Henderson took a few shots early, but did not make his first field goal until he scored on a slick layup with 9:42 left in the first half. At that point, Kentucky was up 21-20.
NOTES: Kentucky is 50-2 all time at home against Ole Miss and 26-1 in Lexington since Rupp Arena opened in 1976. … Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein had eight points at halftime. The slumping center only scored 14 points in his last six games. … Kentucky had four blocks at halftime. In the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 29, 2013, Kentucky C Nerlens Noel had a school-record 12 blocks. … F Julius Randle finished with 12 points despite shooting 2 of 6 from the floor. He was 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
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