List of ways to beat UK dwindling

Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

Teams are running out of ways to try and beat UK.

It’s been 18 games since a team found a way to do it. Since Dec. 10, UK has found itself on the winning side of the scoreboard every single time. Saturday against Ole Miss was the latest in that line, a 77-62 win that moved the Cats (26-1, 12-0 SEC) one game closer to sweeping the conference.

The Rebels played well. They honestly did. Not a good shooting team, Ole Miss decided to abandon the perimeter (where it was shooting under 30 percent for the season) and attack the inside, and it worked.

Only five of its 53 shots were 3-pointers. And Ole Miss was effective, making 47.2 percent of its shots, the second-highest rate against UK this season. (It also snapped UK’s six-game streak of holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting).

Much of that success came in the first half, when Anthony Davis was sidelined with foul trouble. With him in the game, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said, it’s nearly impossible to attack the basket — and even when you try, you “feel him lurking.”

But instead of lurking in the paint, Davis was stuffed on the bench, and the Rebels had a hot shooting night. And still lost by 15 points.

“The only thing that can beat them,” Kennedy said, “is themselves or foul trouble.”

When told of this assessment, UK head coach John Calipari paused for a while before nodding his head in agreement.

Then he amended it by adding on another method teams could beat UK with.

“Or somebody making 15 threes against you,” Calipari said. “Something like that could happen, and you don’t get another chance to get them. It’s one-and-done.”

Still, that’s a short list that’s reduced in size over the last month. Remember when Calipari said a physical team that rebounded well could bully UK?

Well, Ole Miss is precisely that team. Entering the game, they led the SEC in offensive rebounding percentage and had one of the tallest frontlines in the league.

It was UK, though, that dominated the boards. The Cats finished with a plus-nine overall advantage and limited Ole Miss to about half of the offensive rebounds it normally gets.

All of which led Kennedy to heap praise on UK, which is just about the same thing every other coach who has played UK ended up doing after a game.

“It’s the best Kentucky team we’ve played in my six years,” Kennedy said. “And that’s saying something. Cal has taken this thing to an elite level.”

Much  of that is based on the talent he’s brought in. This season, there’s a plethora of scorers. Five players scored in double digits against Ole Miss.

“When you have a team full of talented players, I don’t think defenses know how to stop us,” said Kyle Wiltjer, who scored 13 and was the difference in the first half. “That’s what makes it so tough to defend, we have so many weapons.”

That ranges from Doron Lamb, who led UK to 10-of-18 3-point shooting, and Terrence Jones, who recorded his first double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) of the season.

“I think we got all the pieces and the personnel to have a great season,” Jones said.

They’re on their way.

“I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied at all,” Calipari said. “I just want us to keep climbing, and then we’ll see how good we can be.”