Cats survive last-minute scare

Ole Miss rallies from 23-point deficit before falling in the final seconds

By Travis Waldron

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The UK basketball team certainly has a flare for the dramatic.

After nearly squandering a 23-point first-half lead, the Cats held off Ole Miss 58-54 in front of 23,330 fans at Rupp Arena last night. The Cats earned their 10th win in the Southeastern Conference, all of which have been by 10 points or less.

“I just think we play really good, we just need to put a whole game together,” senior guard Ramel Bradley said. “We have lapses at times, but I think when we’re able to put together a whole 40 minutes, it’s going to look really good.”

Ole Miss’s comeback was built on UK’s inability to hit shots, not a lack of effort or intensity, UK head coach Billy Gillispie said.

“We couldn’t make anything in the second half,” Gillispie said. “They made some shots, we made some mistakes. But believe me, I’m really happy about this win and … I’m really excited about where it puts us.”

UK (16-10, 10-3 SEC) built a 31-8 lead before halftime as Ole Miss made just three of its first 21 shots. Ole Miss (18-9, 4-9 SEC) didn’t make it to double digits until there were less than two minutes to play in the first half.

But the Rebels weren’t finished yet.

Spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second halves, Ole Miss made 8-of-13 shots to pull within four at 33-29. Ole Miss outscored UK 21-2 during the stretch, which included a UK field goal drought that lasted more than six minutes to begin the second half.

With the mood in Rupp Arena growing tense, freshman forward Patrick Patterson woke the Cats up. Patterson scored seven of UK’s next nine points to push the lead back to 42-31.

Patterson finished with 15 points as he and senior guard Joe Crawford led the Cats in scoring. But nothing came easy in the paint for Patterson.

“It was real tough and real physical,” Patterson said. “They’re able to push you down low, push you underneath. They’re huge guys with huge bodies.”

The Rebels still didn’t go away after Patterson’s surge.

Freshman guard Chris Warren led the Rebels back again, scoring 23 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.

“We got him by four,” Gillispie said with a laugh, alluding to UK’s 27-point second half.

Ole Miss chipped away at that lead, eventually cutting it to 56-54 with 24.1 seconds to play. Senior guard Ramel Bradley then missed two free throws on the ensuing possession, and Ole Miss came down the court with a chance to tie.

Warren came up short on a drive to the basket, but Dwayne Curtis gathered the rebound and kicked it to Trevor Gaskins for an open 3-point attempt. Gaskins’ shot appeared to be on target but clanged off the back of the rim, and Bradley gathered the rebound and was fouled.

“I was just like, ‘God, don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to us right now,’ ” Bradley said. “It looked good.”

Gillispie called the play his favorite of the game.

“It wasn’t my favorite play of the game,” Bradley said.

This time, the senior guard swished both free throws, and the Cats escaped with their seventh consecutive home victory and their 18th win in 19 home games against the SEC West.

Though the Cats had to hold on to earn the victory, Gillispie was still happy with the win.

“Guys, we won,” Gillispie said. “I’m glad we’re to the point now where we’re not earning style points for winning. We’ll take any of them we can get any way we can get them.”

The win sets up a battle for first place in the SEC East when UK visits Tennessee Sunday. That’s something that has Bradley chomping at the bit to get back on the court.

“I’m excited to go down there and play,” Bradley said. “It’s a really big game for us. We’re going to get in, prepare the right way and go down there and see if we can get a win.”