Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Calipari hoping matchup with red-hot Rebels brings best out of Cats

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
UK will travel to Oxford, Miss., for a Tuesday matchup with Ole Miss at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK will travel to Oxford, Miss., for a Tuesday matchup with Ole Miss at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In putting together an unbeaten run through the first third of Southeastern Conference play, Ole Miss has won games in every conceivable fashion.

The Rebels have won blowouts both at home and on the road. They have won in shootouts and low scoring battles alike. They have even won in overtime after hitting a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation that is among the season's most memorable shots to date.

However, there is a common thread throughout such a disparate set of six games: At no point did Andy Kennedy's team ever cease to believe it would find a way to come out on top.

To John Calipari, that feels familiar.

"They are the kind of team that I've coached historically, which is doesn't matter what the score is, we're ballin', we're doing this together and if I'm not playing well I'll do something else to help this team win," Calipari said. "Cause that's the whole mindset: It's not about me, it's about us."

Riding that mentality, Ole Miss has become the story of the SEC.

The Rebels are out to a 17-2 start to the season to go with their 6-0 record in conference play. After a pair of hard-fought victories last week over Tennessee and Auburn, the Rebels - winners of nine straight - have moved to No. 16 in both polls released on Monday.

"They're good," Calipari said. "They're a really good team. They're top 15. They may even be better than that."

The combination of that, Kentucky's uneven play and the site of the game will put the Wildcats (13-6, 4-2 SEC) in an unusual underdog role when they take on the Rebels at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday. It will give the Cats a chance to pick up an elusive win over a ranked opponent with few more opportunities in the offing. Nonetheless, UK point guard Ryan Harrow believes the favorite label puts more pressure on the home-standing Rebels.

"It's big for us, but I think it's bigger for them because they're the ones that's supposed to win," Harrow said. "If we come out there and beat them, it'll be a good thing for us. We've just got to be ready to play and be physical."

The leading man for Ole Miss in terms of both on-court play and the season's narrative is Marshall Henderson. The 6-foot-2 junior guard is in his first season as a Rebel after spending a year each at Utah, Texas Tech and South Plains Junior College. He is the SEC's leading scorer at 19.2 points per game and has drawn national headlines for his willingness (and ability) to take (and make) any shot, anytime and telling opponents and fans all about it when he does.

"He's going to take 13 3s," Calipari said. "Whether you're on him, you're not on him, he's taking 13 3s. I love his energy and excitement about playing, he loves the game."

Five different times this season, Henderson has indeed attempted at least 13 3-pointers, including in each of his last two outings. On average, he attempts 10.9 shots from beyond the arc per game, second in the nation, and he makes 3.9 of them, third nationally.

"You can't let him touch the ball," Harrow said. "If a person drives and you're guarding him, you can't leave him. You've just got to be on him so he doesn't get those shots off. If he's going to shoot it from anywhere, you've just got to be up on him so you try to make him drive or make the shot more difficult."

A little more than two weeks ago, UK faced a player who took a bunch of the kinds of contested shots Henderson will surely attempt on Tuesday. Of course, Elston Turner made almost all of them en route to a 40-point performance and a Texas A&M win. Then, it was Archie Goodwin who was tasked with chasing Turner for most of the afternoon, which makes him the most logical candidate to do the same with Henderson, who has a reputation for tireless movement away from the ball.

Henderson may have scored 26 points or more on six occasions this season, but the biggest mistake the Cats can likely make is to concern themselves with stopping him at the cost of ignoring his talented and experienced teammates. Three of the Rebels' other four starters are seniors, including post players Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner.

"If you pay too much attention to (Henderson), all of a sudden two big guys get 20 and 20 and then you got no chance of beating them," Calipari said.

Holloway is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double (14.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game) while Buckner averages 9.9 points and ranks behind only Nerlens Noel in the SEC with 53 blocked shots.

"Henderson's not the only player on their team," Alex Poythress said. "They've got other pieces that help them go so we just gotta play a good game and play defense."

Coach Cal stopped well short of calling the matchup a "must-win" for the Cats as some NCAA bubble prognosticators have, but the challenge of taking on a physical Ole Miss team with an emotional edge is just what he wants for his team.

At some point, Henderson will knock down an NBA-range 3-pointer with a hand in his face - it's nearly inevitable. The sellout crowd will erupt and Henderson will waste no time talking about it with whomever he just victimized. By no means does he want things to escalate past the animated trash talk that comes with heated competition, but Coach Cal wants his Cats to respond.

"Be mad," Calipari said. "And if he talks to you, talk back to him. I mean, just be mad. Compete, fight, battle, toughness, swagger. It's hard to have a swagger when you're ducking and you're running. You gotta dig your heels in. That's why I'm saying all this stuff is good for our team. If we're going to get it, it's competing in games like this and learning and growing."

Cauley-Stein making trip, but unlikely to play

For the first time since undergoing a minor procedure on a knee condition he's dealt with since junior high school, Willie Cauley-Stein will make a road trip with his team. Cauley-Stein has missed three straight games while recovering and Calipari said on Monday the freshman big man is now running. His status for the game itself, however, is up in the air.

"I would guess doubtful for Tuesday, questionable, I don't know," Calipari said. "He'll probably try to convince me he's ready so we'll see."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/42987

Leave a comment




Recent Comments