Cats Down Ole Miss in Conference Opener, 68-58
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- With a seven-game winning streak in jeopardy Saturday, Kentucky delivered defensively when the Wildcats needed it most.
Kentucky limited Ole Miss to 2-of-13 from the field over the last 12 minutes as it beat Mississippi 68-58 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both schools.
"That was our best defensive effort of the year," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "That's what won it for us. We really defended the perimeter."
Joe Crawford led the Wildcats (12-3, 1-0 SEC) with 23 points - including 15 in the second half. Kentucky, coming off a season-low shooting performance in a win over Houston on Wednesday, finished 25-of-45 from the field.
Randolph Morris had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Ramel Bradley added 13 points and five assists. Bradley was particularly effective in the stretch run by the Wildcats, scoring eight consecutive points during a 17-5 run to finish the game.
"Joe Crawford had a great game and Bradley was great at the end," said Morris, who carried the Wildcats offensively until the final 12 minutes. "We've got others that can score when I don't and then it's up to me to play defense."
Todd Abernethy, who led Ole Miss (11-4, 0-1) with 17 points, accounted for both baskets over the difficult final 12 minutes.
"That late surge, they just took the wind out of our sails and crushed us," Abernethy said.
Dwayne Curtis had 13 points and 10 rebounds, battling Morris to a draw on both counts. Clarence Sanders had 12 points and Bam Doyne had 10 points for the Rebels, who managed only 22-of-57 from the field.
"You can't beat Kentucky shooting 33 percent in the second half," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "Kentucky stepped up and made the big plays."
Both clubs were tied or swapped leads 19 times in the opening 28 minutes, with neither leading by more than six points.
The Rebels, who led 37-35 at halftime, appeared to gain control with an 8-0 run that gave them a 53-51 lead with 12:02 left. Instead, it was Kentucky's defense that found a higher gear.
Bradley and Crawford, who finished 4-of-5 from 3-point range, established the offensive edge on the perimeter, taking the pressure off Morris in the decisive late surge.
Jodie Meeks hit a 3-point shot, his only basket of the night, off an assist from Bradley to give Kentucky a 56-53 lead with 8:56 left. Kentucky never trailed again.
The Wildcats shot 10-of-18 from the field in the second half while shutting down the Ole Miss offense.
"We were able to challenge shots in the second half," Smith said. Their shots were a little short. Any time you can come to Oxford and pull out a win, it's a positive."