Jojn Calipari has said all along that this team would hit its stride in February. Turns out he was a few days off as Kentucky played their best game of the season and got some career high efforts from Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel. The end result was a thrilling, hold on to your seats 87-74 win over the #16 Ole Miss Rebels. This unlikeliest of games came as Kentucky was down two players, Twany Beckham and Willie Cauley-Stein, but Kentucky played their game of the year and got team efforts from everyone.
As far as beginnings go, this game could not have started worse for Kentucky. The Wildcats were already down two players in the form of Willie Cauley-Stein and Twany Beckham. Any hopes of Alex Poythress starting hot and carrying this team ended just two minutes into the game as he picked up his second foul. Julius Mays picked up his second foul at the 14:43 mark and Ryan Harrow picked up his second foul at the 13:18 mark. Somehow, despite the early infusion of fouls by Kentucky, the score was tied at 8. With three of their starters in foul trouble early, Kentucky was forced to play a rag-tag lineup with Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood getting major minutes in the first half.
Instead of folding, this odd lineup actually played pretty well. Kyle Wiltjer led Kentucky with 17 points and had three treys. Archie Goodwin had 10 points and more importantly just one foul. However, Kentucky was still troubled by poor FT shooting (10-20) and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Despite what should have been a huge advantage, Ole Miss could not capitalize. They also were hit heavily by the foul bug, picking up 14 first half fouls and shooting a paltry 29.5% from the floor. The much hyped Marshall Henderson had 16 points at the half, but was just 1-7 from long-range. Ladarius White had 15 points at the half for Ole Miss, but that was really all the production the Rebels were going to get. The rest of the team of the team combined for just 3-20 from the field and just seven points.
The end result was a 38-37 Ole Miss halftime lead in a game where both teams should have been up 10-15 points but could not take advantage of the others errors.
Kentucky came out strong in the second half. Kyle Wiltjer drilled a three and Alex Poythress added a three-point play to put UK up 43-38. Another Wiltjer trey gave UK a 46-40 lead at the 18:18 mark. The Kyle Wiltjer show did not stop there. Julius Mays found Wiltjer for a dunk and that gave Kyle Wiltjer a career high 26 points at the 16:24 mark, and more importantly, a 53-46 UK lead. Alex Poythress started to assert himself and drove for two straight layups. He missed a third one, but Archie Goodwin tossed the shot back in and UK was up 9 at 59-50.