Block party ends Cats’ Rupp Arena skid

Published 11:16 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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A rare three-game losing streak is over for Kentucky.

Coming off three consecutive home losses, a first in Rupp Arena history, the 22nd-ranked Wildcats ended the three-game home slide with a 75-63 win over Ole Miss Tuesday night.

“The big thing is we guarded today,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It was a good win and they’re a good team.”

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Kentucky (17-7, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) played with a full roster for the first time this season, paving the way for the win over the Rebels. The Wildcats improved to 6-1 in bounce-back games this season.

Senior Tre Mitchell returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games because of a back injury and finished with five points and six rebounds. Mitchell’s dunk on an assist from teammate Reed Sheppard completed a 25-6 scoring spree by the Wildcats in the final six minutes of the first half.

Mitchell left the game after picking up his third foul with 16:13 remaining. He favored his left shoulder as he headed toward the bench and didn’t return.

“Tre in there helps us and he goes and gets tough rebounds,” said Calipari, who didn’t have an update on Mitchell’s status following the contest.

“Tre Mitchell is one of the best players in college basketball,” Ole Miss coach Chris Beard said. “There’s no denying his presence — just the poise and kind of composure he gives this young, really talented team.”

The Wildcats limited the Rebels to 35 percent shooting in the first half and held Ole Miss to just one field goal in the final 6:04 of the first frame. Overall, the Rebels shot just 38 from the field.

Kentucky center Ugonna Onyenso had a big hand in the defensive performance, especially in the first half. Onyenso had seven blocked shots in 12 minutes in the opening half.

“It was amazing,” Calipari said of Onyenso’s block party.

Onyenso finished with 10 blocks, and tied a Rupp Arena record. Nerlens Noel had a school record of 12 blocked shots against the Rebels in 2013. Aaron Bradshaw added two blocks for the Wildcats. Onyenso’s goal was to get eight blocks.

“I told the coaches before the game I was going to get eight blocks,” he said. “It’s amazing and I told my coaches I was going to get 10 blocks (in a game) and I’m happy that I did that, thanks to my teammates and how we played defensively. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Beard said Onyenso’s performance played a role in his team’s inability to get into a consistent flow.

“It was a combination of high turnovers (12) and getting our shot blocked for what seemed like 100 times,” Beard said. “One player had a special game. It just didn’t give us enough offensive possessions and we didn’t shoot it great.”

Justin Edwards, who has scored double figures in two of the past three games, finished with 12 points and scored 11 of those in the opening half. Edwards scored Kentucky’s first five points, including a dazzling spin move in the post for a three-point play.

Antonio Reeves led the Wildcats with 15 points, followed by Reed Sheppard with 13. Sheppard knocked down three of the team’s six 3-pointers. Rob Dillingham added 10 points and Onyenso just missed double figures with eight points. Sparked by Sheppard, the Wildcats got 31 points from the team’s bench.

Ole Miss (18-6, 5-6) scored eight of the first 10 points of the second half and trimmed a 14-point deficit to 45-37 with 17:27 remaining. Ole Miss pulled within six at 47-41, but a 5-0 spurt by the Wildcats pushed the margin back to double figures.