Trip to UK won’t be ‘any less formidable’ for Rebels

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015

Andy Kennedy rarely thinks about all the trips he and his teams have taken to Rupp Arena over the years, and for good reason.

“It’s never worked out very well for me when we leave,” Kennedy said.

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Ole Miss’ coach isn’t exaggerating.

The Rebels haven’t won on Kentucky’s hallowed home court since Kennedy took over in 2006. In fact, no Ole Miss men’s basketball team has gotten out of the arena with a win since 1998, but the Rebels will get their next shot to end their misery in the Wildcats’ arena when the teams meet in their Southeastern Conference opener Saturday (6 p.m., SEC Network) after coming oh so close a season ago.

Ole Miss (10-2) and No. 12 Kentucky (10-2) will start league play against each other for the second straight season after the Rebels nearly pulled off a seismic upset in the teams’ only meeting last season behind 25 points from Stefan Moody and 23 from Jarvis Summers. But Kentucky, 13-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally at the time, used some timely plays from John Calipari’s latest wave of NBA draft picks to pull out an 89-86 overtime win.

“I remember going in against Anthony Davis (in 2012) and then last year’s team with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Harrison twins (Andrew and Aaron) and Trey Lyles with a big steal as we were up one with about 30 seconds left,” Kennedy said. “There’s been a lot of great players since Cal has been there and I’ve been the head coach of Ole Miss going in there.”

While this year’s group of Wildcats may not have its usual list of future lottery picks, Kentucky isn’t hurting for talent.

Sophomore Tyler Ulis (12.8 points per game, 5.5 assists) and Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody, the SEC’s leading scorer at 23.8 points per game, should make for an entertaining point guard matchup while freshman guards Jamal Murray (16.7) and Isaiah Briscoe (11.5) are combining for nearly 29 points a night. Kentucky also has its usual size and depth in the frontcourt in forwards Derek Willis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress and 6-foot-11 freshman center Skal Labissiere to throw at Ole Miss’ frontline tandem of Sebastian Saiz and Tomasz Gielo.

“Jamal Murray may be as good of a guard as I’ve seen come through there from a talent standpoint,” Kennedy said. “Tyler Ulis is the fastest, most difficult guy to stay in front of in college basketball. They’ve still got long, athletic frontcourt guys. I don’t think it’s going to be any less formidable than it’s always been.”

Kentucky has won three of its last four, including a narrow victory over rival Louisville its last time out, and gives the Rebels, who have won seven straight, a shot a their first real quality win. Kentucky is ranked 12th in the NCAA’s updated RPI rankings and is one of five top-100 RPI opponents within the first three weeks of league play for the Rebels, who don’t have a top-100 victory.

And as usual, Ole Miss’ formula for giving itself a chance against Kentucky is heavy on making open shots and limiting the Wildcats’ second chances.

“We know we’re going to have to go in there and play well. The formula doesn’t change,” Kennedy said. “You can’t turn it over, and you’ve got to do a decent job of trying to battle them on the glass, which we’ve done pretty good this year.”