HED:Unranked Rebels hold off No. 3 Kentucky, 73-69
By Gene Phelps
OXFORD In the words of college basketball's famed TV analyst Dick Vitale, the roundball world may need "to take a T.O. baby" and seriously look at these Ole Miss Rebels.
The unranked Rebels, wearing red uniforms for the first time this season, showed they were certainly "prime-time players" Saturday afternoon before the ABC-TV cameras, Vitale and a crowd of 8,195 at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, knocking off third-ranked Kentucky 73-69.
"Beating Kentucky means that Ole Miss is not a fluke," said junior guard Joezon Darby, whose two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining clinched the Rebels' second win over a nationally ranked opponent this season. "Ole Miss basketball has risen to another level."
Darby was one of several Ole Miss players who received victory rides on the shoulders of the fans who stormed the court at the buzzer.
"It was great," Darby said. "We want it to be fun here. We want it to be like Duke, Wake Forest and those places."
The victory upped the Rebels' record to 11-3 overall and to an SEC West-leading 3-1. Ole Miss' other win over a ranked team was two weeks ago when it beat then-No. 22 Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark.
"This was a tremendous win for our program," Ole Miss coach Rob Evans said. "To be able to defeat a team the caliber of Kentucky, who I think is one of the top teams in the country, is big for us."
Kentucky, the defending national champion, saw its 14-game winning streak end. The Wildcats are now 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the SEC East.
"Ole Miss was very, very great," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. "They beat us playing very hard. They beat a good basketball team today. They deserve the credit."
The Wildcats played most of the game without guard Derek Anderson, the SEC's leading scorer. Anderson, who suffered a back injury Thursday in a non-conference win over Canisius, played only 10 minutes and didn't score.
But Anderson's lack of contribution wasn't the difference, Pitino says.
"We would have lost with Derek Anderson," he said. "... I don't care if it was at Kentucky, they would have beaten us."
Ole Miss, which shot a season-low 32 percent in Wednesday's conference loss to Alabama, shot 46 percent from the field in the first half, including 7-of-13 from 3-point range over the Wildcats' zone defense.
"It was 21-3 at halftime," Pitino said, referring to the points off 3-pointers. "We didn't guard the 3."
The Rebels took a 9-6 lead on two 3-pointers by point guard Michael White and a 3-pointer by guard Keith Carter, who went 0-for-7 against Alabama.
Kentucky took its biggest lead, 17-13, with 10 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the first half on a layup by Allen Edwards.
Ole Miss battled back on a 3-pointer by Darby and a layup by Ansu Sesay, and took the lead, 21-19, for keeps with 8:11 showing on a 3-pointer by Carter.
"We knew Kentucky watched the Alabama tape and saw that the 2-3 zone gave us problems," said Darby, who scored a team-high 19 points. "Keith (Carter) and I were in a zone today."
Ole Miss led 36-33 at halftime and pushed that lead to 48-35 with a 12-2 run to open the second half. A 3-pointer by Sesay and a pull-up jumper on a fastbreak by point guard Chris Oney were the big baskets.
Kentucky rallied to cut the Rebels' lead to 53-50, but Ole Miss battled back with a 13-6 run to go up 66-56 on a 19-foot jumper by Darby with 6:15 remaining.
Ole Miss made only one more field goal, a layup by Anthony Boone, in the final six minutes. However, the Rebels cashed in at the free throw line, hitting 5-of-7 down the stretch.
Kentucky tied the score at 68-68 with 37 seconds remaining on a jumper by Ron Mercer. Ole Miss went up 71-69 on a pair of free throws by Boone and one by White.
The Wildcats had a chance to tie or win with six seconds remaining, but point guard Anthony Epps' pass to Scott Padgett sailed out of bounds.
Ole Miss intentionally threw the inbounds pass to Darby, a 95 percent free throw shooter, who was fouled. He calmly sank both of them to seal the win.
"I just knocked them down," Darby said, then smiled. "Those free throws were the biggest of my career."
For Ole Miss, Sesay had 16 points and Boone added 14. Prickett led Kentucky with 14.