Thursday, January 29, 2004

No. 5 Kentucky 71, Mississippi 61

Hits career-high 24 points as Wildcats win

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - Kentucky finally got stronger as it played longer.

Reversing its season-long trend of building big leads and hanging on while it seemingly fatigued, UK stayed steady Wednesday before gradually pulling away from Mississippi for a 71-61 victory in Rupp Arena.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats (14-2, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) weathered a few second-half charges from the Rebels and rode Erik Daniels' career-high 24 points to the victory.

It was a critical game for UK's psyche entering a two-game trip to Vanderbilt and Florida. A loss would have been the second straight at home and the third home loss of the season. UK had totaled just 12 home losses the previous 11 seasons.

Ole Miss (10-7, 2-4) also stood No. 88 in the Ratings Percentage Index, lowest of all SEC schools, and was a 15 1/2-point underdog.

The Rebels have won just once in Lexington since 1927, having lost 45 of their last 46 games here.

In the second half Wednesday, they twice cut into nine-point leads, and with five minutes left they trailed just 53-50.

UK then scored on its next seven possessions, beginning with a slick feed from Cliff Hawkins to Kelenna Azubuike for a dunk. Daniels made a free throw, Hawkins made two foul shots, and Chuck Hayes converted a 3-point play. With 2:56 left, UK led 61-53.

One more big play, a 3-pointer from Antwain Barbour, was enough to ward off further drama. Barbour made a career-high four 3-pointers, going 4-of-5 from that range, and his 12 points were one off his career high.

Daniels, the senior from Princeton High, had the biggest night in what has been a remarkably consistent season. He has scored in double figures a team-high 14 times, and hasn't had fewer than eight points. Yet he hadn't exceeded 19 points this winter before Wednesday.

Daniels was 9-of-12 Wednesday and added six rebounds. He is UK's leading scorer during conference play at 18.0 points per game.

Chuck Hayes was the night's unsung hero with his defense on Ole Miss star Justin Reed. Reed's 18.6 scoring average was tied for SEC leadership with Tennessee's Scooter McFadgon, but he was just 6-of-20 Wednesday to finish with 15 points.

Hayes blocked four shots, adding nine rebounds and four assists, and made both his field-goal attempts for five points.

UK shot 51.1 percent, including 12-of-19 in the second half, and held Ole Miss to 44 percent on the night. Gerald Fitch added 14 points for the Wildcats.

Aaron Harper scored 19 points to lead Ole Miss, and Kendrick Fox added 16.

In their 400th game in Rupp Arena, the Wildcats recorded their 800th SEC victory. UK is 800-213 (79 percent) in 71 seasons of league play, and 358-42 (89.5) in its 28th season in Rupp.

UK continued its tradition of fast starts, racing to a 10-4 lead - the 15th time in 16 games it has led at the first TV timeout. Yet rather than pushing to a double-digit lead, UK let the Ole Miss shooters warm up and make a game of it more quickly.

Five 3-pointers in the next nine minutes fueled a 21-10 run that helped the Rebels build a five-point lead.

But Daniels scored seven points on three baskets - including a 3-point play - in the final 1:49 of the half to help UK knot the score at intermission.

First-half numbers were nearly identical. UK shot 42.3 percent to Ole Miss' 41.4 percent, and each team had 16 rebounds.

In traveling to Vanderbilt, UK will visit the site of its last SEC road loss, which occurred two years ago.


MISSISSIPPI (10-7)-Reed 6-20 2-6 15, Rhodes 0-0 0-0 0, Harper 6-12 4-4 19, Abernethy 2-5 0-0 5, Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Fox 6-7 0-0 16, Nunnery 0-0 1-2 1, Glass 0-2 1-4 1, Eddie 1-2 0-0 2, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 8-16 61.

KENTUCKY (14-2)-Daniels 9-12 6-8 24, Hayes 2-2 1-1 5, Azubuike 3-10 2-2 8, Hawkins 1-3 3-4 5, Fitch 3-9 5-7 14, Carrier 1-2 0-0 3, Obrzut 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Barbour 4-6 0-0 12. Totals 23-45 17-22 71.

Halftime-Kentucky 29, Mississippi 29. 3-point goals-Mississippi 9-17 (Fox 4-5, Harper 3-5, Reed 1-2, Abernethy 1-3, Johnson 0-1, Glass 0-1), Kentucky 8-19 (Barbour 4-5, Fitch 3-5, Carrier 1-2, Daniels 0-1, Hawkins 0-2, Azubuike 0-4). Fouled out-Reed. Rebounds-Mississippi 25 (Harper 8), Kentucky 29 (Hayes 9). Assists-Mississippi 12 (Harper 4), Kentucky 18 (Hawkins 8). Total fouls-Mississippi 21, Kentucky 16. A-22,151.

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