5 keys to victory: Kentucky vs Ole Miss
The Cats look to bounce back from an ugly loss to Tennessee but a win will not come easily tonight. Ole Miss is in the midst of their best season and first NCAA tournament bid since Marshall Henderson was jacking up 3’s for them. Kermit Davis is in his first season with the Rebels and he has been a miracle worker for them. They were projected to finish near the bottom of the pack in the SEC but are currently in a tie for 3rd place in the conference. They have lost two straight nail biters and will be desperate for a big win against Kentucky. If the Cats are going to get out of Oxford with a win, these are the keys to victory.
- The guards have to come ready to defend- The Rebels are a guard heavy, perimeter oriented offense. The Cats back court really struggled to defend against Tennessee but that needs to change in a big way tonight. The top four scorers for Ole Miss are listed as guards on the roster chart. Breein Tyree averages over 18 points a game and shoots over 40% from 3. Terrence Davis is the other big scorer at 15 points a game. He is a very good shooter from deep as well as being a crazy athletic guard that can make plays at the rim. Devontae Shuler and Blake Hinson are their other key perimeter players. Both of them can get hot from beyond the arc, so defending them closely will be a key. The one Achilles heel of the Rebels guards is that they don’t really have a true point guard. That has made them very turnover prone this season. Kentucky has struggled with turn overs lately as well but this could be a chance for them to flip the script on a team. The key is to match the intensity and energy that the Ole Miss guards will be playing with to start the game.
- Keep PJ on the court- Foul trouble sent PJ to the bench early against the Vols and the team never recovered from that point on. Ole Miss does not have much in terms of post scoring so that should help keep PJ out of foul trouble. The Rebels will do everything they can to keep the ball out of PJ’s hands in the paint because they have no answer for him inside. If PJ can avoid foul issues and play more than 30 minutes in the game it will be a gigantic step towards a Kentucky win.
- Nick Richards needs to take another step forward- When Reid Travis went down the question was if it would be EJ Montgomery or Nick Richards that would step up their game. So far the answer to that has been Nick in a big way. He has not played perfect but he has played with energy, blocked shots and rebounded the ball at a good clip. This should be the type of game that allows him to put up big numbers. A good game from Nick would not only help the Cats win tonight, it would really give him confidence as post-season play rapidly approaches.
- Get 30 points from the duo of Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro- When this duo scores the ball effectively it makes Kentucky a very tough team to beat. Scoring the ball has been a struggle for Keldon the last couple weeks. It would be great to see him get things going some tonight. Tyler had his best game of his career against Arkansas and then followed it up with his worst game against Tennessee. When both of them are struggling it makes it much easier to defend Kentucky. Whether one scores 20 and one scores 10 or any other combination, they need 30 points out of them tonight.
- Be the aggressor- Against the Vols, Kentucky looked passive and did not play with the energy needed to beat a good team on the road. The Cats have to be on the attack from the get go tonight. They need to play aggressive on both offense and defense. If Kentucky comes out ready to dominate from start to finish, there will not be much that Ole Miss can do about it.
Calling this a must win game would be a reach but it is a very important game for this teams NCAA tournament seed. Even more importantly, a second straight loss could really damage the confidence of the young team just before the start of tournament play. Whether it is by 1 point or 20, the only thing that matters is for Kentucky to come out on the right side of the win column. It is time to shift into survive and advance mode.