LEXINGTON — This had all the makings to be a game where Kentucky might struggle to extend its unbeaten Southeastern Conference record and home win streak.
No, Mississippi is not that good, but the Wildcat roared out to a 16-5 lead in less than five minutes and then hit neutral — or maybe reverse after Anthony Davis got his second foul with 10 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half and UK?leading 22-14. Ole Miss got physical, tied the game 34-34 and really seemed to have UK?reeling when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got his second foul with about six minutes to go in the half.
However, Kentucky showed why it is No. 1 by pulling away for a 77-62 victory that put to rest several myths about how to beat the Wildcats.
Myth No. 1 — Get Davis in foul trouble and UK’s defense and play won’t be able to withstand it.
“It helped us a little bit because all of a sudden we got offensive rebounds and finished at the rim,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy of Davis’ foul problems.
Calpari downplayed the issue — and this was only the third time in 27 games Davis has been in foul trouble.
“I think he ended up with two fouls. I think probably in minutes played through the country, he is high in the last amount of fouls per minutes played,” Calipari said. “Obviously, with Anthony not in, we are not the same team. But we have a talented team even when he is not on the floor.”
Plus, Davis still finished with 10 points, six rebounds, four blocks, one assist and one steal in 25 minutes. Maybe those are “pedestrian” numbers for Davis as Kennedy suggested, but it’s not like he was a non-factor in the game.
Myth No. 2 — Kentucky is not deep enough to win a national championship.
Kennedy might not have known how to pronounce UK?freshman Kyle Wiltjer’s name — he called him “Wittier” — but he knew how valuable Wiltjer’s 10-first half points were after Davis went out.
“If you are going to make a run, that is the time to make a run (with Davis out) and he (Wiltjer) could not allow that because he was making shots,” Kennedy said.
Wiltjer finished the game with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also drew only his second charge of the season in the first half, something he says meant more to him than scoring the way he did.
“Kyle played great and was outstanding,” Calipari said. “The reason we had the lead at halftime was Kyle. He made shots, he defended well, he took a charge. He played well. We really have seven starters. He plays different. He definitely stretches the defense. He’s pretty good.”
Calipari said UK’s foul trouble gave “Kyle a chance to step up and play and he played well.” And it was the second straight game because he did the same at Vanderbilt.
And don’t forget super sub Darius Miller. The senior had 10 of his 14 points in the first half — including back-to-back 3-pointers and a monster dunk — to give UK?a 34-25 halftime lead. Miller and Wiltjer combined to score 16 straight points in one stretch.
“I thought he played well. I think his dunk was one of the biggest plays I?have seen him make. My point is if you can do that, why don’t you do that all the time. Why isn’t that you?” Calipari said.
Because Miller just seems to make his best plays when Kentucky needs him most as it did in the first half.
Myth No. 3 — Kentucky cannot shoot outside well enough to win a national title?
Mississippi used a zone defense designed to try and keep Davis and Terrence Jones, who still had his first double-double of the year with 15 points and 11 rebounds, off the rim. Kentucky countered by going 10-for-18 from 3-point range, only the second time it has made that many treys in a game this season, after going only 3-for-14 at Vanderbilt in its previous game.
Doron Lamb (16 points, three assists) was 4-for-6, Wiltjer 3-for-4 and Miller 3-for-7.
“I hope teams keep doing that and giving us open looks,” Lamb said. “We have a lot of great shooters. We can all make shots. If teams keep doing that, they are in for long days.”
Calipari says his team has to take “whatever they are giving you” and that’s what the Cats did.
“I’ve got a terrific 3-point shooting team. I really do,” Calipari said. “But we just don’t take a lot of 3’s because we don’t have to. I?like 3’s. I l love dunks.”
Now it’s on to Mississippi State for Kentucky, which is 12-0 in SEC play and within four games of sweeping through league play even though Calipari says his team has not even contemplated that scenario.
“I think we have got a good team. I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied,” he said. “I just want us to keep climbing, and then we’ll see how good we can be. If at the end of the day, we’ll see if we have the best team (in the nation). If we don’t, someone else is better than us.”
Maybe, but on this day Kentucky at least proved that three so-called potential weaknesses might not be all that bad after all.