LEXINGTON, KY (WLBT) - Ole Miss shut down a potent Kentucky offense and withstood a wild fourth quarter to prevail 55-49, defeating the 16th-ranked Wildcats to give head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin her first career SEC win in high fashion.
The Rebels (7-11, 1-3 SEC) were relentless wire-to-wire, forcing a Kentucky (15-3, 2-2 SEC) team without its top scorer Maci Morris into a defensive battle where momentum was the most precious commodity. Ole Miss grasped at that momentum last, with senior Crystal Allen exploding in the second half, and the fourth quarter in particular, to give the Rebels their first win at Kentucky since 2007 (Jan. 14, 2007; 67-65, OT) and their first ranked win on the road since 2011 (at No. 23 Arkansas, Jan. 23, 2011; 69-65).
“I’m really happy for the team,” McPhee-McCuin said. “My message to them after the LSU game was: ladies, there will come a time, and I don’t know if it will be Sunday, where we will beat the team that nobody expects us to beat. And in order to do that, we will need everybody. And as the game was going on, in the huddles I kept saying there will come a time. And today was our time.”
Ole Miss was never out of the hunt, fighting tooth-and-nail all game after having not held a lead in SEC play entering today. The Rebel defense, coming off a strong performance against LSU on Jan. 10, put together another great day, forcing 19 Wildcat turnovers and limiting the UK scoring to freshman Rhyne Howard (20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists).
“Kentucky is a great team,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I don’t think one game in the SEC should sway your thoughts when they beat Tennessee. This is the SEC. You have to come to play every night. It just happened to be our night. I am extremely proud of my team.”
Senior La’Karis Salter was the catalyst for the Rebels in the first half, leading the charge with eight of her 12 points in the first two quarters. Salter ended with her second career double-double at 12 points and 10 rebounds, and she chipped in three assists, three blocks and three steals in the complete team effort.
Fellow senior Crystal Allen was mysteriously quiet in the first half, scoring only two points in that stretch as the Rebels only trailed 21-15 (the fewest points Kentucky scored in the first half all season). Allen went on a tear in the back half, though, lighting up the net for 26 points to give her 28 on the day – her seventh 20-point game this season.
“Crystal and I have had a lot of conversations lately,” McPhee-McCuin said. “And we really had a heart-to-heart after the LSU game. I just really thought she was overthinking things and she was not being herself. I said sweetheart, now your character is being tested. Now we are in the storm.”
Allen weathered that storm for the Rebels in the fourth quarter, putting on a crucial stretch of play that gave Ole Miss the win. The Rebels took the lead 42-41 with 5:42 to play on a three-pointer by Allen, and then she gave the Rebels the lead for good at the 3:12 mark on a pair of free throws to make the game 46-44. Kentucky turned it into a foul fest in the final minutes, but Ole Miss wasn’t to be denied, shooting 50 percent from the field in the fourth and hitting 92.3 percent of its free throws on the day – with Allen hitting a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe.
Aside from this being the first win at Kentucky and the first road ranked win in some time, this was also the first overall ranked win since Dec. 14, 2016 vs. No. 25 Oregon (83-67), the first SEC win since Jan. 7, 2018 vs. Florida (78-75, 2OT), the first SEC road win since Feb. 6, 2017 at Florida (85-75) and the first overall win vs. Kentucky since defeating the 9th-ranked Wildcats, 73-65, on Jan. 21, 2016.
“We weren’t afraid of coming in and playing someone that was ranked,” McPhee-McCuin said. “That is what is good about a young team.”
Ole Miss will have a week off now to rest and prepare for Florida to come to The Pavilion for a nationally televised tilt on Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. CT.