No. 14 Ole Miss Falls To No. 15 Kentucky In SEC Final
March 11, 2001
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Kentucky wins championships no matter how the season might have started.
Tayshaun Prince had 26 points and 12 rebounds as No. 15 Kentucky defeated 14th-ranked Mississippi 77-55 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Sunday, the Wildcats' 23rd title in 42 tournaments.
Kentucky (22-9) is 24-7 in championship games and 8-1 since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992. The Wildcats have won this championship eight of the last 10 years.
Not even the most loyal Kentucky fan could have expected this after the Wildcats, with six freshmen on the roster, started the season by losing five of their first eight games. But when the league's top seeds met Sunday for the tournament title, Mississippi (25-7) didn't have a chance.
"We're just thankful we're able to come out of here with the SEC championship," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
The poor start had fans calling for Smith to be fired. On Sunday, they chanted his name over and over. Smith said it was gratifying that his team recovered from the start and responded.
"I was very confident in our players and in our staff that we could play up to our potential and that it was just a matter of time before we matured and became the type of team we knew we could be," he said.
Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes, who engineered the Rebels' turnaround from worst to first in the Western Division this season, gave all the credit to the Wildcats.
"They turned their season around. They're really playing well. We all should expect that during this time of the season," he said.
The Wildcats were headed to the NCAA tournament no matter how they played, but the seven-time national champions picked up the league's automatic berth with their 11th victory in 13 games.
The Rebels, who were looking for their first SEC title since 1981, brought
in their own three-game winning streak, the best record in school history and
the advantage of a 65-55 victory over Kentucky on Jan. 20.
But they had their worst shooting day of the season (18-of-62 29 percent) and are 0-12 against Kentucky in this tournament.
"We got some really good looks in the first half and didn't finish them," Barnes said. "If you keep missing, that keeps adding energy to our defense and that's what happened to Kentucky. Every time we missed a shot, they got stronger."
Keith Bogans added 19 points for the Wildcats, who were 30-of-59 from the field.
The Rebels trailed 14-12 midway through the first half despite hitting only three of their first 15 shots.
Then Kentucky took over.
Jason Parker started a 19-4 run and when Marvin Stone ended the spurt at the 1:35 mark, the Wildcats were up 33-16. Prince added a 3-pointer that gave Kentucky a 36-19 halftime lead, and the Wildcats walked off the court to a standing ovation from fans who gave them a home-court advantage second only to Rupp Arena.
Mississippi hit seven of 35 shots in the first half and didn't even get a shot off in the first four minutes of the second.
Kentucky led by 28 points three times. Mississippi got it down to 20 but could get no closer.
"You get down so far to a good team, it's hard to come back," Rebels guard Jason Harrison said.
A sequence at the end of the first half summed up Mississippi's problems. Justin Reed, the SEC freshman of the year, completely missed the basket. The Rebels got the rebound, but Harrison's 3 from the top of the key fell short of the rim.
Harrison led the Rebels with 12 points. Rahim Lockhart, Ole Miss' leading scorer at 13 points a game, had just seven on 3-of-10 shooting.
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