By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Kentucky will be spending the weekend at home for the first time in more than a month.
Coming off a 78-64 win at Vanderbilt earlier this week, the Wildcats carry a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, the team’s first weekend home game since a 76-67 win over Alabama on Jan. 11.
Kentucky played its previous four Saturday games on the road and compiled a 3-1 record, including a 77-64 win over Tennessee last weekend, the Wildcats’ first victory in Knoxville in four years.
“It’s good (to be home again),” Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery said. “I miss playing at Rupp in front of the fans and things like that.”
Kentucky overcame a 14-point deficit to complete a regular-season sweep of the Commodores and used a big second-half effort from Nick Richards, who finished with 12 points and set the tone for the comeback with easy baskets early in the second half. Richards commanded the basketball and delivered when his team needed it the most.
“He (demands the ball) and EJ (Montgomery) does too, which I love,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He’ll say it. And they respect him and they know. He’s a great free-throw shooter. He can make 15-footers. You can throw to him in the post. Last game, they tried to trap; he’s the one who passed it out and we made plays on the weak side. He’s getting better and better.”
Calipari said Richards is handling the pressure with ease and said his junior forward is “building his own confidence through demonstrated performance.”
“He’s not delusional on the court,” Calipari said. “Anytime he starts to slip he’s got a whole staff all over him.”
The Wildcats have won 10 straight over the Rebels and Kentucky yanked out an 80-76 victory last year in Oxford. The Wildcats have captured 11 straight victories over Ole Miss since a 73-64 setback to the Rebels at Rupp Arena on Valentine’s Day in 1988. Ole Miss Athletics Director Keith Carter scored 21 points in the memorable win for the Rebels.
The Rebels (13-11, 4-7) have been on a tear lately and have notched three straight victories, including an 83-58 win over rival Mississippi State earlier this week. Ole Miss began the streak with wins over South Carolina and Florida, respectively. All three wins — at home — were by double figures.
Kentucky’s top concern will be containing reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week Breein Tyree, who has averaged 33.7 points and knocked down 11 3-pointers in the past three games. Tyree scored 40 against the Bulldogs and has shown no signs of a letdown after claiming the league’s top honor earlier this week.
“He makes everybody on the court better,” Calipari said of Tyree. “He defends, he tries to steal and he’s good. In our league, how many guys are like him? Not many. He’s playing well and somebody that we had better keep an eye on.”
On the other hand, Richards said the Wildcats are “moving in the right direction.”
“We’re getting better every day, especially in practice,” he said. “Off the court, we’re building a bond, building chemistry, together as players. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
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Gametracker: Mississippi at Kentucky, 2 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.