“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” (one-hit wonder Timbuk3, 1986)
For Harlan County native Jordan Smith those song lyrics seem to be spot on. And, as UK starts its 83rd SEC season, the chance for the Cats to win their 47th regular season championship is bright as well.
Before heading into the anticipated bright future that awaits this year’s Kentucky Wildcat basketball players and The Voice winner Jordan Smith, their paths intersected at Rupp Arena on Saturday with Smith, on hand to sing the National Anthem. And as expected, Smith did a great job. The Rupp faithful responded with a huge ovation.
The Cats faced their first SEC opponent, the Mississippi Rebels, on Saturday. Ole Miss took UK into overtime last year in Rupp, and lost mainly because then-junior guard Stefan Moody had severe leg cramps at the end of regulation and was unable to shoot free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. Kentucky was able to get the game into overtime and win 89-86.
Mississippi has won only two of 51 prior meetings with UK in Lexington, so the visitors from the Magnolia State would need something to spark them onto a third win at UK. Moody, now a senior, was anticipated to be that spark. He is the SEC career leader in free throw percentage (89.02) ahead of Jodie Meeks (88.988) and Kyle Macy (88.978). Moody currently is eighth in the nation in scoring. The team with the better Little Big Man — Moody is 5-10 and 179 pounds, Ulis is 5-9 and 160 pounds — had the best chance to win.
Ulis evidently did not want to hear anything like he did after last year’s game when Moody scored eight straight points on him. From the game’s beginning Ulis, along with help from his backcourt mates Isaiah Briscoe, Jamal Murray and Dominique Hawkins, turned Moody’s return to Lexington into something he would rather forget.
Ulis totally outplayed Moody as the Cats roared to a 46-22 first half lead — the best half they have played this season.
The second half saw UK ease off the gas a bit. Moody ended up getting right at his average with 23 points, but most were scored when the game had already been decided. The Cats ended up with an 83-61 win over the Rebels.
UK outrebounded Ole Miss for the game, 41-27. Free throws continue to be a bit of a problem (UK was only 10-20 for 50 percent). The Cats backcourt defense is very, very tough and disruptive, but on the inside they lack the shot blockers they have had in the past.
With just a few adjustments and improvements, Kentucky has the chance to make the future bright indeed.
Random notes and sights from Rupp Arena:
Rising star: Prior to the game, seeing Jordan Smith in the tunnel, I introduced myself and told him I was telling everyone he was my cousin. He told me he was meeting a lot of new cousins lately.
Pre-game injury: Bobby Flynn, one of the true Lexington Legends and a long-time Committee of 101 volunteer, took a fall at his home prior to the game and his presence was surely missed. He is one of the many volunteers around UK athletics that make it such a class act. Get well soon, Mr. Flynn.
Bonjour Skal: Labissiere looked much more aggressive: after his first offensive rebound and put-back monster slam, Coach Cal looked as pleased as a new father watching his son ride a bike for the first time.
Moving back up: Derek Willis came off the bench to hit two of three 3-pointers and scored eight points in nine minutes. He continues to have the look of someone who could really help this team take off if he could put it all together.