LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—As motivation to keep the Rupp Arena crowd rowdy, Kentucky coach John Calipari has said when the Wildcats lose home games, he won’t stick around to sign autographs.
Three years into his tenure, he’s still signed after every home game.
Terrence Jones had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 1 Kentucky to a 77-62 victory over Mississippi on Saturday, the Wildcats’ 50th consecutive win at home.
“I made an executive decision with the radio group outside, the 9,000 people that stay after,” Calipari said, referring to the fans that stick around to hear Calipari’s interview on the postgame radio show. “If I walk in there after an `L,’ no balls get signed. So now I’ll be out there signing 200 basketballs before I leave the building.”
The Wildcats (26-1, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) are 49-0 at home under head coach John Calipari as part of the nation’s longest active home winning streak.
At one point in the first half, the Rebels led 31-29. But as soon as they did, Darius Miller tied the game back up with a soaring dunk over Reginald Buckner. The one-handed slam woke Kentucky’s notorious home crowd back up, and the Cats went on a 14-3 run over the next two-and-a-half minutes.
Miller, a senior, is the only player or coach on Kentucky’s bench that’s been a part of all 50 games in the home win streak.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to accomplish something like that at a program like this,” he said. “I’m just happy and blessed to be a part of something like that. It was kind of a struggle my first year here, and the way that it changed so quickly— I’m just blessed to be a part of it.”
The last time the Wildcats lost a home game was March 4, 2009. Billy Gillispie was the head coach, and Kentucky lost 90-85 to Georgia.
Kentucky took an early 16-5 lead, but the Rebels took advantage of freshman center Anthony Davis sitting for much of the first half because of foul trouble. Ole Miss forwards Terrance Henry and Murphy Holloway took the ball inside without the nation’s leading shot blocker looming. Henry, who had 16 points of his 18 points in the first half, helped the Rebels (15-11, 5-7) take a 31-29 lead.
But the Wildcats hit three straight 3-pointers to take a 43-35 halftime, and they never trailed in the second half.
The double-double was Jones’ first of his sophomore season after recording 13 as a freshman.
As Ole Miss was taking the ball inside before halftime, the Wildcats were settling for outside jumpers that initially weren’t falling. But Kyle Wiltjer and Miller came off the bench and started hitting shots. Both players had 10 points at halftime, and the hot shooting carried over to the second half. Kentucky finished the game shooting 10 of 18 from 3-point range.
Holloway had 15 points for the Rebels.
Doron Lamb had 16 points for Kentucky, while Miller had 14, Wiltjer 13 and Davis added 10 points, six rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said this year’s Kentucky team is the best he’s faced in his six years of coaching in the Southeastern Conference, and he spent his energy preparing his team for that instead of the home win streak.
He did tell his players to enjoy the atmosphere, though.
“I’m a basketball jones at heart, so I have great respect for this place and the passion. To me, it’s the pinnacle. It’s the pinnacle of college basketball,” Kennedy said. “For our young guys, sometimes I want them to understand the opportunity. Very few times do you get the chance to play in Rupp Arena in front of a packed house against the No. 1 team in the nation, so enjoy it.”