It was every bit the test John Calipari has been wanting for his team - and more - yet the Kentucky Wildcats passed with flying colors as they overcame their largest halftime deficit of the year to defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 73-64 last night in Starkville, Mississippi. Kentucky placed five players in double figures led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's 18 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Darius Miller had 12 and Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had 11 points each.
The win improves UK to 27-1 overall and 13-0 in SEC play, and clinched at least a share of the SEC regular season championship. UK owns a three game lead on Florida with three games to play and can clinch the title when Vanderbilt visits Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Always considered one of the toughest road trips in the SEC, the Bulldogs didn't disappoint as they raced out to a 12-2 lead and scorched the nets in building a 41-28 halftime lead. While MSU was lighting it up from beyond the arc in the first half, Kentucky wasn't helping its cause with unusually sloppy play and what appeared to be intimidation underneath caused by the big bodies of Bulldogs Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney. UK's defensive effort left something to be desired in the first half as well as MSU was given several open looks from three and knocked down six of them. MSU point guard Dee Bost had 16 first half points while being guarded by Marquis Teague, partly leading to Teague battling foul for most of the game (and partly due to a technical foul, which we will get to in a bit.)
The Wildcats adjusted in the second half, however, and besides leading the Cats in scoring, Kidd-Gilchrist accepted Calipari's challenge to defend Bost-and it worked, further enhancing MKG's reputation as a lockdown defender. Bost scored just five points in the second half, and while it won't show up in the box score, MKG's defense also hampered his ability to throw into the low post where MSU's big bodies were waiting.
After letting the Bulldogs shoot 48% in the first half, UK allowed just 32% in the second half. As has happened often this season, most recently at Vanderbilt last week, when the game was in the balance late, UK simply took over on both ends of the court. Following a TV timeout with 6:17 to play, Kentucky went on a 20-4 run to get the win. These Cats have shown that ability too often to call it a fluke or coincidence. At a time when many freshman get rattled, especially in a hostile arena against a talented opponent, this team has shown the ability to do whatever it takes-on both ends of the court-to get the job done. That is a special trait, especially in a primarily freshman roster stocked with future professional players.
Call it a will to win, or call it something else-but this team has it. Period.
Now to the officiating-I hear a lot of folks complaining this morning about the officiating, and while I usually disagree with them, their complaints have some merit. First lets talk about the technical foul on Teague-it looked to be warranted. The NCAA Director of Officials sent a memo out last week directing officials to clean up "unsportsmanlike" conduct, and barking at the referees is unsporting. Did Teague get fouled on the play in question-probably-but that doesn't excuse yelling at the officials-it will get you a technical, and it should.
On the other hand, the technical on Anthony Davis was absolutely ridiculous. Hanging on the rim is allowed if there are players around who may be trailing the play and the officials feel the player may be in danger from falling...but it is not allowed for show boating. I don't see how this technical was called given there were two MSU players with Davis, and one was trailing behind him-which means Davis had no way of knowing where the trailing player was in relation to his body. Davis was nearly vertical due to his momentum, and in my view that's a technical that you have to pass on-especially when it is apparent that Davis is not a show-boater or a trash talker.
Finally, I was really disgusted by the way the officials acted in their mechanics when making calls at times. I say this as an official-we are taught not to make a spectacle of ourselves, but I thought on several occasions the officials did just that. Instead of simply pointing a direction or signaling a foul, they used exaggerated movements that were just downright silly at times. That is disappointing.
Don't let your friends with teams in other conferences downplay the significance of this win-Mississippi State is a talented team with three guys who will play at the next level. Frankly, I think their biggest Achilles heel is their coach, Rick Stansbury, because there is no way that team should be on a four game losing streak with the talent they have-they should be contending with Florida for second in the league.\
This was a tremendous win that exposed to the nation what we already knew-this team has the heart of a champion. It can win in dazzling style, and it can win when not playing its best. It can take the best an opponent can give it, on the road, play poorly, and yet still emerge unscathed. This team is damn good-and is probably now considered the favorite to win the national title.
Go Cats!go back