KENTUCKY 85, MISSISSIPPI STATE 55
Feb. 27, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
Julius Mays guards Miss. State's Fred Thomas in Kentucky's 30-point victory (Matt McCarty/TCP)
On a night when Kentucky honored the 1996 national championship team with title rings, the current incarnation of Cats showed little mercy on a woefully overmatched opponent.
Given how bad Mississippi State is this season, that '96 team may have still been able to score one more collegiate victory had it taken the court.
The Cats (20-8, 11-4 SEC) opened up a big first half lead and never looked back, cruising to an 85-55 victory over the Bulldogs in front of 24,023 fans at Rupp Arena. It wasn't the complete domination the likes of which Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty and Co. used to deliver but yet another step for the suddenly streaking Cats.
UK had runs of 20-1 and 13-0, methodically pummeling a Mississippi State team with only eight available players whose losing streak was extended to 11 games, the second-longest in school history. State (7-20, 2-13) shot just 32.1 percent for the game.
“I thought we went forward. I mean, again, you have five guys in double figures. The sixth, Jarrod Polson, has nine points. We shoot a high percentage, hold them to a low percentage. There were times in the game where I wanted more energy but it's a 30-point game and it's hard.”
“I don't see a lot of problems. I understand that Kentucky has had some problems with injuries and they probably lost the No. 1 draft pick in the nation in Nerlens Noel, but when you want to start comparing trials and tribulations, we win all day long.” – Miss. State coach Rick Ray, on the issues both teams have faced this season
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“It's still empty. We're always going to have that empty feeling (without Noel) but we're just coming together as a team now. Guys are starting to listen to what coach has to say and it's falling into place.” – UK freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein, on learning to play without Nerlens Noel
It's been a somewhat inexplicable season of peaks and valleys for Ryan Harrow but the sophomore point guard appears to be trending upward again at a time when Kentucky would certainly love to see him hit his stride. An early season illness caused him to miss four games in November before he returned and played arguably the best basketball of anyone on the team in late December and early January, only to regress again for much of February. But Harrow's 19-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, zero-turnover performance against Mississippi State extended a three-game stretch where he has averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, while turning the basketball over only three times total. If the Cats get that Ryan Harrow their chances for a late run greatly increase.
In some ways Twany Beckham had to have felt like he was coming full circle. The senior guard has had a bit of a rough go of it since he transferred to UK in January 2011, sitting out the first semester of last season before seeing just 44 minutes of action in 16 games, scoring zero points in the process. The Louisville native thought he'd have an opportunity to be a defensive specialist this season but a nagging back injury that required surgery last month derailed hopes of that and was thought to end his season. Facing his former school, Beckham dressed against Mississippi State and was inserted into the game in the closing minutes only to be immediately replaced before the game went live. It was a classy gesture by UK coach John Calipari to get the senior a likely final game moment on the Rupp Arena floor.
PUT A RING ON IT
For many Kentucky fans, the 1996 national championship will always be remembered as arguably the best of the program's eight national title teams. The depth of talent, personality, style of play and sheer dominance would have been enough to earn that label, but being the first team to win a title after the program rebounded from probation also played a role. At the time it wasn't commonplace for schools to give players a championship ring in addition to the NCAA one they received, which led to UK bringing the group back together at halftime to honor them with championship rings. The ceremony was a banner moment, and couldn't have hurt with top recruit Andrew Wiggins in town.
52.5 – In the aftermath of the debacle at Tennessee, Calipari and his staff went back to the drawing board in an effort to revamped the UK offense to more closely fit their individual skill sets. By opening up the floor to create more spacing the Cats have suddenly become a well above average offensive unit and far less congested in their sets. UK has shot better than 50 percent in all three games since leaving Knoxville and have made 52.5 percent of their shots overall during that span. It's the first time since defeating Lafayette, Morehead State and LIU-Brooklyn in early November the Cats have shot better than 50 percent in three consecutive games.
Mississippi State may very well be the worst basketball team in the country that hails from a BCS conference but you still have to go out and take care of business against them because the Bulldogs play extremely hard despite their deficiencies. Everyone has watched this Kentucky team go through the motions against lesser opponents this season so this was undoubtably a good sign that it took care of business from start to finish against a bad team and after coming off an emotional victory over Missouri. In a season-long exam this was definitely a test passed without issue.
Kentucky (20-8, 11-4) travels to Arkansas for a tough road game in an arena the Hogs rarely lose. Tip is set for 4 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday, Mar. 2 on CBS.