KENTUCKY 73, MISSISSIPPI STATE 64
Feb. 21, 2012
Humphrey Coliseum; Starkville, Miss.
STARKVILLE, Miss. - Staring down its largest deficit of the season in a road environment topped only by the one at Indiana, Kentucky delivered a stark truth in Starkville – it has an abundance of championship mettle.
The Cats defeated Mississippi State 73-64, finishing the game on a 20-4 run over the final 6:17 to surge out of Humphrey Coliseum with their hopes of an unblemished Southeastern Conference season still alive. Darius Miller scored all 12 of his points in the second half, all in the final eight minutes to lead the charge
Mississippi State led by 13 at halftime, the largest deficit Kentucky had faced all season, unseating the 10-point hole the Cats found themselves in against Indiana. The Cats (27-1, 13-0) finally took the lead with 4:11 remaining and pulled away for the win.
“You know what I said to them as it was winding down? 'What just happened was, everyone here makes plays right now. You blocked the shot, Terrence (Jones) stopped (Arnett) Moultrie on a drive. You make your three. Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) has a drive and two free throws. Doron (Lamb) makes his shot. You all now are making plays, and we're real good when we d that.' And then they were locking down defensively.”
There are always plays you can point to and when you play a team like Kentucky things are always magnified. I know a huge play in the game, we're up seven and we foul him on that three-point shot. We had gotten the rebound that shot. Huge play right there, huge play. – Miss. State coach Rick Stansbury, on foul called while Darius Miller was shooting a 3-pointer that started UK's 20-4 run to end the game
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“This is a huge win for us. Like Coach Cal said, they're a great team, a really experienced team, in my opinion. For us to come down here in the environment that this was in after being down, it takes a lot. Like Coach keeps saying, we have a will to win. It seems like at the end of the game, if it's close, we all focus in. After we do that, it just goes on from there.” – UK guard Darius Miller
Darius Miller isn't the guy that stands out the most when Kentucky enters an arena. He's the four-year player on a team full of one or two-year residents, the kid who would be the center of attention at 99 percent of the programs in America and yet is constantly overlooked on his own team. But Darius Miller is also quickly becoming the one guy you want with the ball in his hands and an important shot needing to be taken. Miller scored all 12 of his points in the final 7:52 – including three three-pointers – while also producing a steal that led to a fast break bucket, serving as the catalyst to the Cats' 20-4 run to end the game and shock Mississippi State. The effort prompted State coach Rick Stansbury to call Miller the 'fiber that holds that whole team together'.
To hear Stansbury tell it, the injury to Bulldogs' freshman guard Rodney Hood late in the first half was the beginning of UK's comeback - “A huge, huge, huge blow for us” the coach said – but this was more about Kentucky's defense down the stretch. Ask Vanderbilt how that worked out for them. The Cats forced Mississippi State into missing five of its final six shots in the last five minutes, turning those misses into points on the other end on nine of the Cats' final 10 possessions. When Jalen Steele was whistled for fouling Miller on the elbow on a three-pointer with 6:17 remaining, the Cats' comeback was on and State never recovered.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had struggled offensively of late while scoring four points in each of Kentucky's last two games, but he once again rose to the challenge in one of the Cats' biggest games. The freshman forward scored 18 points – his most since tallying 24 against Louisville on Dec. 31 – and added 10 rebounds to complement Miller's big second half. Kidd-Gilchrist also took the challenge of slowing State guard Dee Bost on the defensive end and held the explosive scorer who had poured in 16 points by the halftime to just five points after that, and none after Bost's NBA-length three gave State a 60-53 lead with 6:28 remaining.
32 – Winning games on the road doesn't happen often when you allow a team to shoot somewhere in the vicinity of 50 percent, which is exactly what Kentucky was doing through the first 20 minutes. Mississippi State hit 48 percent from the field in the first half, including 6-of-12 on three-pointers in running up 41 points on the Cats. Whatever was going on, Kentucky rectified the issue in the second half by allowing State only eight field goals, including just two over the final 6:28, on the way to 32 percent for the half.
Here's what we all know at this juncture of the season – this Kentucky team has some major gumption in the fortitude department. One respected national analyst tweeted after the game 'It's going to take a hell of a team playing a hell of a game to beat Kentucky,' an analysis that is spot on. Can Kentucky lose? Certainly. It nearly did in Starkville, but it also isn't going to curl up and go quietly into the night at any point so if someone is to beat the Cats then they are going to have to earn it for 40 minutes.
Kentucky (27-1, 13-0) returns home to face Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday, Feb. 25 in Rupp Arena. The game will be aired on CBS.