KENTUCKY 85, MISSISSIPPI STATE 79
Feb. 15, 2011
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
Say this much for Kentucky and Mississippi State, their games are always entertaining.
Behind 24 points from Brandon Knight, Kentucky overcame an 11-point first half deficit and beat Mississippi State, 85-79. Knight led the Cats but was one of four that finished in double figures; Doron Lamb had 20, Terrence Jones had 17 and Darius Miller had 13.
Mississippi State, known for shooting threes with reckless abandon, made 12-of-22 for the game and shot 52.2 percent from the field overall in the first half. And while making 7-of-11 threes in the second half, the Bulldogs shot just 6-of-19 from inside the arc after halftime.
"How were we down one at halftime? I have no idea. We should have been down 15. I was just trying to make it close. I told them this is dangerous. Teams are coming after you and if you play soft you let them build their muscles. We were down 5-0 in the blink of an eye and it never really got any better."
"Last year you felt like you could take away some things (from Kentucky) but this year it's very difficult to take anything away from them because they are so skilled '1' through '4'." -- Miss. State coach Rick Stansbury, on difference in last year's UK team and this one.
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
"I knew Coach Calipari had a reason for me (shooting the ball from midcourt). I have seen it happen before where they know guys are going to foul them and guys just act like they are about to shoot. I saw him coming and I just tried to throw it up towards the rim. (Stansbury) didn't agree with it, obviously." -- UK guard Brandon Knight, on the call at the end of the first half.
Brandon Knight could not have started the game any worse. The freshman had played well offensively for much of Southeastern Conference play but couldn't throw the basketball in the ocean for the first eight minutes, missing all three of his three-point attempts without ever really coming all that close to having one go down. Somewhere along the way the flick of Knight's wrist found the sweet spot and the point guard exploded, scoring a game-high 24 points over the final 24 minutes, including 15 in the second half, to give him his 11th game of at least 20 points scored on the season. Knight also added seven assists and three rebounds.
If Rick Stansbury keeps this up he's going to enter Mike Davis territory for an opposing coach that has let Kentucky burrow so deep inside his head he'll have nightmares long after his coaching days are complete (credit to a Cats' Pause Twitter follower for that zinger). The Kentucky native's team had everything going its way just before halftime when he called for his players to use their fifth and sixth fouls of the half to impede UK's chances of getting a shot off after inbounding with 4.2 seconds left. On the second one, UK's Brandon Knight threw the ball toward the goal despite being at halfcourt and was awarded three free throws, immediately sending Stansbury into George Carlin mode, thus earning him a technical foul. Knight his 4-of-5 free throws to turn a five-point deficit into just a single point at the break.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Doron Lamb spent much of the Cats' loss at Vanderbilt getting scolded by UK coach John Calipari for what the coach considered to be lack of hustle, amongst other things. That performance was the third consecutive subpar outing for Lamb, during which he averaged just 7.3 points and made only 6-of-18 shots from the field. The freshman guard bounced back in a big way when the Cats needed him against Mississippi State, scoring 20 points while making 7-of-8 shots from the field and all three of his three-point attempts. Lamb played 38 minutes after starting in place of the injured Darius Miller, who came off the bench because he missed practice the day before the game.
Darius Miller turned in a gutsy 13-point performance just three days after injuring his groin against Vanderbilt, but you'd be remiss to overlook the work Terrence Jones put in for the fifth consecutive game. The rapidly maturing freshman forward notched his third double double over those five games (he missed a fourth by one rebound against Vanderbilt) with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while also adding five assists to boot. Jones' most important contribution may have been the back-to-back steals he snagged that led to fastbreak scores and turned a 50-49 deficit into a 53-50 lead during a momentum-changing 11-0 spurt early in the second half.
46 - Whether it has been bad luck or bad execution, Kentucky's three-point defense continues to be mired in an almost inexplicable rut. Mississippi State, a notorious three-point shooting squad, buried 12-of-22 three-pointers on the night, bringing the total made three-pointers of the Cats' past five opponents to 46. Entering the last five games UK had held its opponents to just 29.8 percent from beyond the arc, but has seen that number rise significantly with those five teams connecting on 48.9 percent of their shots from deep.
Did we see the coming out party for freshman Brandon Knight, who absolutely dominated the second half in UK's win. Faced with being blown out in the first half, Knight led a courageous comeback that could alter the season going forward.
Home was definitely sweet home for the Cats but not without a enough frazzled nerves amongst the Rupp Arena crowd to make traders on the New York Stock Exchange floor blush. UK was D.O.A. at the opening tip and stumbled all over itself for the final four minutes but somehow woke up long enough in the interim to notch a much needed victory it hopes will be the impetus for a surge over the final six games of the regular season.
Kentucky (18-7, 6-5 SEC) returns to action at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19 against South Carolina in Rupp Arena.
Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.