Mississippi St. Bulldogs 63, Kentucky Wildcats 85:  Postmortem

Andy Lyons

Mississippi St. punched Kentucky in the mouth, but the Wildcats wore them down.

This was one of those games that you can find whatever you want in. You can find plenty to criticize and plenty to praise on both sides of the ball and nearly every player. You can find concern for the future, and you can find hope for NCAA Tournament championship #9. This game is a Rorsach test — your personality will be reflected in what you see.

Great effort by the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, particularly in the first half. They really took it to Kentucky for 20 minutes and outscored them in their own house, and in doing so racked up an impressive number of points. Rick Ray has MSU going in the right direction; they gave great effort, showed they know how to play basketball properly and really put Kentucky on their heels for nearly the entire first half. UK got by mostly on talent and size, but still went to the locker room behind. Look at it this way, MSU fans — you came into Rupp Arena and silenced the crowd, and flat won the first half. Here's the final box:

Fortunately for the Wildcats, they don't end the game after 20 minutes, and the second stanza was all Blue and White. Kentucky racked up impressive numbers, and got their shooting percentage from 34% all the way back to 49% for the game. Kentucky didn't do it from the arc, they did it from the sky, putting up an impressive array and sheer volume of lob dunks, the likes of which we haven't seen in a while around here.

Team observations

  • It was a tale of two halves. The first half was atrocious in almost every aspect, and the second was the converse. Rarely have we seen any UK team have such a Jekyll and Hyde game.

  • I'd say that Calipari should bottle whatever it was he said at the half, but I have a feeling it wasn't him. I think these guys just come out flat in the first half, and didn't need a lot of motivation to play better.

  • This team still cannot stand prosperity. They got to the line constantly, and still managed only 64% from the line.

  • I don't have the tempo free numbers, but Kentucky absolutely dominated the offensive and defensive glass.

  • I'm disappointed in the team turnovers in the first half. The second half was fine. Too many habit passes, another Harrison dribble-behind-the-back turnover, and similar silliness. Make the easy play, please.

  • 18 assists is much better, and a lot of them were lobs.

  • I can't believe Kentucky was credited with 7 blocks. I don't remember that many.

  • Please, Texas guys, stop the freaking grabbing!! Please!

  • Transition defense was a joke in the first half, and only marginally better in the second. An area in need of emphasis.

  • A word about the officiating; it was what we usually expect to get on the road at Vanderbilt or Tennessee, not at home.  But Kentucky has to play through that and treat the officials like a cut or bump on the head, and for the most part, they did.

Individual observations

  • Julius Randle was struggling offensively, and when he finally figured that out, he just started rebounding. He got 14 rebounds in spite of a lousy offensive game. He managed 8 points, but none of them was easy. He shot free throws like a blind man.

  • I know some of you want me to give the game ball to Poythress, but I have to be fair here. James Young was far and away the best player in this game. Check this line: 26 points on 8-18 shooting, 3-10 from the arc (not very good), but 7-9 from the line, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. That's a stat-sheet stuffer, and he gets the game ball.

  • Alex Poythress gets an honorable mention. he was 5-6 from the field and 2-2 from the line for 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. I think all 5 of his baskets were impressive dunks. He also defended well, earning 3 blocks and playing overall solid defense.

  • Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison combined were 3-12, 13 points, 4 rebounds 5 assists 7 turnovers and 6 fouls. This was by far the twins' worst game of the season, and I can't distinguish between them as who was worse. They came here as a package deal, and they get a package razzie from me for this game. Not what we need.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein did some good things, and some bad things. he had 12 points on 5-6 shooting, 2-5 on the line. But he only had 4 rebounds, and I didn't think his defense was all that impressive, though he did have a couple of blocks.

  • Marcus Lee had some good minutes, getting a couple of points on 1-2 shooting. He had a nice assist and a block.

  • Dakari Johnson was darn good. He played hard, he ran the floor, he defended well against smaller players and he scored the ball. Dakari was 4-4 for 8 points in only 8 minutes, 1 rebound.

  • Dominique Hawkins did what he always does — provided energy. He broke down more than once on defense, though, drawing the ire of Coach Cal. He had 4 points on 1-5 shooting, 2-2 from the line, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.

  • Jarrod Polson, E.J. Floreal, Jon Hood, and Derek Willis all played. Their impact on the stat sheet was minimal, although Hood had a nice assist.

Overall, this game leaves me somewhat less than happy. Yes, we won convincingly by a margin that looks pretty much fine, but Kentucky still struggles to put two haves of basketball together. Their continuing propensity for getting in early first-half holes is disturbing to me. You don't usually see that in a team that is a serious championship contender for obvious reasons. I'd love to see that tendency go away.

I also thought that overall, the team effort on this was at best uneven, and at worst unsatisfactory. There was too much lallygagging down the floor, too many plays taken off, and too many players playing as if this were a scrimmage rather than an SEC conference game.

I want to see better. The critic in me wants to say more, but I think maybe that's unnecessary. It was the first game back from a long layoff, and we have seen rust like this before. Best not to overreact, and just enjoy the convincing victory over a team that, while inferior on paper, played very hard.

Next up: Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. Despite Vandy's problems, nobody ever wants to take them lightly in Memorial Gym, and if UK brings this effort in there, I don't think I'm going to like the result. So let's hope they don't.

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