The Kentucky Wildcats have now successfully navigated 90% of their regular-season schedule without a single blemish. They have set a new in-season record for consecutive wins, and are but six wins away from establishing a new Kentucky record for consecutive wins over multiple seasons. Impressive.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs played hard last night, and they did more good things than they’ll get credit for. They took care of the ball, something they have rarely done, and they were true to themselves by taking the ball to the basket all game long and getting to the free throw line. Unfortunately, they just didn’t make enough of their plentiful free throw attempts, nor were they able to connect on a reasonable percentage from the field against the Wildcats’ defense. In the end, their lack of size and talent undid them. Kudos to the Bulldogs for a hard fight.
Kentucky did not bring their best game to the Hump last night. The Wildcats were lethargic and indifferent through the first 30 minutes, then exploded for a big lead, ran away and hid. As I noted in the post-game, it’s good to know that Kentucky can shift gears like that in the middle of the game, but that is not something that needs to ever happen. An even effort, even if slightly uninspired, is more desirable than a long stretch of listless basketball with a sudden uptick.
Mississippi State box
To their credit, Kentucky was very patient on offense and took good shots. That’s a nice change for the recent forays into "jack up the first available good look from threeeeee!" we’ve seen recently.
The team lacked energy on offense. They stood around a lot looking for somebody else to go make a play. Not sure why that was, we usually see much more offensive intensity.
Kentucky was pretty focused defensively. They didn’t do a great job of moving their feet, which produced a lot of lanes for MSU to get into the lane and get fouled. Fortunately for Kentucky, the Bulldogs didn’t make many free throws.
Can’t really complain about rebounding too much, although offensive rebounding might have been better. Defensive rebounding was much, much better, though.
Both teams took good care of the ball. I would’ve preferred to see Kentucky force more turnovers, but honestly, MSU was just very careful with the ball, something they normally aren’t.
Kentucky got drubbed in the free throw rate stat. A lot of that was due to poor defensive positioning, but give MSU credit again here — they are the best in the league at drawing fouls. It’s who they are.
Nice to see almost 23% blocks.
Offensive efficiency was just okay at 1.14 points/possession. I think the low number of offensive rebounds and low turnover rate kept it down.
Who could complain about 12-13 at the line?
Trey Lyles gets the game ball, and no surprise there. He had his best game as a Wildcat, and along with his 18 points, he had 2 assists, a block and a steal and zero turnovers.
Andrew Harrison had a quiet game, not one of his best. But he did have another low-turnover game — 3 assists and zero turnovers. But he didn’t get to the line enough, and when he did, he missed the front-end of a one-and-one.
Aaron Harrison had a great game and gets an honorable mention for the game ball. Aaron was 60% from the floor, although only 33% from the arc, made all his fee throws and played solid defense. He had two turnovers, his only negative.
Karl-Anthony Towns continues to play well. He had a great line and also gets an honorable mention for a double-double that included 2 blocks and 2 assists.
Willie Cauley-Stein was fine. His rebounding was excellent this game, and he had a couple of blocks to go with his 4 points. We could’ve used a little more scoring from him.
Tyler Ulis didn’t play well. He turned the ball over a lot for him and went 1-5, the one being a prayer that was answered at the end of the first half.
Devin Booker did what he was supposed to do — make shots. He went 6-10 for 14 points.
Dakari Johnson had an off game. He just played without energy and wound up getting more fouls than points.
Marcus Lee did some nice things, got a couple of blocks, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Marcus is the best passer among our bigs, and is getting better every game. Keep paying attention to how he is passing the ball, it is becoming a point of pride for him that he is becoming more and more confident doing.
Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis played in garbage time. I thought Derek in particular looked good and played hard. I’ll bet Calipari noticed.
Tying it all up
This game went pretty much by the numbers — Kentucky is just too big and talented to fall to a team like Mississippi State even on the road, and not playing their best basketball. The Wildcats were an 18-point favorite for a reason, and that turned out to be the final margin.
Kentucky is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they are beginning to feel the good pressure of history. Now that they have broken a couple of longstanding UK records, they can now see the historic potential of this basketball team, and the possibility that they could actually do something really momentous, like run undefeated through the season.
Even if the Wildcats didn’t bring their best game last night, I suspect they will bring it on Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks. They are very well aware that Arkansas is a good basketball team, and much of the team has faced, and lost, to the Razorbacks before — if you recall, they swept the Wildcats last year. So don’t expect Kentucky to stroll into Rupp on Saturday like it’s just another game. They are now to the point in the season where the NCAA Tournament becomes real, and the stakes go up. If nothing else, this team has been able to find the focus on winning when they need it, and unlike Texas A&M and Ole Miss, Arkansas is not sneaking up on anybody.