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Kentucky Basketball: 3 things to know from Wildcats’ close win over Mississippi State

Kentucky survived a ton of fouls to pull out a close game against Mississippi State.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Mississippi State Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Kentucky won an ugly SEC road game where there were a ton of fouls.

That was the case (again) in Kentucky’s 88-81 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Malik Monk didn’t play well, the referees took total control of the pace, and Mississippi State went on an 8-0 run at one point in the second half.

But Kentucky prevailed, thanks to a spark from Derek Willis in the first half and another great performance by Wenyen Gabriel. Here are three things to know from the win.

Everything was a foul

And I mean everything. Any sort of contact at all was a foul, and Malik Monk even got T’d up for “pulling up” on the rim.

Not much there. Seemed throughout the game as though the officials wanted to make sure everyone knew they were there.

Kentucky’s Isaac Humphries fouled out, as did Mississippi State’s Schnider Herard, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Xavian Stapleton. In total, there were 52 fouls. The Bulldogs had 28 and Kentucky had 24. A few of them came on this commotion.

Hate to see tensions boil over, but how about that move from De’Aaron Fox?

Because of all the fouls, Tai Wynyard and Sacha Killeya-Jones found themselves in the game early on. In general, all the bigs got more time than usual due to the fact that Bam Adebayo “committed” 4 fouls and spent a lot of the game on the bench.

Derek Willis was a spark plug in the first half

With all the fouls, some of Kentucky’s stars had to hit the bench early (like Bam Adebayo). Because of that, Kentucky was looking for someone to step up and take control through the adversity.

Willis was that guy tonight, as he scored 13 first half points, nearly doubling his season average (6.6 points). He shot 5-6 from the field, and 3-4 from 3-point range. He didn’t contribute in the second half, as he didn’t attempt a single shot, but his explosion in the first half helped get Kentucky in control of the game early on.

Wenyen Gabriel got it done on both ends

Gabriel has stepped up big time here recently. After a 16-rebound performance against Auburn, he came back with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. He shot 5-5 from the field, and 3-3 from 3-point range. He also had one of the bigger shots of the game right here.

With that 4-spot still sort of up for grabs, Gabriel has made a case for being the go-to forward to play that spot with these last two games.

He’s becoming a force on defense that can knock down clutch shots, ala DeAndre Liggins.

That’s the kind of impact Gabriel is starting to have, and his development is a big reason why Kentucky continues to grind out wins.