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What They’re Saying: Victory in ‘Stark Vegas’ edition

The hottest takes from the Big Blue Nation after Tuesday’s tight finish with Mississippi State.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Mississippi State
Edrice Adebayo (3) dunks the ball during the first half against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Humphrey Coliseum
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Since Tuesday night marked the first time since 2007 that Kentucky has beaten Mississippi State in both football and basketball in the same school year, I thought I’d remind you of this football moment from October...

When Kentucky Basketball hits the road in the SEC, it usually is the toughest ticket to get for opposing team fans. For some, it’s the only ticket. The fans, along with the national media attention, is usually enough to make decent teams play at a above-decent level. Tuesday night was no different when the Wildcats took on Mississippi State at “The Hump” in Starkville, MS, aka “Stark Vegas.”

The Bulldogs, along with some crazy foul-calling referees, gave the Wildcats just about all they could handle Tuesday. Kentucky led by 17 midway through the second half before giving up 13 unanswered to the Bulldogs, making way for a tight finish. Under a clutch performance from freshman guard De’Aaron Fox, the Cats wound up on top, 88-81, extending their perfect, 6-0 conference record.

It wasn’t pretty at times, and its safe to say this young Kentucky team still hasn’t quite hit its peak, but a conference road win is a conference road win.

Here’s a look at what was said in the media after the game...

Fox has the clutch gene. Monk might have it, too. But Fox was clearly the guy here.

Tensions were high as a double technical was issued to both sides after a scuffle with under a minute to play in the second half.

It is a bad visual for a fan base to chant “overrated” when they’re about to lose, but I’d be a little salty, too, if my buzz had worn off in Starkville and I knew a loss was inevitable for my team.

Bam is a bad man.

I’m not sure I completely agree with this. I think they’d rather just keep running, but obviously glad we came out with a win in a physical contest.

Musburger was awful last night. I think he mispronounced Bam’s last name at least 10 times.

52 combined fouls is the most in a Kentucky game in about a year. Not fun to watch.

Sure, the SEC is pretty terrible, and the Cats have yet to face either of the other two ranked SEC foes, but you can still be happy for a 6-0 start.

Willis needs to be more aggressive. The man shot 3-4 from three-point land in the first half. He’s got to be able to get open if he’s feeling it.

Everyone was saying this last night. Can’t argue with it. Be the best version of yourself, SEC.

I sure as hell wouldn’t tell him that.

Let’s just hope they can keep that up in March.

It seems to be quite the roller coaster with this group of guys and Cal’s evaluations after each game. I will say that the effort has been consistent. If they keep playing hard, good things will come. Their next two home games against #24 South Carolina and #2 Kansas should be good measuring sticks for the Cats.

Kentucky Sports Radio’s Tyler Thompson elaborated a bit on the foul situation:

If there’s one disturbing trend in the past few weeks, it’s the number of fouls called by SEC officials. Between the two teams, 52 fouls were called tonight, 24 on Kentucky and 28 on Mississippi State, slowing the game down to a crawl and making it practically unwatchable. Four players fouled out: Isaac Humphries, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Schnider Herard, and Xavian Stapleton. In the past three games, a whopping 144 fouls have been called, which is absolutely absurd.

A double-technical was called on Isaiah Briscoe and Quinndary Weatherspoon for this exchange after a foul on De’Aaron Fox:

The scuffle between Kentucky and Mississippi State following De’Aaron Fox being fouled (now that I can tweet it)

— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) January 18, 2017

Please fix this, SEC.

Meanwhile, the Herald-Leader’s John Clay gave his take on Cal’s “we’re two months away” comment:

What particularly peeved Calipari was Malik Monk picking up a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk that put the Cats up 64-46 with 12:18 left. It was similar to the same technical that Karl-Anthony Towns earned at LSU that helped the Tigers get back in the game two years ago at LSU.

Monk had an off night all the way around. He missed nine of his 14 shots, missed all three of his three-point attempts and committed five turnovers.

It wasn’t just Monk, however, Calipari said. Players left timeouts and didn’t follow instructions. There were too many fouls, especially on the offensive end. UK was called for 24 fouls and Mississippi State 28 by the whistle-happy crew.

He was asked whether he was worried that maybe he couldn’t get this team where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

“Well, then you’re basically saying their will is stronger than my will,” Calipari said. “You know me pretty well.”

Finally, ESPN’s C.L. Brown said a lot of mishaps for Kentucky on Tuesday night can be accredited to its focus, or lack thereof...

Kentucky ranks seventh nationally, according to data, in average (shortest) possession length at 14.7 seconds. On Tuesday night, its quick pace was especially effective, making 50.9 percent of its initial shots, according to tracking by ESPN Stats & Information. But that lulled the Wildcats into simply taking the first shot available without regard to whether they were taking good shots.

Malik Monk got lured into it. The Cats' leading scorer, at 21.8 points per game, had one of his worst shooting performances of the season, going 5-of-14 from the field. He was often the one with the quick release before even allowing his team to get in place for offensive boards.

Those long rebounds were part of the reason why Mississippi State was able to get out in transition, scoring 20 fast-break points.

But mainly it was UK turnovers. Oh, the turnovers.

Kentucky had been one of the nation’s best at taking care of the ball. It ranked first in the SEC and fourth nationally with turnovers on only 13.9 percent of its possessions.

Against the Bulldogs, that percentage increased to average one turnover on every five possessions. Mississippi State turned the Cats’ 16 turnovers into 23 points -- that’s the most they’ve allowed in a game the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

They were particularly bad during the 17-3 run the Bulldogs used to pull to 69-63 with 7:49 left. UK had five turnovers during that stretch.

Kentucky returns home Saturday to take on the 24th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Tip off is set for 6 p.m. EST.