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...
While they try to figure out the near-fisticuffs, good time to say De'Aaron Fox has saved UK in the clutch here.— John Clay (@johnclayiv) January 18, 2017
Fox has the clutch gene. Monk might have it, too. But Fox was clearly the guy here.
This drama here at the end is silly, but you have to know these kids are frustrated by all the whistles tonight.— Big Blue Insider (@bigblueinsider1) January 18, 2017
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.
Two straight UK road games where the losing fans are chanting overrated. That's just bizarre.— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) January 18, 2017
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.
UK makes a few free throws and Musburger will start talking about the spread.— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) January 18, 2017
Musburger was awful last night. I think he mispronounced Bam’s last name at least 10 times.
FINAL: Kentucky 88, Mississippi State 81. We did it! Got to 52 combined fouls!— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) January 18, 2017
52 combined fouls is the most in a Kentucky game in about a year. Not fun to watch.
6-0 SEC BABYYYYYYY— J.D. Shelburne (@JDSHELBURNE) January 18, 2017
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 had 13 points and five rebounds but did not get a shot in 9 minutes he played the second half— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) January 18, 2017
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.
Basketball won't grow in the @sec if the league continue to tolerate this officiating. This isn't hyperbole. Just miserable to watch.— T.J. Walker (@TWalkerRivals) January 18, 2017
Everyone was saying this last night. Can’t argue with it. Be the best version of yourself, SEC.
Fox on Monk: "I tell him keep shooting. I hope no Kentucky fan would tell Malik to stop shooting." Says he'll come right back with huge game— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) January 18, 2017
I sure as hell wouldn’t tell him that.
The last time UK hit at least 50% from the field for 5 games in a row, Travis Ford was the point guard. Now it's 6 games...that's a WOW !!!— alan cutler (@cutler18) January 18, 2017
Let’s just hope they can keep that up in March.
Calipari: "I thought we were a month away. We may be two months away."— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) January 18, 2017
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) pic.twitter.com/wFquqotoi8
— 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 kenpom.com 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.