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UK Wildcats Basketball: 5 more thoughts and postgame notes from bounceback win

Kentucky gets a much needed win at Rupp over the Bulldogs.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky looked to rebound at home against Mississippi State after suffering back to back losses to South Carolina and Florida, plus the Cats dropped out of the top 25 for the first time since 2014.

From the tip, Kentucky struggled to get their shots to drop as they had only posted 6 points at the first media timeout. Kentucky finally built up somewhat of a rhythm and had a 26-22 lead after a Kevin Knox jumper forcing the Bulldogs to take a timeout with 7:50 to go in the half. Kentucky would go on to take a 38-36 lead into the break.

An unfortunate trend for the Cats this season is the slow starts to the second half, and it happened again tonight. A quick score by Mississippi State and a turnover by Knox that led to a fast break dunk forced Calipari to take a timeout to get his team regrouped and focused.

Kentucky and Mississippi State stayed in a close battle for majority of the game exchanging leads. With just under 10 minutes to play Kentucky had a one-point lead that quickly grew into a 9-point advantage.

Mississippi State didn’t quit and pulled back to within 5. However, great late game execution by the Cats allowed the to pull back away and close out the game for a 78-65 bounce back win over the Bulldogs in Rupp.

Thoughts on the game

PJ Washington was outstanding

Washington set a new career high in points posting 22 on 6/10 shooting. He was also able to grab 6 rebounds, get 3 steals and 2 blocks. PJ was easily the player of the game making some clutch shots down the stretch and being a presence on the defensive end as well. Washington was also going at defenders forcing them to foul him and he made it count going 10/14 from the free throw line.

Kevin Knox is back!

Over the last month Knox hasn’t been the most consistent player and has struggled to make shots. In some games he wasn’t even on the floor down the stretch. That wasn’t the case tonight as Knox made his presence felt. Knox finished with 19 points on 5/6 shooting, 4/4 from three and had 6 rebounds, 2 steals to go with it. If Knox starts shooting like that on a nightly basis then the potential for this team is through the roof.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was great

Shai posted 16 points on 6/15 shooting, but scoring is not the thing that was most impressive in his performance. Shai had 6 assists and was getting his teammates open and getting them the ball in a position to make a play either by scoring or making a pass to an open teammate for a good look. He also grabbed 4 rebounds and I don’t know what more you could want from your point guard. As long as he is playing like he did tonight, this team will be fine.

Quade Green hasn’t gotten back in a rhythm

Since Green missed a few games with a back injury he has struggled in his two games back. Tonight, he only took 2 shots and had 4 points. Being out for a period of time can make you lose the rhythm you had prior. Once Green gets his confidence back he should start to get back to the level he was at before the injury.

Nick Richards is struggling

Once again it was a poor performance from our starting center. Richards had zero points on 0/1 shooting and only came up with one rebound. On a night where Kentucky won the battle on the glass 41-31 he should have had a major impact in that regard. With his size he should be able to average around 8-10 rebounds a game and he can’t seem to figure it out yet. Luckily, he has Kenny Payne on the staff to continue working with him and hopefully he figures it out before the season ends.

Here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky is 15-5 overall and 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Mississippi State is 14-6 overall, 2-5 in league play.
  • Kentucky leads the series 95-20 and has won 11 in a row against the Bulldogs.
  • UK leads 48-5 in games played in Lexington.
  • Kentucky has its final non-conference game of the regular season Saturday at No. 7-ranked West Virginia. Game time is 7 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.
  • ESPN College GameDay will be in Morgantown, the second consecutive week that the Wildcats will be featured on the popular show. It will be UK’s 16th appearance on GameDay, second only to North Carolina (17). It’s also the third year in a row that UK has appeared twice in the same season.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky’s starting lineup featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington, Kevin Knox and Nick Richards for the seventh time this season. UK is 5-2 with this lineup.
  • Kentucky extended its streak of 1,033 consecutive games with a 3-pointer when Knox connected with 13:46 on the clock.
  • It was a back-and-forth first half, with a couple of UK seven-point leads being the largest margin for either team.
  • Led by Knox and Washington, UK took a 38-36 lead into intermission. Knox had 13 points, the sixth time this season he hit double figures in the first half. Washington had 11 points, the fourth time this season he had double digits in the opening stanza.
  • UK is 11-2 this season when leading at halftime.

In the Second Half

  • Trailing 52-49, Kentucky went on a 13-2 run for a 62-54 lead.
  • Ahead 68-63, UK added a 6-0 run for a 74-63 lead.
  • All totaled, UK closed the game on a 29-13 run over the final 12:30 of the game.

Team Notes

  • Mississippi State shot 38.8 percent from the field, the fourth straight game that UK has held the opponent under 40 percent.
  • MSU hit only 5 of 29 on 3-point tries, 17.2 percent. It’s the fourth straight game the Wildcat opponent has shot under 25 percent from long range.
  • UK outrebounded Mississippi State 41-31. The Wildcats are 14-1 this season when winning the battle of the boards.
  • UK had only 11 turnovers and the Wildcats are 8-0 this season when committing 12 or fewer miscues.
  • UK is 42-9 under Coach John Calipari in bounce-back games after losses, including 4-1 this season.
  • UK’s largest lead was 13 points at the final buzzer. UK is 224-5 under Coach John Calipari when leading by 10 or more during the game.
  • Kentucky coaches and staff wore sneakers tonight as part of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer “Suits and Sneakers” week, raising funds and cancer awareness on behalf of the American Cancer Society.

Player Notes

  • PJ Washington had a career-high 22 points, sparked by a 10-of-14 performance at the foul line.
  • He added six rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and a career-high three steals.
  • Featuring 4 of 4 on 3-pointers, Kevin Knox tallied 19 points and added six rebounds.
  • Knox tied his career high for 3-pointers, also tying the most by a Wildcat this season.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander notched 16 points and six assists with no turnovers.
  • Wenyen Gabriel contributed seven points and six rebounds. He has six or more rebounds in each of the last four games.
  • Hamidou Diallo scored six points, tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, adding two assists, two blocked shots (tying career high) and two steals.
  • Jarred Vanderbilt snagged seven rebounds in 11 minutes of action. Vanderbilt has 18 rebounds in 38 minutes this season, an average of one carom per 2.1 minutes of action, an outstanding ratio.

Coach John Calipari

  • Calipari has a 709-198 all-time on-court record.
  • Calipari is now 264-58 at Kentucky, surpassing Orlando “Tubby” Smith for third-most wins as a Kentucky coach.
  • Calipari is 146-7 at Rupp Arena, including 128-4 against unranked opponents.
  • Calipari is 12-0 vs. Mississippi State in his career.