The Kentucky Wildcats returned home for what could be a trap game right off the Auburn win and Kansas coming to town on Saturday, as they faced off against Mississippi State.
Thankfully, the Cats got off to a very good start, had a lot of energy and played excellent defense, which led to easy baskets and a 10-6 lead at the first media timeout.
Everyone was getting it done for the Cats early on as Nick Richards hit a turnaround hook to extend the lead to 20-9 with around 13 minutes left in the half.
The Cats continued to have a good flow offensively up until the last six minutes of the half as they were leading 28-18.
From that point on, the Cats were out of sync offensively and took bad shot after bad shot which allowed the Bulldogs to hang around, when in reality, Kentucky should’ve been up about 15.
However, the defense was stout throughout the half, and the Cats were able to take a 34-26 lead in to break.
After halftime, Kentucky didn’t get off to the best start, but they were able to keep it around 10 as they led 41-32 at the first media timeout.
Out of the timeout, Mississippi State had it clicking and the Cats were struggling as the Bulldogs quickly cut it to a two-point game, 41-39 with 13 minutes to play, forcing Cal to take a timeout.
From there, Kentucky started rolling, as a huge block by EJ Montgomery and a beautiful pass by Tyler Herro led to a dunk by Nick Richards, which woke the crowd up, and from that point on, it was all Kentucky.
With just under six minutes to play, Kentucky had a 59-48 lead, and they were able to dominate down the stretch to extend the lead and come away with a 21-point victory, 76-55.
Thoughts on the game
PJ Washington dominated
This is now the third straight game where PJ has had a very solid performance, although in this one, he was excellent. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks. He was also 3/5 from three and shot 9/15 overall.
Just when some people were beginning to wonder if we were going to see PJ play at a high level, he comes out with three straight big-time performances against tough opponents.
This is also the kind of performance that leaves fans often frustrated when Washington struggles to make an impact. It’s not that PJ being erratic at times hurts Kentucky, but it’s also hurting his NBA stock.
If PJ played like this more often, he’d be safely projected in the lottery of this year’s draft, which would set him up for life. He can still get to that level if he keeps playing like this for the rest of the season, which, in turn, will make Kentucky a strong title contender.
Kentucky will need another big performance from him Saturday when Kansas comes to Rupp.
Herro keeps playing at a high level
We all know what Herro did on the road at Auburn knocking down big shot after big shot on his way to a 20-point night and helping fuel the tough road victory.
Over the last six games, Herro has been shooting the ball lights out at over 40% and has been 100% from the free throw line.
That all continued Tuesday for a seventh-straight game as he had 18 points on 5/10 shooting, 3/3 from three and he stayed perfect at the line going 5/5. He also had five rebounds, one assist and one steal while finishing with a game-high +/- of 20.
Ashton Hagans controlled the offense
Since Hagans had his breakout game against UNC, he has been a pest on defense for opponents and that continued tonight as he came up with two steals and made the Bulldogs’ guards uncomfortable even thought that doesn’t show up in the stats.
Also, in this one he was running the offense to perfection as he had a career-high nine assists. While he only scored five points, he was hitting guys in great spots to score and was in complete control on that end of the floor.
Also, because Hagans had just two steals his seven-game streak of 3+ steals is obviously over, but he’s still gotten at least two in eight-straight games. That alone is an impressive feat.
Defense was outstanding
Once again, the Cats were able to lock up their opponent defensively, holding them to just 55 points on the night. It was arguably the best defensive performance of the season when you consider the opponent.
It also was one of the most suffocating outings UK has had against a top-25 foe going back to the 2014-15 team, which had one of the greatest defenses of all time.
Kentucky tonight had their best field goal percentage defense against an AP Poll ranked team (31.1%) since March 26th, 2015 vs. #20 West Virginia (24.1%)— Corey Price (@coreyp08) January 23, 2019
One thing that has been shaky for the Cats has been their perimeter defense, but in this one, they were playing lockdown defense outside as well. They held Mississippi State to 3/20 (15%) from three, as they were able to get a hand up and make most of their attempts contested.
Baker was sick
Almost as soon as Jemarl Baker checked in, it was clear something was off. He was having a tougher time staying with his man, and he missed his only shot while committing a turnover in just six minutes.
Turns out, Baker was sick and trying to play through it:
Jemarl Baker was sick today, but Calipari says he really defended when out there. Cal went to put him back in and Baker told him he couldn't feel his legs.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) January 23, 2019
Hopefully, whatever Baker is dealing with will be gone soon, as Kentucky needs him to produce quality minutes against a guard-heavy Kansas team on Saturday. And perhaps more importantly, it hopefully doesn’t spread around the team.
What a year it’s been for Kentucky on the gridiron and hardwood. The football Cats finished in the top-15 of both major polls, and part of that was due to their 21-point win over a top-25 Mississippi State team.
That’s what the basketball Cats did to the Bulldogs Tuesday night in Rupp, and it marked a rare feat accomplished by the two UK teams:
This is the 5th time in the AP Poll era, since 1948-1949, that Kentucky has defeated a ranked opponent by at least 21 points in both men's basketball and football in the same academic year (1951-1952, 1955-1956, 1976-1977, 1993-1994, 2018-2019)— Corey Price (@coreyp08) January 23, 2019
One negative thing from the game
I know we came away with a 21-point win so complaining is a little uncalled for, but I am going to just a little.
Turnovers were a bit of an issue throughout this one as they had 16 on the night. They just made several unnecessary passes that ended in giveaways. Thankfully, they forced the Bulldogs to cough it up 15 times.
Still, that’s 29 turnovers for the Cats over their last two games. The Cats will need to take better care of the ball Saturday if they are going to come away with the win
Saturday the Cats will have yet another tough test as they face off with the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks. That game will get started at 6:00 pm EST on ESPN.