The first half went just about as good as you could ask for the Wildcats. PJ Washington came out ready to play, scoring the first eight points for Kentucky.
The Wildcats continued to execute at both ends, leading to a 40-25 halftime lead.
The second half, though, was a different tale.
With 16:32 to go in the final period, Kentucky led 49-31.
However, a 19-2 run by the Bulldogs came over the following eight minutes and cut Kentucky’s lead to 51-50.
It was a dogfight the rest of the way, but timely plays by Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro got the job done for the Wildcats in their 71-67 win on the road.
Thoughts on the Game
PJ Washington shines but wasn’t perfect
Washington finished with 23 points, leading the Wildcats down the stretch of the second half. The star sophomore went to his entire repertoire and without his prolific showing on offense, Kentucky most likely leaves Starkville with a loss.
PJ Washington jump hook over the flopper. pic.twitter.com/UcXDOaXHp9— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
However, Washington was mostly a no-show on the glass in addition to missing key free throws and fouling out late in the game.
PJ Washington. Same spot, same result. pic.twitter.com/1JiL5g4vk8— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
John Calipari even called out PJ after the win, saying “I think he’s the best player in the country, but not like he played today. Doesn’t go get rebounds, doesn’t get loose balls, missed one-footers, missed every free throw — what?”
The star sophomore didn’t play a perfect game, but he was still once again the focal point of Kentucky’s winning formula.
Keldon Johnson steps up late
Over recent games, Johnson has hit a slump offensively. However, that hasn’t swayed his confidence to make plays late in games.
On Saturday, the freshman scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while adding hustle plays down the stretch.
Keldon Johnson muscles his way to the basket off the hit ahead by Tyler Herro. pic.twitter.com/B0sWlCMZGZ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
Ashton Hagans was spotted during the game saying “We need you” in Johnson’s direction. While Johnson answered, Kentucky could have blown out the Bulldogs if he’d been productive for most of the contest.
Big time defensive play by Keldon Johnson at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/YYlBEUzqY0— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
EJ Montgomery: The basketball magnet
Montgomery recorded his first double-double on Tuesday against South Carolina and followed that up with another strong effort on Saturday.
While scoring just two points, Montgomery grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes with one of those being the game-clincher off a missed free throw.
This sequence did not result in points but it was significant in that it allowed Kentucky to burn another 30 seconds off the clock down to 20 seconds left in the game. pic.twitter.com/46FJencyXn— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
Montgomery is slowly figuring the game out, which could bode extremely well for Kentucky down the stretch.
Tyler Herro: The road dog
Herro’s best performances this season have almost all been on the road. After Kentucky’s win at Auburn, Herro said he loves road games and hitting big shots.
Needless to say, he did so once again on Saturday.
TYLER BLEEPING HERRO!!! pic.twitter.com/wJ6G15pYUE— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 9, 2019
Herro scored 12 points with is final three coming on a fading jumper from behind the arc in the game’s final minutes.
Positive win for Wildcats
With an improved conference, any road game in the SEC is going to be a war for Kentucky. Mississippi State gave the Wildcats a 40-minute effort yet Kentucky was still able to prevail on top.
Kentucky continues to win, no matter the situation. We’d obviously like to see the Cats play well for 40 minutes, but they’re not going to be beating teams by 18 points as they get deeper in the NCAA Tournament.
They will, however, be in some competitive games that come down to the final minutes. That was the case in Starkville, and this time, the Cats came out on top. This was the type of game that will give Kentucky confidence when they get into a close game in the Big Dance.
Tuesday night, the Wildcats will host the LSU Tigers in Rupp Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 pm EST on ESPN.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky is now 20-3 overall and 9-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
o Kentucky has won 10 in a row, its longest streak since a 14-game win streak in 2016-17.
o UK has won nine consecutive SEC games, its longest since sweeping the 18-game league schedule in 2014-15.
o Kentucky has won five straight road games, the longest road streak since sweeping the 10-game away schedule in 2014-15.
o This is UK’s 11th straight 20-win season, including all 10 years under Coach John Calipari.
· Mississippi State is 16-7, 4-6 in the SEC.
· Kentucky leads the series 97-20 and has won 13 in a row vs. the Bulldogs, UK’s longest current winning streak against an SEC opponent. UK leads 36-12 in games played in Starkville.
· Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats return home to host LSU on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.
· Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the 16th time this season. UK is now 13-3 with that lineup.
· Washington got off to a good start, scoring UK’s first eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
· Trailing 17-15, a 7-0 spurt over two minutes – including five points from Herro – put the Cats on a 22-17 cushion. UK never trailed again, but the drama was far from over.
· A few minutes later, a 9-0 run put UK up 33-21. Hagans played in a role on all four baskets with assists on the first three, followed by two offensive rebounds that set up the final bucket.
· All totaled, UK closed the first half with a 25-8 run for a 40-25 advantage at intermission.
o Washington led the Cats with 10 points while Hagans directed traffic with seven assists.
o UK made 5 of 11 from 3-point range while holding the home team to 0 of 4.
· Kentucky began the second half with the same starting lineup.
· UK pushed out to 49-31, its largest lead of the game, before the Bulldogs warmed to the task.
· MSU put together a 19-2 run to close the score to 51-50 with 8:41 remaining.
· Washington responded with a post-up basket. Hagans followed with a driving basket and two free throws to give the Wildcats some breathing room at 57-50.
· After a Bulldog 3-pointer, Johnson scored six straight to push the lead back to 10 at 63-53.
· The Bulldogs lived up to their nickname, eventually pulling back within three points at 70-67.
· MSU got the ball back with a chance to tie but Johnson stuffed a shot by Quinndary Weatherspoon (officially credited with a steal) and recovered the ball with 10 seconds left.
· Hagans made 1 of 2 free throws as UK held on for the final margin.
· Kentucky was strong around the basket today, leading the rebounding 35-28 and points in the paint 34-24.
o UK is 18-1 this season when winning/tying the rebounding and 17-2 when prevailing in the paint.
· During the current 10-game win streak UK has …
o Held the opponents to 58.9 points per game
o Limited the opponents to 37.9 percent from the field
o Limited the opponents to 32.1 percent from 3-point range
· UK improved to 253-5 (.981) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
· The Wildcats are now 239-40 vs. opponents not ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
· PJ Washington led the charge with 23 points.
· He made 9 of 13 from the field and made all three tries from 3-point land.
· It is his seventh 20-point game of the season and his fifth in the last six games.
· He has eight straight games in double figures.
· Tyler Herro had 12 points. He made two 3-pointers, including a crucial long-ranger – as the shot clock expired – with three minutes to go that helped keep Mississippi State at bay.
· Reid Travis totaled eight points, a game-high rebounds and two blocked shots.
· Ashton Hagans had eight points and his nine assists tied his career high set on Jan. 22 vs. Mississippi State.
· Hagans has 17 consecutive games with at least three assists. He’s led the team in assists 18 times this season.
· UK is 5-0 this season when Hagans has seven or more assists.
· Keldon Johnson had 13 points, seven rebounds and the crucial steal late in the game that preserved the victory.
· This is the 19th time in John Calipari’s career with a 10-game winning streak.
· It’s Calipari’s 25th consecutive on-court 20-win season. He leads all active coaches with that streak.
· Calipari is now 295-67 at UK.
· He is now two wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
· Calipari has a 740-207 all-time on-court record.