It’s time for the good, the bad, and the ugly from Kentucky’s 71-67 victory over Mississippi State. The Wildcats jumped out to a huge lead, as many as 18, but struggled down the stretch and survived the Bulldogs’ late surge. PJ Washington led the Cats in scoring with 23 points.
- The extra pass - The Kentucky Wildcats, led by guard Ashton Hagans, did a phenomenal job of facilitating during the game. Whether it was the pick ‘n roll, the pick ‘n pop, driving and kicking or feeding the ball into the post, there was very little one-on-one basketball from the Wildcats. In fact, of the team’s 27 made shots, 13 of them came off assists. That’s nearly 50%. That’s right in line with the team’s season average of 52%.
- Three-point shooting - The Cats had no problem knocking down the triple against the Bulldogs. Kentucky was 7-of-18 from downtown and Coach Cal has been consistent in his desire to take that many threes per game from this year’s team. PJ Washington was flawless from behind the arc, knocking down 3-of-3 for nine of his game-high 23 points.
- Rebounding - The Cats got after it on the glass yet again. However, this time Washington was not as intimately involved, but the youngster EJ Montgomery picked up the slack for him. Montgomery snagged seven rebounds, four on the offensive end.
- Defending the three-point shot - The Cats didn’t allow a triple to fall in the first half, but the Bulldogs sunk seven in the second half and almost came back and won the game. Mississippi State was o’fer in the first half. They couldn’t buy a three-point bucket. After halftime it was a whole different story. Led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, the Dawgs quickly got back in the game early in the second half by delivering from downtown. Weatherspoon had three triples and his running mate, Lamar Peters, was 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
- Nick Richards - Richards, who’s played better of late, did not have a good game against Mississippi State. Much of Richards’ struggles sometimes are, I believe, based on matchups. Down the stretch, rather than going with Richards, Cal played Montgomery and rotated between Washington and Travis who both had four fouls with under four minutes to play.
- Jemarl Baker from downtown - Baker is on this team to shoot. Yes, his defense is getting better, but he’s primarily a shooter. Baker was 0-of-2 from downtown and his only bucket was on a floater in the lane. Baker has to be able to knock down the open three-pointer.
- Free throw shooting - Oh, this cannot be good. Poor free throw shooting reared its ugly head in the Cats win. As a team, the Wildcats were 10-of-17 (58.8%) from the charity stripe. This team is 29th in all of college basketball this season from the free throw line, making 75.3% of their foul shots. If this team wants to win in March and go deep in the tournament, they’re going to have to be better at the line.
- Elbows down low - There were a few elbows thrown at different times throughout the contest. One by Reid Travis in the second half appeared to be inadvertent, and that was confirmed by video review. However, Washington was nearly clocked in the head by Reggie Perry as the first half came to a close. Both players were issued a technical foul.
- Missed layups - This wasn’t on the Wildcats, but rather on the Bulldogs. Kentucky is lucky that Mississippi State made a habit of missing bunnies all afternoon because otherwise they may have ended up on the sorry end of the scoreboard. MSU missed seven points within point-blank range. If the Dogs make half of those shots, it’s a different game.