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Kentucky beats Mississippi State: 5 things to know and postgame banter

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A great rebound win for the improving Cats.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats took care of business at home tonight, beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs 80-72. The Wildcats were in control for the entire game, and thankfully some key players stepped up to keep the game in hand for Kentucky.

EJ Montgomery had a fantastic game, putting up 12 points and 8 rebounds in addition to many impressive hustle plays. Nick Richards was the real story for Kentucky once again, however, scoring 27 and pulling down 11 rebounds.

The Wildcats looked better than last Saturday, but certainly have room for improvement.

Here are five things to know:

Board man gets paid

Nick Richards only had 2 points in the first half. It seemed like he was going to have another game of struggling against a talented big. However, he continued to hit the boards. After 5 rebounds in the first half, he finished the game with 11. Also, he ended up scoring 25 points in the second half to bring his total to 27.

Nick Richards has shown that he has skills in all the right areas. The questions have been whether or not he can bring it night after night and how he will respond to a physical center on the other side. For Tuesday night at least, he showed that he can find ways to contribute even when he is not at his best and that he is capable of performing no matter what opponent is wearing the opposite uniform.

Perhaps the biggest perk of Richards’ big performance tonight was that he hit 13 of 15 free throws. That’s something you rarely see from a big man, especially in the college game. That is a huge advantage in that Calipari can trust him to stay in during close games in crunch time.

Welcome to the SEC, EJ Montgomery

Mississippi State is not the most talented team in the league, but they are big, strong, and athletic. Those are all things that EJ Montgomery has struggled with in the past. But tonight against Mississippi State, he showed that he can be who the Wildcats need him to be.

Montgomery finished the game with 12 points and 8 rebounds. However, he seemed to be in the right place at the right time throughout the game. He consistently came up with loose balls, he fought for rebounds, and he made tough shots against other talented college big men. That is the dude Kentucky needs on the floor opposite Nick Richards. If he can be that consistently, the future is bright for this team.

Hagans continues to struggle

Not everyone is going to talk about this given the outcome of the game, but Ashton Hagans did not look good tonight. That is 3-4 games in a row where he has struggled.

If you remember from last season, Hagans peaked in December against North Carolina and really had a hard time once February and March rolled around. That was a big reason that Kentucky lost in the Elite 8 to Auburn when they seemed to be the better team.

Hagans shot less than 30% from the field and only had 6 points against a Mississippi State team that does not have top tier guards. He did only have a few turnovers, but in the scheme of things it was still too many. This was just the type of game that he could have taken over, but the sophomore guard instead disappeared.

Sestina’s ups and downs

Nate Sestina looked really good at times against Mississippi State. For one thing, he could defend a little better against their less-mobile big men. He was also able to use his quickness to score.

Sestina had a stretch of about three minutes when he rattled of six quick points. It was exactly what John Calipari wants from him. However, he still committed some mind-boggling fouls and his shoulder seemed to randomly pop out of place with no contact. It was a very weird outing for the graduate transfer, but in taking good with the bad it was definitely an improvement for Sestina compared to recent games.

Ice cold Immanuel

Immanuel Quickley REALLY struggled to score the basketball tonight. He shot just 27% from the floor for the game and only made one of his three-point attempts. Thankfully, he was still able to kill it at the free throw line, knocking down all 14 of his attempts to get him to 21 points on the night.

Coming into the game, Quickley was the leading scorer for this team. He still has that title after the game, but Nick Richards certainly made a run at it. This was a rare cold performance from Quickley.

You have to expect that he will have a few of these to even out the games when he could not miss. And it is certainly better for this game to come in early February as opposed to late March. But let’s hope that these performances are few and far between for the sophomore guard.

Let’s talk about the big win!