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Cal and Cats recap Kentucky beating Mississippi State, plus postgame notes

“We’re never going to back down.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 15 Kentucky at Mississippi State Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A battle in Starkville is what we witnessed on an unusual 8:30 Wednesday night game, as the Kentucky Wildcats pulled out the much-needed road win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs, 71-68. It was just the second Quad 1 win of the season for Kentucky, though that number could be up to three now thanks to Texas A&M beating Arkansas.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, especially with some late-game mistakes that trimmed what was a 13-point Kentucky lead all the way down to one in the closing seconds. Thankfully, the Cats made their free throws and came away with the three-point victory.

Still, a win is a win, especially when on the bubble in February.

Oscar Tshiebwe led the way with 18 points, while Jacob Toppin (16), Antonio Reeves (14) and Chris Livingston (13) all scored in double figures.

Now, here is a recap of what John Calipari had to say of the big win via UK Athletics.

Q: Is the rebounding in this game the grit you’ve been talking about?

JC: “Yeah, we talked about it. Mississippi State, what they’ve done in this winning streak and what they’ve done to good teams, they’ve dominated offensive rebounds. They’ve outhustled, been tougher and turned people over. We had one guy [Cason Wallace] go 1-for-13, and we won the game … He had 11 assists though. He defended and the biggest rebounds, Cason [Wallace] came up with. Oscar [Tshiebwe] is beginning to be himself, not quite there yet. They had a small man on Chris [Livingston]. So, we posted him up four or five straight times. It’s stuff that we have. So, we didn’t have to do something new. We just wanted to get him the ball on the cuts.”

Q: How did the nothing to lose mentality help your team?

JC: “The biggest thing I’ve been talking about to them is ‘Refuse to Lose.” You may run out of time, but refuse to lose. Just keep fighting. Today, we missed that one free throw. Then, we miss a couple of three’s. Whatever we do to teams, it feels like they shoot 90 percent from the free throw line. It doesn’t matter if you usually shoot 50 percent. If you go against us, you shoot 90 percent. We made the plays at the end. The play at halftime made me mad because we were going to let them catch it. Adou [Thiero] tried to go get it, and that kid [Cameron Matthews] makes the three. I thought it was a hard-fought game for both teams.”

Q: How does the good free throw shooting at the end effect your team?

JC: “It’s how you win games. I’ve had some of the worst free throw shooting teams ever, but they made shots in the last four or five minutes. Hopefully that’s what this team is. Cason [Wallace] knocked his down, Oscar [Tshiebwe] went 3-for-4 and Chris [Livingston] made his.”

Q: What did you think of the environment at Humphrey Coliseum?

JC: “It’s always crazy here. It’s been nuts every time we’ve played here. To get out of here against a team who is on fire right now was a big deal for us.”

Chris Livingston

Q: What changed at halftime for you?

CL: “[Coach] Cal was holding me to a high standard. He was being hard on me because he expects much more out of myself during the game. That’s his job. In the second half, I knew I had to play harder and make some plays to make up for how I played in the first half.”

Q: How much did the refuse to lose mentality effect you in the second half?

CL: “Down the second half stretch with about seven minutes left, that was all we were saying. Refusing to lose. When it hit four minutes, we said it’s winning time. It’s that time of the season.”

Q: Was there anything that clicked for you in the second half?

CL: “It was more of a mindset. It was a mindset thing. Coach [Calipari] was on me, and I also didn’t want to lose. I was playing as hard as I could trying to make winning plays, whether that’s getting deflections or rebounds. I was trying to win.”

Q: Would you call this a breakout game for you?

CL: “Yeah, I guess you could say that. It was just the mindset of not wanting to lose. So, I was just making winning plays, whether that was scoring or rebounding. That was the mindset that I had, and I had to play with that energy.”

Jacob Toppin

Q: What was your takeaway of the overall effort everyone had?

JT: “We knew coming into this game it wasn’t going to be anything but a fight. We refused to lose today. We fought and made our runs late. They made their runs late. We stuck it through, dug deep and got the win.”

Q: How big was the 18-2 run?

JT: “Obviously, we went on a run. We understood that basketball is a game of runs. We knew they were going to go on their run. We could’ve backed down and let them win the game, but we didn’t. We kept fighting, stayed together and dug deep to get the win.”

Q: What is it about this team when your backs are against the wall?

JT: “That’s one thing about us, we’re never going to back down. We’re in a hole right now, but we’re going to dig out of it. We believe we’re going to dig out of it. We’re a great group of guys who are going to stay together, and we’re going to continue to fight to the end. We’re going to figure this out and turn it around. It started today, we got a good W.”

And here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky is now 17-9 overall, 8-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
  • Mississippi State is 17-9 overall, ending a five-game win streak, and is 5-8 in the league.
  • Kentucky leads the series 101-21 and has won two in a row vs. MSU.
  • UK leads 38-12 in games played in Starkville, winning the last eight there.
  • Next for the Wildcats: Kentucky comes home to play host to Tennessee on Saturday. Game time is 1 p.m. and it will be televised by CBS.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky is now 4-3 in SEC road games this season.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 13 points tonight. The Wildcats are 324-13 (96.1 percent) under John Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at some point during the game.
  • Kentucky controlled the rebounding 38-22 and is now 11-0 this season when winning the boardwork by double figures. The Wildcats won second-chance points, 18-8.
  • Coming into the game making 62.4 percent of their free throws, the Bulldogs made 73.7 percent of their foul shots tonight (14 of 19). Over the last eight games, UK opponents have made 86.1 percent, 118 of 137.

Player Notes

  • Oscar Tshiebwe led the Wildcats with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
  • It is his 15th double-double of the season.
  • He has 43 double-doubles in 58 games at Kentucky.
  • With 11 rebounds tonight, he moved into 10th place on the UK career list with 833 total in only 58 games.
  • He entered the game leading the nation in rebounding at 13.6 boards per game.
  • Jacob Toppin had 16 points and three rebounds, two assists and two steals, his ninth-straight game in double-figure scoring.
  • Antonio Reeves got his seventh start of the season and second game in a row. He tallied 14 points, his 20th double-figure game of the season and 11th in the last 12 games.
  • Chris Livingston had one of his best games as a Wildcat, totaling 13 points – one shy of his career high – and was a cool customer at the free throw line by making 6 of 6.
  • He had a fine all-around game with five rebounds, a career-high three assists and two steals.
  • Despite a tough night shooting, Cason Wallace played a fine floor game with a career-high 11 assists, only one turnover, four rebounds and two steals.
  • His 11 assists are the second-most by a UK freshman in a true road game, trailing only Dirk Minnifield’s 13 assists at Mississippi State on Jan. 23, 1980.
  • Wallace entered the game as one of only two freshmen in the nation averaging at least 12 points, three rebounds. 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
  • With Sahvir Wheeler and CJ Fredrick out with injury, Adou Theiro saw action for only the third time in the last eight games. He played eight minutes, contributing four points and four rebounds.

Coach John Calipari

  • Calipari is 18-1 vs. Mississippi State, with all but one win coming at UK. He is undefeated in his time at UK in games played in Starkville.
  • Calipari has an 827-250 all-time on-court record and is 382-110 in 14 seasons at UK.
  • UK is 314-62 (83.5%) against unranked competition under Calipari.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky opened with a starting lineup of Cason Wallace, Antonio Reeves, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe for the second game in a row.
  • Lance Ware was the first substitute at the 14:39 mark.
  • UK led by as many as seven points on two occasions and went to halftime up 36-35.
  • Toppin and Reeves led the Wildcats with 11 points each.
  • UK is now 15-0 this season when leading or tied at halftime.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky opened the second half with the starting lineup.
  • Trailing 41-38 with 16:30 left, UK went on an 18-2 run over the next eight minutes for a 56-43 lead.
  • At that point, the Wildcats went scoreless for more than four minutes and a 9-0 MSU spurt closed within 56-52.
  • The Bulldogs edged to 66-64 with 40 seconds left. Reeves missed a 3-pointer but Livingston tracked down the rebound, was fouled with eight seconds left, and made both free shots to make it 68-64.
  • MSU made two free throws with five seconds left and Tshiebwe was fouled with 4.6 left. He made the second to make it 69-66.
  • MSU was fouled with 3.8 seconds and made both, now 69-68.
  • Tshiebwe was fouled with 3.4 seconds left and made both, 71-68.
  • MSU completed a long pass downcourt but fumbled the ball going up for the shot and UK recovered to preserve the win.