The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Lexington on Wednesday night by a score of 90-77.
The Cats got off to a quick start and they never really slowed down. The offense was rolling from the start and defensive improvements allowed Kentucky to knock the Bulldogs out of this game in the first half, as they led 47-29.
After the break, MSU opened the half with a 14-2 run in less than three minutes to cut the Kentucky lead to six. However, Kentucky locked back in and was able to extend the lead and, ultimately, pull away to get their third win in conference play.
This was John Calipari’s 400th career win at Kentucky, and you know he had to be happy seeing his team rack up 90 points against KenPom’s ninth-ranked defense.
Next up, the Cats will take on the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Now, here are three things to know from win No. 3 in SEC play.
Reeves is on a tear
Antonio Reeves has been nothing short of consistent and impressive this season. Reeves was expected to be the Cats’ best scorer, but there were questions about consistency and his desire to be here following the offseason transfer rumors.
None of that has been an issue. Reeves was the perfect returning piece for this team. He’s really honed in on his craft becoming a true three-level scorer. When the shots aren't falling from deep, he can score in other ways, plus he’s hitting the glass this season.
On the year, Reeves is averaging 19 points per game—good for third in the SEC. That’s impressive considering the number of mouths to feed on this extremely talented team. Reeves has now scored 20+ in over half of the Cats’ games this season.
On the year, he’s shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from three for the first time in his five-year career. He’s also knocking down free throws at an 85% clip.
Kentucky’s offense is really good, but they’re at their best with the high-scoring veteran on the court, especially when you pair him with Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham.
Sharing the basketball
This team’s calling card is protecting and sharing the basketball. They run all game long, but they do an incredible job, especially for such a young team, of not turning the ball over and finding open teammates.
This team averages close to a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s impressive for a single player. That’s elite for an entire team. Last time out, despite the loss, the Cats had 22 assists on just 32 made field goals. It was close to the same in this one.
The main reason this team scores so well is for this reason. And the reason they’re so good at doing it is because they have multiple guards that can handle the ball and find open teammates. There really aren't any ball hogs out there. The chemistry is excellent, and these guys genuinely seem to enjoy setting up their teammates.
Defense looked better, but still a long way to go
Kentucky’s Achilles’ heel this season is simple: defense. Well, defense and rebounding, but those oftentimes go hand-in-hand. Significant defensive improvements don't happen overnight, but progression is possible from game to game.
One of the biggest parts of defense is simply effort. Some guys are physically gifted and truly perfect the defensive craft, but the effort will get most guys at this level a long way. I don't mean to insinuate that this team isn't out there hustling, but I do wonder if all of the energy is being expended on the offensive end.
As mentioned above, rebounding is an issue, too, as well as physicality. It doesn't help that Adou Thiero has now missed five straight games, but it doesn't totally explain the issues, either. This game wasn't perfect, but Cal challenged this team to step it up defensively, and they did seem to take it a bit personally. The energy was much better (other than the first three minutes of the second half). The rebounding was better. It was a good all-around effort.
I’d be remiss if I didn't mention Ugonna Onyenso. This kid’s shot-blocking ability is really remarkable. He’s averaging 2.5 blocks per game in under 15 minutes per contest. He had five blocks in Saturday’s loss against the Aggies, and he swatted an additional four shots in this one. Onyenso is also a solid rebounder. He’s a big piece for this team going forward.
All in all, it was a great bounce-back game for the Cats. Kentucky’s six-game win streak ended on Saturday, but let’s hope an even longer one is just getting started.