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One week ago, the Cats collapsed over the last 12 minutes and allowed South Carolina to change the Cats' 14 point lead into an 8 point Gamecock win. In the aftermath, the players, the coach, and the fans became very vocal. How could this have happened? Why did it occur? Will the Cats “get right” when Florida comes into Rupp on Saturday for College Game Day?
The Cats did battle the Gators, but turnovers, rebounding, and poor shooting allowed the Gators to get out of Rupp with a huge win over the Cats, by 2 points. The Cats had the ball in their hands for the last 20 seconds with a chance to either tie or win the game, but could not get a shot to the rim. For conference races, protecting the home court is an essential component in the formula of success because road wins are so difficult to achieve. Any home loss spells trouble in that regard, but a home loss to a contender is double trouble.
The UK home loss to the league leading Gators virtually handed the 2018 SEC regular season championship to Florida. However, Auburn is nipping at the Gator's heels in this championship race. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently in a dog-cat fight for 3 rd and 4 th place, with the Volunteers holding a slight edge over the Cats due to their win in Knoxville 2 weeks ago. The Cats can recover and stay in the hunt for one of the four double byes in this year's SEC Tournament. However, the Cats must not lose again at home, and they must pick up a couple of additional road wins, a task that is not likely to occur unless the Cats resolve the myriad of issues that have been plaguing this team all season.
Quade Green returned to game action on Saturday against Florida. While the level of his play was clearly not on par with his pre-injury play, his return to action provides the Cats with more depth at the guard position which is a positive for this team. The Cats are nearly back to full strength, with Tai Wynyard still on the sidelines.
The Cats have now lost two games in a row for the eighth time in the Calipari Era. The prior seven times occurred once in 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2017. In 2013, the Cats dropped back to back games three times. No Calipari coached UK team has lost three in a row. Therefore, when the Cats limp back into Rupp Arena tonight to host Mississippi State, another record carrying potential negativity is in play. Couple this with this team's recent flirtation with the nation leading 3 point shooting streak, this team could place itself on the wrong side of UK basketball history if it fails to take care of business tonight.
MISSISSIPPI STATE brings a 14-5, 2-4 in the SEC record into Rupp. After starting their season with eight straight wins, and a 13-1, 1-0 record after a 15 point loss to #8 Cincinnati on December 12, the Bulldogs have lost 4 of their last 5 SEC games. Their only win during this losing streak was over #96 Vanderbilt by 18 in Starkville. Mississippi State's SEC losses have been at Mississippi by 6, at Florida by 17, at Alabama by 6, and at home to Auburn by 8. The Bulldogs' most impressive win this season was over # 36 Arkansas by 3 in Starkville when they opened the SEC season. The Bulldogs have played with an ANE of 0.096 ppp (#87) after having played a schedule strength of -0.019 ppp (#219).
The Cats are ranked #42 with an ANE of 0.171 ppp after having played a schedule with a schedule strength of 0.074 ppp (#15). The ANE analysis has the Cats favored by 10 points, 76-66 in a game played at a pace of 73 possessions. Pomeroy has the Cats favored by 8, 71-63 with a pace of 68 possessions.
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Coach Calipari will start Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Hamidou Diallo. Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Quade Green, and Sacha Killeya-Jones will provide the primary bench help and Tai Wynyard has returned to practice this week. For the first time this season, Coach Calipari has the full roster available for a game.
The Cats control the opening tip and score quickly on a lob dunk to Hamidou Diallo. The Bulldogs matched the Cats scoring at 2-2 and again 4-4. Then the Cats moved out to its 3 rd 2 point lead, 6-4, Mississippi State answered with a 3 pointer followed by a basket to move on top 9-6 at the under 16 media timeout. After the timeout, Mississippi State will have a pair of free throws. Making both, the Bulldogs move out to a 5 point lead. The Bulldogs maintain the 5 point lead to 15-10, but the Cats catch up at 15-15. Then Mississippi State makes their 2 nd 3 point shot of the game to move ahead by 3, 18-15, at the under 12 media timeout. After the timeout, the Cats will have the ball.
The Cats catch up again at 18-18, and move into the lead at 20, and again at 22, only to have Mississippi State catch them each time. From 22-22, the Cats score back to back baskets to move on top by 4 points, 26-22. Mississippi State takes a timeout with 7:50 left in the half. The Cats move out to a 7 point lead, 32-25, and again at 34-25 at which time Mississippi State takes another timeout with 4:24 left in the first half. Over the final 4:24, Mississippi State pulls to within 2 points, 38-36, at the half.
The Cats scored 38 points on 37 possessions, 1.027 points per possession, and MISSISSIPPI STATE managed their 36 points on 36 possessions, 1.000 ppp. The Cats made 41.9% (13-31) of their first half shots, including 3-8 from outside the arc. MISSISSIPPI STATE managed to make 39.4% (13-33) of their first half shots, including 3-14 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 5 turnovers in the first half while MISSISSIPPI STATE committed 5 turnovers.
The Cats made 9-12 from the line (75.0%) and MISSISSIPPI STATE made 7-8 from the line (87.5%).
On the Boards, each team grabbed 18 rebounds, but the Bulldogs have a 1 board advantage, 6-5, on the offensive glass that produced a whopping 11-2 advantage in second chance points for Mississippi State. The Cats secured 29.4% of their misses and allowed MISSISSIPPI STATE to grab 31.6% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Mississippi State opens the second half with a basket to tie the game, and following an unforced UK turnover, Mississippi State gets a run out basket to move into the lead. Coach Calipari takes a very quick timeout with 19:24 remaining in the game.
The last time Mississippi State beat a Kentucky team, it was in 2009, culminating a 3 game losing streak including back to back losses at Rupp Arena. That was the last time a Kentucky team lost 3 in a row and the last time a UK team lost back to back games in Rupp Arena. The Cats are on the brink of history. After the timeout, the Cats manage a basket to tie the game again at 40. The Cats move back on top by as many as 3 points, 47-44, but the Bulldogs trim it to 1 and PJ Washington commits an offensive foul turning the ball over to the Bulldogs at the under 16 media timeout with 15:20 left in the game. In the second segment of the second half, the teams moved from 1 point leads by each team with each score, and Mississippi State goes to the under 12 media timeout with the lead, 52-51 and in possession of the ball following a shot attempt by Quade Green that missed everything and bounced out of bounds.
The Cats move back into the lead on a pair of free throws by PJ Washington. Then Shai Gilgeous-Alexander connects with PJ Washington with a lob to stretch the Cats' lead to 3 points, 55-52. Mississippi State takes their next to last timeout with 10 minutes left in the game. After the timeout, Mississippi State scores to trim the lead to 1 point again. Kevin Knox hits his 4 th 3 pointer of the game to extend the Cats' lead to 4 points, 58-54, at the under 8 media timeout. The Cats have the ball. Back to back baskets by the Cats extends the lead to 8, 62-54, the largest lead of the game for either team. Mississippi State stops the UK run with a 3 pointer to trim the lead back to 5 points, 64-59. The Cats get a pair of free throws from Quade Green and a fast break layup by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after an air ball by Mississippi State. Ben Howland burns his last timeout of the game with 4:01 remaining and the Cats holding their biggest lead of the game, 9 points, 68-59.
Quade Green fouls a 3 point shooter who makes the shot and converts the free throw for a 4 point play to trim the lead to 5.
Cats win 78-65
UK scored its 78 points on 71 possessions (1.098 ppp) for the game, and MISSISSIPPI STATE scored its 65 points on 73 possessions (0.890 ppp).
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 41-31, and Kentucky controlled the offensive glass 13-10. Kentucky used its 13 second chance possessions to score 6 second chance points, and MISSISSIPPI STATE used its 10 second chance possessions to score 11 second chance points. MISSISSIPPI STATE had an offensive efficiency of 0.740 ppp on its 73 first chance possessions and 1.100 ppp for its 10 second chance possessions. UK had 1.014 ppp on its 71 first chance possessions and 0.462 ppp on its 13 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 38.2% of its misses as offensive rebounds while MISSISSIPPI STATE was able to convert 26.3% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit well from the free throw line in this game, making 23-30 [76.7%]. MISSISSIPPI STATE made 8-10 [80.0%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 25-58 overall [43.1%] and 5-14 from long range [35.7%]. For MISSISSIPPI STATE, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a strong 21-38 [55.3%] and from long range, MISSISSIPPI STATE hit 5-29 [17.2%].
The Cats committed 11 turnovers, one for every 6.5 possessions. The Cats forced 11 MISSISSIPPI STATE turnovers, one for every 6.6 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Saturday night against West Virginia in the annual SEC-Big12 Challenge at Morgantown, West Virginia at 7:00 pm for the twenty first regular season game of the 2017-18 season.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks