Kentucky came into the game tonight looking to make it three straight wins at home while Mississippi State was looking to halt their 12 game losing skid. Kentucky played it's best basketball of the season Saturday night against Missouri and Cat fans hoped they would pick up where they left off. Any slip ups, especially against a team with a resume like the Bulldogs' would spell the end to any hopes the Cats had of making the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky opened the scoring for the game with a put-back slam by Alex Poythress off a Ryan Harrow missed three. Poythress has shown tremendous improvement over the last couple of games and he will need to show more for this team to have a successful post season run. To start the game, Alex Poythress was everywhere, getting rebounds and drawing offensive fouls, it seems he has turned the corner and coming into his own as a player. At the first timeout, Kentucky led 11-6 with Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combining for all 11.
Archie Goodwin still has a bad habit of driving the lane when nothing is there just to turn it over. I can't remember a more frustrating player to watch since the arrival of John Calipari, the most aggravating part is you know he's a better player than what he has shown this season. We have seen flashes of what Archie is capable of (second half of the Missouri game), I'm just not sure what it would take for him to become a consistent player and that's what could cost him a first round NBA draft pick.
Everything went Kentucky's way early in the first half as the Cats put together a 22-2 run, a run where even John Hood got in on the action by draining a three from the wing. With 9:39 left until halftime, Kentucky led 24-8 and showed no signs of slowing down. Even their defense was much improved tonight as they at one point caused State to miss eight straight field goal attempts by playing some of the best in your face defense they have played in a while. But it didn't take long for turnovers and boneheaded plays to show their ugly faces again as Miss State cut Kentucky's lead to 14-26 with 7:25 left in the first half. It's little things like that that cost them some games early in the season that they really shouldn't have lost.
The best sight of the first half, besides the emergence of Alex Poythress (finally) was seeing Julius Mays do some coaching on the floor. After Archie Goodwin drove the lane and committing his 100th turnover, Julius took him aside and was explaining the importance of passing the ball. I'm not sure if Archie was listening, but Julius was sure explaining it to him. As the "old man" of the team, it's good to see Julius play the role of a leader. He made a comment recently that when he slides the Kentucky jersey over his head it makes him play with pride. That comment, ladies and gentlemen came from a transfer that hasn't even played a full year. Now if we can just get the other guys to feel the same way.
Kentucky went to the break up 42-19 while playing some pretty good basketball. Alex Poythress was your halftime leading scorer with 13.
NOW IT WAS TIME FOR THE HALFTIME CELEBRATION OF THE 1996 CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM AND THE RING PRESENTATION THAT HAS BEEN 17 YEARS (FINALLY) IN THE MAKING THANKS TO AN "OVERSIGHT" BY RICK PITINO AND HIS STAFF. I'M NOT REAL SURE HOW YOU "OVERLOOK" THE FACT THAT YOU DIDN'T GET YOUR TEAM A CHAMPIONSHIP RING, BUT HE DID...
(courtesy of UKathletics.com) "96 team during the celebration at halftime
(Courtesy of UKathletics.com) Wayne Turner Shows off his new ring
Wayne Turner was quoted as saying "I sometimes wish he were my coach", that ladies and gentlemen was in reference to John Calipari. What's up Ricky?
HOOD: 5PTS, 3REBS, 1AST
POLSON: 4PTS, 3REBS, 2ASTS
HARROW: 6PTS, 5REBS, 3ASTS
POYTHRESS: 13PTS, 4REBS
WILTJER: 0PTS, 1REB, 1AST
CAULEY-STEIN: 6PTS, 4REBS, 1AST
MAYS: 6PTS, 2REBS, 3ASTS
AS A TEAM, KENTUCKY OUT-REBOUNDED STATE 23-13, HAD 7 TURNOVERS, 11 ASSITS AND 4 BLOCKS.
The one thing that needed improving from the first half is the play of Kyle Wiltjer. Kentucky cannot afford to have him going scoreless at any point of any game. He MUST score on a consistent basis, other than that, it was a pretty good half by the CATS.
Kentucky started the second half with a two and a three point make by Archie Goodwin. I guess the little talk Julius had with him in the first half worked. Ryan Harrow even got in on the fun in the second half by draining his first three point attempt of the half bringing the score to 50-19 with 16:52 to go in the game.
I lost a little concentration due to receiving text messages from people about the '96 team celebration, so I missed a little bit about the game, but it was well worth it.
With 12:20 to go in the game, Kentucky had a 62-32 lead and sloppy play as expected, followed. Kentucky has got to learn that a game lasts 40 minutes regardless of the score. I don't care if you lead a team by 40, you've got to keep your foot on the throttle, there's no since in giving them even the slightest glimmer of hope... sweep the leg so to speak.
The only thing bad about Kentucky getting this kind of lead is the fact that the crowd was practically comatose for the remainder of the game and this wasn't the game you wanted the crowd to seem bored if you know what I mean.
Since the injury Nerlens Noel suffered a couple of weeks ago, Cauley-Stein has really turned into one helluva player. The down side to that, there's a possibility that he could play his way into the NBA draft. As of today, Chad Ford had him going in the late lottery. Don't get me wrong, I love to see these kids reach their dreams, but it would be nice to have him back next season with what Kentucky has coming in.
With 3:35 left in the game, Calipari decided to empty the bench because of the 79-48 lead the starters had built. With this win, Kentucky collected its 20th win of the season, something Cat fans didn't think would ever happen.
You got to see another CLASSY move by John Calipari inserting Twany Beckhem and taking him out seconds later just so he can get his name in the books against the team in which he transferred from. The reason he was taken out so quickly is due to an injury, but Cal made sure he got in against his former team, gotta love Cal for how he thinks about the little things most people wouldn't think of.
The final score ended up being 85-55 in a less than exciting game, but one that will no doubt boost the confidence of some of the guys who needed it the most.
Cal said after the game that:
"We played pretty well, they didn't shoot particularly well, but I'm just concerned about my team. Willie was pretty good again, Julius was the glue that kept everything together. We could be better but we're improving."
Ryan Harrow: 'Everyone had to pick their intensity since the loss of Nerlens Noel. Everybody is just playing together. Arkansas is tough to play at home, we just need to come out with a lot of energy and try to match them down there."