Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Mississippi State

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Mississippi State

by Tim Letcher

Kentucky’s huge offensive effort on Saturday night might have seemed like a product of a high-paced game against an opponent that also likes to score. However, there may have been more too it, according to UK assistant coach Chin Coleman.

Coleman credited UK head coach John Calipari with a lineup adjustment that produced huge results in Saturday’s 117-95 win.

“The last game, the GOAT (greatest of all time) had a hunch,” Coleman said. “He had a hunch, he went with his gut to play (Zvonimir Ivisic) with four guys that he would kind of like to see Z play with. That hunch was part of the explosion that you saw. (Now), he’s got another hunch, so we’ll see what happens in the next game.”

All season, the Kentucky staff has had to deal with players missing time for various reasons. Balancing all of that has been tough, but Coleman thinks Calipari has done a masterful job with it this season.

“We have figured out all season how to play without this guy, these two guys (are out), he’s out,” Coleman said. “It’s kind of been like musical chairs type of thing for Coach Cal to kind of figure this stuff out. I think for the most part, he’s done a great job. He’s the GOAT for a reason. Coach Cal is the GOAT. He’s done a good job of figuring all of that out.”

Now, Kentucky hits the road and heads into another hostile environment. The Cats visit Mississippi State on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN) in what’s sure to be a loud, sold out Humphrey Coliseum.

This will be the second meeting between the Cats and the Dogs this season. On January 17 at Rupp Arena, Kentucky got 27 points from Antonio Reeves and beat MSU 90-77. Rob Dillingham had 16 points off the bench but perhaps most importantly, the Cats tied the Bulldogs on the boards, 33-33. MSU is one of the best rebounding teams in the Southeastern Conference.

Unlike last week, when the Cats lost at LSU after playing so well at Auburn the game before, Kentucky hopes to build on Saturday’s big win over Alabama and continue building momentum for March.

Last Time Out: Alabama Recap

Kentucky head coach John Calipari had been saying it for weeks – it was just a matter of time before freshman Justin Edwards had a breakout game. Saturday was that game, and it came at a crucial time.

With the Cats hosting No. 13 Alabama, Edwards had the game of his UK career. He scored a career-high 28 points, making his first 10 shots from the floor, including four from behind the arc, as No. 17 Kentucky beat Alabama 117-95 inside a noisy Rupp Arena.

Edwards became the fourth player in UK history to attempt at least eight shots in a game without a miss. He joins Rodney Dent (12 of 12 against Morehead State in 1993), Kenny Walker (11 of 11 against Western Kentucky in 1986) and Michael Bradley (8 of 8 against Pittsburgh in 1998).

Edwards was not alone, as the Cats placed five players in double figures. Antonio Reeves scored 24 points and had five assists. Zvonimir Ivisic had a career-high 18 points to go with five rebounds and four blocked shots. Rob Dillingham had 16 points and Adou Thiero added 12.

Kentucky (19-8, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) scored first on an Ugonna Onyenso basket in the lane, but Alabama answered with a 7-1 run to grab an early 7-3 lead. The Cats then ran off six in a row, five of which were by Reeves, to lead 9-7.

The game would be tied at nine, 12 and 14 before Alabama scored five in a row to lead 19-14. Kentucky would get threes from Rob Dillingham, Reeves and Reed Sheppard to take a 23-22 lead. Alabama briefly took the lead back, 25-24, before the Cats got an Onyenso layup to lead 25-24 with 11:37 still to play in the first half.

After Alabama took a 26-25 lead on a Grant Nelson dunk, Kentucky got an acrobatic layup from Dillingham, one that briefly sat on top of the backboard, to lead 27-26. An Onyenso free throw made it 28-26 Cats.

A Rylen Griffen three gave the Tide a 29-28 lead but the Cats got a D.J. Wagner layup and a steal, basket and free throw from Adou Thiero to lead 33-28 with 8:42 left in the half. The run continued with a Thiero layup and a Justin Edwards jumper, making it nine UK points in a row and a 37-29 lead.

After Mark Sears scored for Alabama, Kentucky ran off 11 more points in a row, including a three-point play from Zvonimir Ivisic, to take a 48-31 lead with 3:39 to play in the half. The Tide would make four free throws in a row before Edwards hit a three and added a fast break layup, giving the Cats a 53-35 lead. Kentucky would lead 58-42 at the half. It was Kentucky’s second-highest scoring half of the season, trailing only the 69 first-half points UK scored against Marshall.

Early in the second half, the teams traded baskets and Alabama eventually got within 13 points, 64-51. However, the Cats then got baskets from Reeves and Thiero to extend the lead to 68-51. After Sears hit a three for Bama, UK got an Edwards free throw, a Sheppard dunk and an Edwards four-point play to build the lead to 75-54 with 15:15 left.

The run continued as Edwards converted a fast break, reverse layup, giving UK a 77-54 advantage. A Reeves layup and free throw concluded the 12-0 and left the Cats with an 80-54 lead. UK made nine of its first 10 shots in the second half.

The onslaught continued. After Alabama scored to make it 80-56, Ivisic scored four in a row to make it 84-56. The Cats then went on an 8-3 run, with all eight points by Dillingham, to lead 92-59 with 11:04 still to play.

The Cats would extend the lead to as many as 37 points, 104-67, before setting for the 22-point victory.

A Look at the SEC Race with Four to Play

If the season concluded on Feb. 26, the Wildcats would own the No. 5 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. There’s a lot left to be decided from now until tipoff in Nashville on March 13. Kentucky is two games back of first place, but could also still finish as low as 10th. Here’s a look at the remaining schedule and tiebreaker scenarios for the Cats:

• Tennessee (vs. AU, at UA, at SC, vs. UK) – UT owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup, will play in final game of season
• Alabama (at OM, vs. UT, at UF, vs. ARK) – UK owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• Auburn (at UT, vs. MSU, at MIZZ, vs. UGA) – UK owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• South Carolina (at TAMU, vs. UF, vs. UT, at MSU) – SC owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• Kentucky (at MSU, vs. ARK, vs. VU, at UT)
• Florida (vs. MIZZ, at SC, vs. UA, at VU) – Kentucky owns tiebreaker based on win over Alabama
• Mississippi State (vs. UK, at AU, at TAMU, vs. SC) – Kentucky owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup, will play on Tuesday
• LSU (vs. UGA, at VU, at ARK, vs. MIZZ) – LSU owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• Ole Miss (vs. UA, at MIZZ, at UGA, vs. TAMU) – UK owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• Texas A&M (vs. SC, at UGA, vs. MSU, at OM) – TAMU owns tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchup
• Georgia – UK cannot finish lower than Georgia based on headto-head matchup
• Arkansas – UK cannot finish lower than Arkansas based on head-to-head matchup and wins over Alabama and Auburn

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