Kentucky vs. Mississippi State score: Wildcats win big over Bulldogs, setting up huge showdown vs. Kansas
The Wildcats are coming into their own at just the right time with a massive game this weekend against the Jayhawks
Kentucky proved that it can win pretty, that it can win ugly, or that it can win using some odd combination of both styles all within a single game as it did Tuesday in dispatching No. 22 Mississippi State 76-55.
The Wildcats pounced on their visiting prey early at Rupp Arena, drilling four 3-pointers in the opening 13 minutes to build a double-digit lead with style and finesse on offense and just enough disruption on defense.
Then things turned ugly.
Mississippi State's defense pushed UK off the 3-point arc and dared the Cats to win from within the arc. It resulted in a knockdown, drag-out stretch, with the Bulldogs limiting the Wildcats -- who were on pace to score 96 just 10 minutes in to the game -- to 27 points over the next 20 minutes. From the 7:29 mark in the first half to the 8:16 mark in the second, UK made just one 3-pointer after relying on the long ball heavily early. It was during that span that Kentucky, instead of wilting, chose to flex its deep, bulging roster muscles by getting everyone involved. And boy, was this a flex.
Nick Richards smashing dunks. Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery making layups and creating defensive pressure on the perimeter and at the rim. Tyler Herro creating offense for himself, drilling all three of his 3-point attempts en route to an 18-point night. PJ Washington doing all of that and more, adding 21 of his own.
Kentucky, as good as it has been, seems to be figuring stuff out at just the right time. Hagans' rise as a defensive stalwart has changed the complexion of UK's nasty defensive attack, and Herro's evolution is doing the same for the Cats on the offensive side of the ball. The young pups for Kentucky are putting things together, just as young pups for Kentucky tend to do under John Calipari.
And what a time for it to happen, too. With Kentucky surging, winner of five straight and seven of eight, it welcomes Big 12 bully Kansas to Rupp Arena on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC showdown spotlight game.
No. 9 Kansas has yet to live up to its preseason No. 1 billing -- yet -- but Kansas is still Kansas. The Jayhawks enter the game 16-3 (5-2 Big 12), and with half the momentum of UK. While the Wildcats have been handling all their opponents with relative ease, Bill Self's squad is struggling for identity, winning on average by 3.7 points over its last three games.
A win for KU could be an inflection point as it barrels towards the meat of conference play, a spark of momentum that has been lost in the grind. For Kentucky, though, a win would further the wave of momentum it has self-generated, one that could take Big Blue Nation on a ride that could last until the final game of this year's March Madness.
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