On January 23, the Kentucky Wildcats defeated Mississippi State by 21 points at home.
It didn’t come as easy this time around, but the Cats did just enough to pull off their tenth consecutive victory in a 71-67 win over Mississippi State.
From the jump, Kentucky found themselves in a back-and-forth battle, trading baskets all the way through the halfway mark of the half.
For the Wildcats, sophomore power forward PJ Washington continued to play his way into SEC Player of the Year contention, scoring the first eight points of the day for Kentucky on a big slam and two three-pointers.
On the other end, the Bulldogs found themselves right in it, as Mississippi State’s Abdul Ado hit a layup to take a two-point lead at 17-15 with 10:13 remaining in the half.
Kentucky guard Tyler Herro responded with a three on the other end of the floor to give the Cats a one-point lead at 18-17, a shot that would end up being the final lead change of the day.
Kentucky turned Herro’s jump shot into a 25-8 run to close out the half, taking a 40-25 lead on the Bulldogs at the break.
Following the 15-point lead at intermission, Washington jumped out to a strong start yet again, scoring seven of Kentucky’s first nine points in the second half. The Cats took a 49-31 lead with 16:32 remaining in the game, and once again, it looked like they’d be able to cruise yet another dominant victory in their stretch of ten consecutive wins.
But the Bulldogs wouldn’t go away.
Mississippi State star Quinndary Weatherspoon, who finished the day with 14 points, drilled a three-pointer to cut it to 15, which was then followed by a 16-2 run for the Bulldogs to cut the lead to just one. Like we saw in Kentucky’s victory over Auburn, the Wildcats found themselves up big going into the second half, only to let the opposition back in it down the stretch.
Following Mississippi State’s big run, Kentucky responded with two big buckets and two free throws of their own, but MSU drilled yet another three on the other end to bring the Wildcat lead down to just four.
The Cats scored six straight points to push it back to double-digits, but the Bulldogs managed five of their own to cut it back to five. Washington hit a layup, followed by two massive threes for Mississippi State on the other end to keep it within two scores with just 2:45 remaining.
Right when the Bulldogs found themselves in position to go for the kill, Washington scored a tough bucket and drew the foul to push it back to six. Once again, MSU’s star guard Quinndary Weatherspoon responded with a huge play of his own, drilling an and-one floater on the baseline to bring it to just three with 1:17 left in the game.
Under pressure, Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans found himself at the free throw line and knocked down one of them to push the lead to two scores, ultimately clinching the game in favor of the Wildcats.
The Cats were outscored by 11 points in the second half and put up just 31 points on their own after intermission, but they did just enough to hang on to win 71-67 for their tenth consecutive victory.
PJ Washington led the Wildcats with 23 points on 9-13 shooting and 3-3 from three. The Kentucky sophomore forward also added three rebounds, one assist, and one block in 24 minutes, leading the team in efficiency with a plus-10 plus/minus.
After a slow start, freshman forward Keldon Johnson got hot late in the second half, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, and one steal.
Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro rounded out Kentucky’s double-digit scorers, adding 12 points on 5-9 shooting and 2-4 from three to go with two rebounds and one assist.
Kentucky forward Reid Travis finished with eight points on 4-9 shooting to go with eight rebounds, one assist, two blocks, and one steal.
Freshman point guard Ashton Hagans also had a well-rounded effort, adding eight points (2-5 shooting, 1-3 from three), four rebounds, nine assists, and one steal in the victory.
Defensively, the Cats gave up their streak of holding opponents to under 55 points and allowing fewer than 40 percent from the field, with the Bulldogs finishing with 67 points on 43 percent shooting on the day. MSU also managed seven made threes on a 44 percent clip from deep.
While their streak of holding opponents under 55 ended at three and allowing fewer than 40 percent shooting ended at five, Kentucky has still allowed fewer than 70 points in eight of nine games, with the only outlier being Auburn’s 80-point performance on January 19.
In other miscellaneous stats, Kentucky led Mississippi State in total rebounds (35-28), second chance points (9-4), points in the paint (34-24), and assists (13-7). The Bulldogs, on the other hand, led the Wildcats in free throw shooting (78 percent to 59 percent), bench points (18-7), blocks (6-4), and steals (7-4).
With the victory, Kentucky moves to 20-3 on the year and 9-1 in the SEC with just eight games remaining in the regular season. And unlike their previous two early Saturday matchups against Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden and at Alabama, the Wildcats overcame the adversity and found a way to come out on top.
Prior to the win, the NCAA Selection Committee listed Kentucky as a two-seed and the No. 5 overall team in the nation in their first official March Madness Preview show. Following today’s victory, along with a top-25 matchup with LSU set for Tuesday evening, the Cats will almost certainly be in line for a one-seed going into their date with No. 1 Tennessee next Saturday.