Your University of Kentucky Wildcats went into “Starkvegas,” as the court’s end zone read, and escaped with an 88-81 win over a young and improving Mississippi State team. The game gave us the emergence of a new dual-threat at the four position for the Cats and further proved De’Aaron Fox can score at will when he takes it to the rack. Fox made up for what UK missed from Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk, who each had off-nights.
The real story, however, was the whistle frequency and the referees’ stamp on the game. I thought the officiating at Vanderbilt was the worst we’d see this year, but Tuesday night raised the bar for horribly officiated games. TV Teddy inserted himself into the action and gave the casual basketball fan an unwatchable product. Even the announcers were bashing the action during the broadcast. It was horrendous both ways and ruined the entire flow of the game.
Most Valuable Player: Wenyen Gabriel
Has Wenyen Gabriel turned the corner? For months we wondered if Gabriel would figure it out in his freshman season, but now he has played two consecutive outstanding games of basketball.
On Tuesday night he followed up his 16-rebound performance from Saturday with 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the field, eight rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal. Maybe most impressive from his stat line: he hit all three of his three-point tries and now has more threes in the last two games than he did all season before last Saturday.
Gabriel is looking damn good these days and he could be the key come March if his progression and improved play continues.
De’Aaron Fox was the closer, Cats’ leading scorer.
If not for Gabriel playing his best, KSR’s imaginary MVP trophy would’ve gone to De’Aaron Fox, who led Kentucky in scoring with 21 points. Fox made his share of mistakes, but he also made the plays with the game on the line. Mississippi State simply couldn’t guard him down the stretch when he took it at the rim and his and-one to extend the lead to eight with a minute to go was the final nail in the coffin.
The +1 dagger. pic.twitter.com/DZbBcbeMJV
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 18, 2017
John Calipari said, “I love how De’Aaron Fox finished the game… But he’s gotta make free throws.”
Fox was 5-for-9 from the line and 0-for-3 from deep.
Derek Willis also played well.
With Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis fighting each other for minutes, they each landed punches in that fight by playing two good games Tuesday night. Willis was 5-for-6 from the field and matched Gabriel’s three-pointers with three of his own. Those two combined for 10-of-11 shooting from the field and six of the team’s seven threes in the game.
At a position that has been the weakest link throughout most of this season, Gabriel and Willis shined in Starkville. If Calipari can get more of the same from them, look out.
Ice cold night for Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk.
Briscoe and Monk were a combined 9-for-28 from the field in an uncharacteristically poor night offensively for the Cats’ leading and third-leading scorers. Monk was especially bad; he committed a career-high five turnovers and lived in Calipari’s doghouse through most of the night.
UK’s defense is a real concern right now.
Is the defense getting worse? It seems that way. The guards are getting torched a little more often than we can live with. It may be that they’re too aggressive, but they’re giving up too many buckets off the dribble and I don’t like it.
Bam gets called for touching someone.
Poor guy can’t block out without drawing a whistle. Go back to the 12:47 mark in the first half and tell me that’s a foul.
LET BAM PLAY.
Too many turnovers.
Kentucky turned the ball over 16 times against the Bulldogs, well above its season average of 10 turnovers per game. Mississippi State scored 23 points off those turnovers.
Figure it out, SEC. Want people to watch SEC basketball? Hire competent officials that don’t control the game by blowing the whistle every 45 seconds.
The “OVER-RATED” chant was quite comical.
For the second time in a week, opposing fans chanted “OVER-RATED” at Kentucky while being down in a game their team would go on to lose. It’s not a complicated chant, yet Vanderbilt and Mississippi State’s home crowds butchered it.
Sean Farnham said on the broadcast, “I’m not a very big fan of chanting ‘overrated’ while you’re losing a game.”
Who is? That’s not how it works.
Calipari compared Malik Monk’s technical to Karl-Anthony Towns’ technical against LSU.
On his postgame radio appearance, Cal said Monk’s technical for hanging on the rim was just like Towns’ in 2015. He said both dunks could’ve been the play that buried the other team, but they pulled up on the rim and gave the momentum right back.
Twitter really disagreed with the technical on Monk, but Cal agreed with the call.
“He pulled up and there was nobody around him,” he told Tom Leach.
Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field for a sixth straight game.
According to the @KentuckyMBB Twitter account, Kentucky hasn’t done that since the 1983-84 season.
Cheese and rice that was brutal to watch.