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UK Hoops Set to Take on Mississippi State in SEC Tournament Semifinals

(UK Athletics | Sarah Caputi)

(UK Athletics | Sarah Caputi)

Another SEC Tournament game, another regular-season rematch for the Kentucky Wildcats – hopefully with a similar result.

After successfully taking down the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in blow out fashion on Friday, 86-65, the three-seeded ‘Cats will now face the two-seed Mississippi State Bulldogs in the semifinals on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

Kentucky already beat the Bulldogs not that long ago, bouncing back from its worst loss of the season the game before that saw them fall to Arkansas on the road by 18. Exactly one week after that loss to the Razorbacks on Feb. 9, the ‘Cats took down the Bulldogs and their top-1o nationally ranked status by a final score of 73-62. Up until Friday’s dominating win over Tennessee, it was the most impressive victory for Kentucky.

They’ll need a similar performance in the rematch on Saturday.

Much like Kentucky, Mississippi State had their way with their quarterfinals opponent. The Bulldogs absolutely destroyed the LSU Tigers, winning 79-49 thanks to a monster second-half that saw them outscore LSU 53-24 while shooting 66 percent from the field. MSU created 20 points off Tiger 16 Tiger turnovers and finished the game shooting over 51 percent overall.

Here’s a quick overview of some basic stats from both Kentucky and Mississippi State.

Mississippi State is another team that will have a significant size advantage down low against Kentucky. 6-foot-2 forward Rickea Jackson posted a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double while shooting 10-18 from the floor against LSU. 6-foot-5 center Jessika Carter snagged another nine rebounds while 6-foot-1 forward Chloe Bibby corralled seven boards of her own. MSU won the rebounding battle against LSU by nine and steamrolled them in points in the paint, 52-18. Unlike what Tennessee did against Kentucky, the Bulldogs played to their strengths against LSU and made sure they were the team that controlled the tempo.

The Bulldogs only attempted six shots from beyond the arc, making three of them. They’ve made just 123 triples on the year, 10th in the SEC. They didn’t hunt the outside shot against LSU, but established a paint presence early and didn’t back away from it. They actually trailed 12-2 through the opening minutes of Friday’s game before settling into their style of play and running away with the win. The key for Kentucky is going to be exactly what they did against the Vols; make MSU beat them from outside.

The major difference between Mississippi State and Tennessee is, oddly enough, the guard play. Jordan Danberry and Myah Taylor are two of the best guards in the SEC. Danberry joined her teammates Carter and Jackson as All-SEC Second Team performers. While their guards are much much smaller and shiftier than the long bodies of the UT guards, they and are far less prone to turning the ball over. Kentucky was able to earn several extra possessions just from Tennessee’s unforced errors. MSU won’t make nearly as many mistakes.

Kentucky was able to jump on MSU early in the first matchup, establishing a 19-9 first-quarter lead that ballooned again once the second-half began. The Wildcats punched first and they punched hard. However, they ultimately let the Bulldogs back into the game with a rough second-quarter and a relaxed fourth-quarter. Kentucky was narrowly outrebounded, 36-35, and they’ll have to mimic that once again. Fighting hard on the glass is what gave UK the edge of Tennessee, it’s going to be even tougher to do so against MSU.

This isn’t going to be another 20-point blowout for Kentucky (unless they go supernova shooting the ball for all four quarters). Mississippi State is a far superior team than Tennessee for obvious reasons. It’s “survive and advance” time. Something tells me this game is going to be much more difficult to survive.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR