STARKVILLE, Miss. — For the final five minutes, Rick Stansbury saw some pretty good basketball.
In fact, he had a front-row seat.
Trouble was for the Mississippi State coach, it was Kentucky that was playing the better-than-good basketball down the stretch, outscoring the host Bulldogs 20-4 on the way to a 73-64 victory over MSU in Humphrey Coliseum.
Stansbury's Bulldogs were clinging to a 62-58 lead when all of a sudden Darius Miller came to life, the senior hitting a three from the right of the key to pull the visiting Cats to within a point.
After Anthony Davis blocked a driving shot by State point guard Dee Bost, UK's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist put in his own miss at the other end and Kentucky led for the first time all game, 63-62, with 4:11 to play.
Kentucky kept the lead the rest of the way.
And what a way it was, starting with the controversy the day before when Stansbury took a classless jab at his former player Twany Beckham, now a junior at Kentucky after transferring from State last year.
In what Stansbury claimed was an off-the-record, out-of-context comment, he poked fun at the fact that the junior was not getting much playing time, saying that, "He's seeing some pretty good basketball. He's getting a front-row ticket every night. Yes, sir."
It was an undisciplined comment by someone who coaches an undisciplined team.
State has talent, as it showed for 35 minutes at The Hump, turning the energy and enthusiasm from a national TV audience and a white-out crowd into a tremendous start.
The Bulldogs couldn't miss in the first half, especially from three-point range, especially Bost, who had 16 points in the first 20 minutes.
By halftime, the visitors trailed 41-28, UK's biggest halftime deficit since being down 21 to Connecticut in the finals of the Maui Invitational last season. The Cats lost that game.
"The first 20 minutes," Stansbury said, "we were about as good as you can be at both ends."
Kentucky didn't lose this one, thanks in large part to UK's surge to start the second half. Calipari's club opened with an 11-2 run, and suddenly it was a nip-and-tuck game.
It stayed that way until those final five minutes.
Miller was the man offensively over that stretch, scoring nine of the 20 points in the game's decisive run.
"I've said all the time that Darius Miller is the fiber that holds that team together," Stansbury said. "At Vanderbilt, he jumped up and scored for them down the stretch. He's got the one thing those other guys don't have, that's experience."
State came apart. The Bulldogs got a basket at the 5:10 mark, then gave up 10 straight points before the home team scored with 1:55 left.
Doron Lamb ran the offense with Marquis Teague on the bench with four fouls the final eight minutes. And Kidd-Gilchrist shut down Bost, who was nowhere near the offensive factor in the second half as he was the first.
"Terrence Jones' play in the second half, that was the difference," Calipari said. "He didn't do anything the first half. He was a beast in the second half."
He had company. A team that went 2-6 on the road last year in the conference on the way to the Final Four is now 7-0 on the road this year with one road game left to play.
"This was a terrific win for us," Calipari said. "(Mississippi State) is a really good team."
But in the end, State couldn't finish. Kentucky could.
John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com