No matter what happens in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, it's unlikely Kentucky and Mississippi State will match the intensity, drama and controversy that surrounded their two overtime games last season.
In Starkville, UK rallied from seven down with three minutes left in regulation to win 81-75 in overtime. In the game's final eight minutes, officials Mike Stuart, Mike Kitts and Michael Stephens called 10 fouls against State and none against Kentucky. Plus, an apparent walk by UK's Patrick Patterson went uncalled.
"Yes, sir," State guard Dee Bost said Monday when asked if Patterson walked. "I remember a lot of plays from the game here and in the SEC Tournament last year. Every play counts, especially when you're going against a good team like Kentucky."
Ah, the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Barely three weeks after the game in Starkville, Kentucky rallied from five down with 2:28 left in regulation to win 75-74 in overtime. This time, referees Tom Eades, Joe Lindsay and Ted Valentine missed UK's John Wall breaking into the lane too early in an attempt to rebound Eric Bledsoe's intentional miss of a free throw in the final seconds. With no call, UK got a putback by DeMarcus Cousins at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
"He ran into the lane early," Bost said on Monday. "I guess the refs let it go."
After the game, State Coach Rick Stansbury questioned how the referees missed, not a judgment call, but a clear violation of the rules. Gerald Boudreaux, the SEC's supervisor of officials, acknowledged the referees made a mistake. But SEC Commissioner Mike Slive still fined Stansbury $30,000 for his public criticism of the referees.
"I don't know if you ever totally remove something like that from your memory," Stansbury, a native of Battletown, Ky., said Monday. "But as a coach, you've got to move on. That has nothing to do with us coming up there."
Oh those refs
State's problems with referees arose again at Auburn on Saturday. Stansbury saw a technical foul on Kodi Augustus with 4:21 as pivotal in Auburn's comeback victory.
"That changed the whole mood of what was going on," Stansbury said on the SEC coaches' teleconference Monday. "And I think it changed the mood of the officials."
Within the next minute, State big man Renardo Sidney picked up his fourth and fifth fouls.
Bost learns on job
Bost, who leads the SEC in assists (5.2 per league game), did not play point guard full time until his freshman year at State. He played shooting guard and later power forward for his high school in Concord, N.C. His brother played point guard. In his one year at Hargrave Military Academy, he played shooting guard.
Bost tied Wall and Mikhail Torrance of Alabama for second in assists among SEC point guards.
"Just natural instincts," Bost said of learning to play the position. "It just really came. I thought it'd be a lot harder. It was hard at first because I'd never done it. Then I finally got the hang of it."
When asked for the status of Darius Miller, UK Coach John Calipari said, "I don't have any idea." Miller sustained a groin injury at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Terrence Jones said an injury that sidelined Miller would "hurt us a lot. He's a starter. We don't play that many guys."
Of Mississippi State's many off-court problems this season, Bost said, "I hope God's got a plan for us because I feel we've been through so much as a team and as a school."
Everybody has a breaking point. Is State about to crack? "I don't feel we're there yet," Bost said, "because no matter what, we're always going to play the game and we're going to fight every game. ... I'm never going to give up. I'll keep trying my hardest."
At the end of the first half, TV cameras caught Calipari questioning Doron Lamb. After Brandon Knight lost the ball and hustled to block Kyle Fuller's layup attempt, Lamb trailed John Jenkins, who got an easy putback.
"I didn't know Brandon had turned the ball over," Lamb said. "I turned my head. ... Jenkins took off and I couldn't catch up to him."
Added Lamb: "Next time, I've got to run harder."
Once a Naismith High School Player of the Year finalist, sophomore Renardo Sidney is beginning to show signs of why he was such a ballyhooed high school player.
His first two double-doubles came at LSU on Feb. 5 (16 points, 11 rebounds) and against Arkansas on Feb. 9 (12 points, 10 rebounds). He barely missed a third straight double-double when he scored nine points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Auburn last weekend.
"He's working as hard as he ever has," Stansbury said. "But it's still not good enough."
Sidney has fouled out of four of the 12 games he's played, and picked up four fouls in four other games.
Kentucky, which is playing only its third home game since Jan. 15, is 11-0 in Rupp Arena this season. The Cats are 1-5 on the SEC road. "We play two different ways, home and away," Jones said. "Different guys step up at home, and it seems like certain guys go away when we're away." ... Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and sideline reporter Shannon Spake will call the game for ESPN.