NASHVILLE — Letting a seven-point lead slip away in the final three minutes of regulation and then losing in overtime. In the final three minutes of regulation and the five-minute overtime, the referees call 10 fouls against your team and none against the opponent.
Not easy to forget. Mississippi State hasn't.
"We remember it as clear as day," Kodi Augustus said of Kentucky's 81-75 victory at Mississippi State on Feb. 16. "We want to play them again."Be careful what you wish for because State plays Kentucky on Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game. State got that wish granted by beating Vanderbilt 62-52 in Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinals.
Center Jarvis Varnado, who became college basketball's career leader in blocked shots earlier this season, has rejected 10 in the Bulldogs' first two games. When asked if Varnado needed to be an X factor against Kentucky, State Coach Rick Stansbury said, "I just need him to be in the game."
That was a reference to the February game when Varnado picked up three fouls in 33 seconds earlier in the second half. That shocking development limited him to four minutes and 50 seconds of play in the second half and overtime.
When asked to explain that lapse, Varnado said, "I was going for stupid fouls. I have to be smarter. I can't sit on the bench and watch my team play. They need me out there blocking shots and rebounding."
State (23-10) played without Ravern Johnson in the game against Kentucky. The team leader with 79 three-pointers, he averages 13.3 points.
"I'm pretty ready for this chance," he said of a rematch with UK. "Everybody's in a good rhythm. Barry (Stewart), I mean, he can't really miss. As long as we have him shooting and I knock down some shots and everybody else is playing real good, I don't think anybody can beat us."
Stansbury fretted about depth. Sunday's game will be State's third in less than 72 hours. All season he's noted how the Bulldogs lack a credible backup at point guard and center.
"Kentucky's the best team in the country," the State coach said. "... I promise you this: Our kids will be very confident. We won't play afraid. We'll come out and fight the best we can. Will the best we can be good enough? We'll have to wait and see."
After making one of 13 three-pointers in squeezing by Alabama on Friday, UK made eight of 22 shots from beyond the arc in whipping Tennessee.
"The game is so much easier (when the three-pointers go in)," DeMarcus Cousins said. "We're such a better team when we're knocking down outside jumpers."
Eric Bledsoe led the way by equalling a career high with five three-pointers. He had made only three of 19 shots in UK's seven most recent games.
"I wasn't shooting with confidence," he said. "If I was missing, I'd get down on myself and stop shooting. Coach says you can't do that. Keep shooting no matter how bad you're shooting it."
UK Coach John Calipari noted again the difference good three-point shooting makes.
"(When) we're making threes like that, because of the way we guard, because of how big we are, because we have a post presence, we become pretty good," he said.
Calipari ordered Orton to the locker room in the first half. He later returned and contributed three rebounds, a block and physical play.
"I was a little upset that I came out (of the game)," Orton said of his banishment to the locker room.
Orton said he argued with assistant coach Orlando Antigua about being taken out of the game. He said he got removed for not getting a loose ball. He argued that Bledsoe might have gotten the ball, but Bledsoe stayed in the game.
"It couldn't be just me," said Orton, who cited the emotions of the game as a reason he argued.
"It's really coaching a team of 19-year-olds," Calipari said. "There are some things that I shake my head at. But we got good kids."
If UK wins the SEC Tournament championship, Calipari receives a $50,000 bonus. He's already earned a $50,000 bonus for winning the league's regular-season title. Assistants John Robic and Antigua get a bonus of one month's salary when UK officially receives a NCAA Tournament bid Sunday. The bid means a $10,000 bonus for assistant coach Rod Strickland.