STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State had the unenviable task of playing Florida and Kentucky within a 10-day period. After those two losses, State Coach Rick Ray came away with at least one clear impression.
"The thing that's so impressive about Florida is the pace of play," he said after UK beat State 69-59 Saturday. "... They have defensive breakdowns, but they rotate to those defensive breakdowns so fast. Everybody has defensive breakdowns. But Florida makes you continue to pass the ball and not get easy opportunities when you do get defensive breakdowns."
Florida, which leads the Southeastern Conference race by two games over Kentucky, plays in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
Kentucky should prepare for fast, decisive play from Florida on the offensive end, too, Ray said.
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"The way they run their ball-screen motion so fast, you can say I'm going to play that ball-screen action this way or that way," the State coach said. "But when it's coming at you 100 mph, it's really difficult (to contain)."
Ray said he would be curious to see how Florida handled Kentucky's size and presence around the basket.
UK Coach John Calipari suggested that spite led star forward Julius Randle to misplay defensive assignments against State.
After being slow to provide Dakari Johnson help defense, Randle "overhelped," Calipari said. That left State with open three-point shots.
"That's a baby," the UK coach said. "That's what babies do. 'I'm going to show you. I'll give them two threes.'"
Calipari also found fault with Randle on the offensive end.
"He never demanded us to throw it to him," the UK coach said.
Randle led Kentucky with 16 points, and he grabbed seven rebounds.
Ditch the hitch
Johnson credited coaching advice from assistant Kenny Payne for his making three of three free throws. He had made only three of nine shots from the line in his six most recent games, and was shooting with 45 percent accuracy on the season.
Payne helped him eliminate "a little hitch" in his shooting motion, Johnson said.
The three free throws were the most Johnson has made in a game since making four against Robert Morris on Nov. 17.
The entry of Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood into the game seemed to bolster Kentucky's transition defense. Early on, State beat UK's defense downcourt enough times to lead by as much as four points.
"We kind of dropped the ball a little bit in the first half about hustling back and forcing guys to their weak hand," Hood said. "We were instructed to hustle back. That's what we did."
Amped up Cal
Hood noted how Calipari had turned up his coaching to a higher volume.
"He's more vocal, if you guys will believe that," Hood told reporters in a post-game news conference. "More yelling. More screaming. We're old enough (to take it). We know what we're supposed to do now, and we understand at this point of the season, he's starting to amp up the intensity."
Hood, who returned to this UK team as a fifth-year senior, denied that his lack of playing time (five minutes in the previous nine SEC games) led to frustration.
"No, not at all," he said. "I'm ready to play each and every game. I bring it every day in practice, and I have no regrets about coming back."
Ray acknowledged how Hood was not part of State's pre-game planning.
"Not at all," he said. "He wasn't even in the scouting report, to be honest.
"I thought he did a really good job chasing down loose balls at the end of the first half that ended up being very valuable."
It took 23 games, but Kentucky finally took a charge. It came when Alex Poythress slid in front of a driving redshirt freshman, Jacoby Davis, with 4:25 left in the first half.
Then in a relative bonanza of charge-taking, Willie Cauley-Stein took one with 20.7 seconds left in the game.
Of course, Kentucky does not emphasize the taking of charges. The Cats depend on shot-blocking.
State is just the opposite. The Bulldogs don't have a shot-blocking presence, hence the four times UK players were called for charging. Going into the game, State ranked 13th among 14 SEC teams in blocks.
"When you don't have a shot-blocker, you better be able to take a charge," he said.
Ray noted how Kentucky's approach on offense (driving repeatedly to the basket) made taking charges part of the game plan.
Aside from Hood, Polson and Johnson, Calipari saw the victory as a step backward.
"I don't think we grew in this game," he said. " ... Because we had enough depth, we could still win the game. That's what it was."
Of how he saw UK's failure to embrace the challenge State presented, Calipari said, "It was almost like we were trying to get out of the building."