Date story published: Sunday, February 11, 2001
Kentucky put together a complete game yesterday ... and the opposition put the miss in Mississippi State.
By missing all 19 of its three-point shots, Mississippi State became the first UK opponent in four years to fail to make a shot from beyond the arc.
With UK all but invincible in Rupp Arena, that left the final score -- the Cats won 76-57 -- the only unknown.
"If you're going to win here," State guard Derrick Zimmerman said, "you've got to hit 19."
Kentucky made that especially true on this day. Rather than take a lead and then take its customary siesta, UK put a persistent beating on the Bulldogs.
For the second straight game, Kentucky built a 14-point halftime lead. But unlike Tuesday's thriller against Florida, which Tayshaun Prince won in the final seconds, no such heroics were necessary.
Banging and clanging more rim shots than Ringo Starr on Day Tripper, State never dented UK's lead. The Cats steadily pulled away -- up 19 with 14 minutes left, up 21 with 12 minutes left, up 25 with eight minutes left, up 26 with three minutes left.
"A good win for us," UK Coach Tubby Smith called it. "To put together two halves. We never really played well coming out of halftime, even against Florida. I think we put together two good halves."
In a perverse way, State displayed consistency for 40 minutes, too. The Bulldogs lived down to their ranking as the next-to-worst three-point shooting team in the Southeastern Conference.
"Boy, it's amazing we were able to hold them to oh-for-19," Smith said. "They were a team we feared because they're very athletic. But when you're not making shots, it's a tough day. That's pretty much what happened to Mississippi State."
Kentucky, which improved to 15-7 overall and a league-leading 8-2 in the SEC, had the perfect defense to thwart State. The Ball-Line Defense is designed to limit high-percentage shots in the lane. State came into the game floundering from the perimeter (11th at 30.2-percent accuracy in SEC play).
"We forced some guys to take shots they didn't want to take," UK point guard Saul Smith said. "A lot of them don't want to take those threes. A lot of them want to penetrate and dunk the ball. That's their strong suit -- being athletic. When you force guys to take shots they don't like to take, they're going to miss."
Prince, who continued his hot shooting (eight of 10) en route to a quiet, team-leading 18 points, said State contributed to its own downfall.
"I don't know if it was good defense or contesting shots or it wasn't their day," he said. "But that's when you have to attack the basket. They pretty much settled for three-pointers."
State became the first UK opponent since Villanova (0-for-3) on Feb. 9, 1997 not make a three-point shot. None of the other 15 UK opponents to shoot blanks had misfired so often.
And State, which had not gone without a three-pointer in a game since 1996 (0-for-8 against George Washington), was no sure shot from inside the arc. The Bulldogs, who missed countless shots inside, hit only 35.6 percent (21-for-59) from two-point range. That alone would have been a worse percentage than all but five opponents have shot against Kentucky this season.
"If you can't make shots, you can't win on the road," said State Coach Rick Stansbury, whose team's 26.9-percent shooting marked the fourth-worst accuracy by an SEC team against Kentucky in the three-point era. "Because we weren't scoring, it affected our team defensively. I didn't think we battled."
Losing its 11th straight SEC road game, State fell to 12-9 overall and 3-7 in the league.
"The atmosphere here intimidated a lot of our guys," State reserve Tyrus Boswell said.
Kentucky trailed only once: 2-0. Freshman Jason Parker's 10 first-half points (he finished with 12) got the Cats off to a solid start.
After State rallied to within 19-18, UK took charge by outscoring the Bulldogs 19-6 the rest of the half. State went without a field goal for the final 7:38 of the half.
"Our defensive intensity was a lot higher," Prince said.
In the second half, Kentucky kept the impulse to showboat in check. The Cats made only seven turnovers in the largely ceremonial final 20 minutes and finished the game shooting 51.8 percent (the sixth-best accuracy of the season).
Kentucky next plays at Tennessee Wednesday. Although the Vols lost for the fifth time in seven games yesterday at Ole Miss, the Cats expected a more difficult challenge in Knoxville.
"Very much tougher," Saul Smith said. "They're not going to miss 19 three-pointers, I don't think, at home."