UK Men's Basketball

Guards help UK basketball hang on to defeat Mississippi State 80-74

Calipari: Cats need to 'march on' as they grow up

Kentucky held on for an 80-74 victory over Mississippi State but continued to be plagued by inconsistent play.
Up Next
Kentucky held on for an 80-74 victory over Mississippi State but continued to be plagued by inconsistent play.

A Hall of Fame coach once said a team without a post presence was “a fraud.” But that coach, John Calipari, didn’t say such a team couldn’t win.

Kentucky proved that Tuesday. With its three standout guards nearly monopolizing the action, the Cats defeated Mississippi State 80-74.

But it wasn’t as easy as it could have been had Kentucky established anybody as a low-post scorer.

Calipari turned to sarcasm when asked how he felt about it.

“Excited, happy,” he said. “I did two back flips on the way in here (to the postgame news conference).”

When asked why the play of Kentucky’s “bigs” has fluctuated so wildly, Calipari deferred.

“They’ll be out here soon enough,” the UK coach said. “Ask them.”

UK only made its three star guards available for postgame questions. You could ask: Hadn’t they already done enough?

Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe accounted for 65 of Kentucky’s first 74 points.

The only UK baskets that did not involve a made shot or assist by the three tenors were a pair of three-pointers by Derek Willis late in the first half and a first-half layup by Mychal Mulder.

Murray led UK with 22 points. Ulis added 21 and Briscoe 14.

The trio denied that they felt an added onus to win the game — given that the frontcourt rotation of Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere combined for 13 points, no assists and five turnovers.

“We don’t think that way,” Ulis said. “It’s not like we’re sitting there saying ‘Ya’ll not doing the right thing.’”

Added Briscoe: “When I’m in the game, I don’t think of stuff like that. I don’t know that the ‘bigs’ are playing bad. I’m just looking at it as a team effort.”

Given Mississippi State’s zone defense throughout most of the game and UK’s lack of post offense, the guard play was timely and vital.

Before the game, Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland lauded UK’s front line. Poythress was “obviously, really strong and physical and aggressive.” Lee was “so active,” Howland said. “Runs the floor so well.”

As for Skal Labissiere, Howland said he was “very active and blocks shots and makes plays. He’s just getting better and better and better.”

Despite that coachspeak, Kentucky’s front line didn’t do much. Then again, UK guards didn’t need much help.

With Ulis, Murray and Briscoe combining for 26 points, Kentucky led 39-31 at halftime. Factoring in two assists by Briscoe that netted baskets by UK “bigs” and a layup by Mulder, Kentucky’s backcourt accounted for all but seven of the first-half points.

Murray got it going. He scored all 11 of his first-half points before the under-12 timeout. His final five points got an 13-0 run going that gave UK its largest first-half lead: 23-10.

Briscoe was a revelation. Building on his 12-point game at Alabama on Saturday, he made a variety of contributions. His four assists in the first half were more than he’d had in nine previous games. He finished with five.

Briscoe credited UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, who he said told him to play like he did in high school. “You’ve been going off confidence and heart,” Briscoe said Payne told him.

“I don’t think I lost it,” he said of struggles in earlier games. “I was just thinking too much. I think on the court. But I don’t overthink. I think the last three or four games, I was overthinking.”

The second half was more of the same for a while. Murray, Ulis and Briscoe scored UK’s first 12 points, and 15 of the first 17.

The exception was a dunk by Labissiere off a pass from Ulis that extended the Kentucky lead to 53-33.

Inevitably, it seemed, Kentucky had to pay a price for a lack of a post presence. As Mississippi State chipped away at the lead, the Cats did not have the option of throwing the ball to the low post where a teammate could score or get fouled trying.

“I always prefer to have a low post … ,” Howland said afterward. “My preference is that when you get to the line (and) you get fouled.”

State got as close at 74-71 with 1:14 left.

Fouled while trying for a put-back of a Ulis miss, Poythress made two free throws with 48.5 seconds left to ease the tension.

Poythress and Ulis combined to make six straight free throws in the final 48.5 seconds to win it.

Brrrr

A hood covered his head. A mask covered his face from the tip of the nose downward. A ski cap covered his forehead. He looked upon the frozen world through sunglasses.

Even close family might have had trouble recognizing Cecil Richardson, a security guard in the Rupp Arena parking lot Tuesday. He bundled up to combat the cold temperatures, which was expected to reach a wind chill below zero.

“If the wind would die down, it’d be OK,” he said at about 4:30 p.m. when it was a relatively balmy 28 degrees. “It’s like Minnesota.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

No. 14 KENTUCKY 80,

MISSISSIPPI ST. 74

MISSISSIPPI ST.

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Newman

27

3-7

6-6

1

4

1

14

Ready

34

2-6

3-4

4

2

3

7

Ware

29

4-7

3-3

6

0

3

11

Daniels

24

1-3

0-0

1

0

2

3

Sword

31

9-13

2-3

2

1

5

20

Thomas

21

3-3

0-0

2

1

0

8

Zuppardo

11

1-4

0-0

1

0

1

3

W’spoon

22

4-8

0-0

3

0

4

8

Holman

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

1

0

Totals

200

27-51

14-16

20

8

20

74

Percentages: FG .529, FT .875. Three-point goals: 6-13, .462 (Thomas 2-2, Newman 2-4, Daniels 1-1, Zuppardo 1-4, Weatherspoon 0-2). Team rebounds: 0. Blocked shots: 0. Turnovers: 19 (Sword 5, Ware 4, Ready 3, Daniels 2, Zuppardo 2, Holman, Weatherspoon, Newman). Steals: 5 (Weatherspoon 2, Ready, Sword, Thomas). Technical fouls: Ready.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Lee

24

1-2

0-0

9

0

5

2

Ulis

36

7-14

5-5

3

5

3

21

Briscoe

36

7-9

0-1

4

5

4

14

Poythress

31

1-4

4-6

8

0

4

6

Murray

36

7-14

3-4

1

3

3

22

Labissiere

14

2-3

1-2

4

0

1

5

Matthews

2

0-1

0-0

0

0

1

0

Mulder

10

1-5

0-0

0

2

0

2

Willis

11

2-3

2-2

2

1

0

8

Totals

200

28-55

15-20

33

16

21

80

Percentages: FG .509, FT .750. Three-point goals: 9-23, .391 (Murray 5-11, Willis 2-2, Ulis 2-6, Poythress 0-1, Mulder 0-3). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 4 (Lee 2, Labissiere, Willis). Turnovers: 17 (Ulis 4, Murray 4, Lee 3, Willis, Matthews, Briscoe, Labissiere, Poythress). Steals: 7 (Ulis 2, Willis, Murray, Briscoe, Mulder, Poythress). Technical fouls: Briscoe, Ulis.

Mississippi St.

31

43

74

Kentucky

39

41

80

A—23,897. Officials—Tony Greene, Ron Groover, Roger Ayers.

Next game

Kentucky at Auburn

4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments