By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
LEXINGTON, Ky. – This season hasn’t necessarily gone as planned for either Mississippi State or Kentucky.
In a winter full of off-court drama, MSU’s latest setback was on the court when it blew a 19-point lead to lowly Auburn on Saturday, losing 65-62 and failing to gain a stronger foothold on second place in the SEC Western Division.
The Bulldogs (13-11, 5-5 SEC) must bounce back, and in Rupp Arena of all places. The No. 22 Wildcats (17-7, 5-5) are 11-0 at home this season, and it’s a welcome sight for them after losing three of their last four games – at Ole Miss, Florida and Vanderbilt.
MSU’s players were clearly stunned after the Auburn loss, but coach Rick Stansbury feels they can put it behind them.
“We probably worry about more as coaches than players do,” Stansbury said. “They’re pretty resilient most of the time, bouncing back. I know going to Rupp Arena is not a good place to go get healed up at, but that’s where it is. You’ve got to get ready for that next challenge. That’s why there’s 16 (SEC) games in the season.”
If MSU is to rebound, it must follow the lead of point guard Dee Bost. He’s one of the team’s few capable ball-handlers and clearly the leader, and he was at a loss to explain what happened at Auburn.
Part of what went wrong was late turnovers. Bost committed six turnovers for the game.
“Most of the time he had the ball, we double-teamed him, which forced him to give it up,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “And he probably didn’t want to, or the coach probably didn’t want him to, but he had to because he had two guys on him for most of the game.”
One could say that Bost perhaps tried to do too much, but things usually work out best when he’s controlling the ball and the pace of the game.
“I thought Dee Bost was the best player on the floor,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said of his team’s 67-56 loss to MSU on Wednesday.
Calipari said Bost is a better player than he was last season, and he knows of Bost, who averaged 19.0 points and 4.0 assists in two games against Kentucky last season.
“He’s shooting the ball, he’s getting by people, he’s getting into the lane, he’s making tough layups,” Calipari said. “He can score with anybody.”
Wildcats good but young
Calipari likes the rest of MSU’s lineup as well, but Stansbury was equally effusive about the Wildcats. Despite the recent struggles, Kentucky has a good mix of rising stars and veterans, with freshmen Terrence Jones (17.9 points per game) and Brandon Knight (17.4 ppg) the top two scorers.
“They’ve got a level of quickness about them that not many teams have,” Stansbury said. “That’s what stands out to me, is just that quickness and skill level from all five positions. They can hurt you so many ways.”
Kentucky’s greatest weakness might be its youth, which was evident down the stretch in Saturday’s 81-77 loss to Vanderbilt.
So, like Stansbury, Calipari is hoping his players can figure out how to move on.
“We’ve got to take the approach we had against Tennessee (a 73-61 UK win), which is, let’s have a sense of urgency about our preparation,” Calipari said. “Not just the game, the preparation. And hopefully we’ve grown through this stretch of games.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.